When Cinda fell in love with Bob, she didn’t bother taking him to meet her parents because she already knew they would disapprove. Bob was 20 years her senior, plus she figured he was too debonair for her parents’ liking. She did introduce Bob to her friends, though. Her girlfriends loved him. They were impressed with the gifts he gave her and went wild over photos of his summer beach home. Cinda never asked her girlfriends’ boyfriends what they thought of Bob until it was too late.
Cinda dated Bob for one year and was engaged to him for one month before she found out who he really was. To say he cheated on her would be an understatement. He was unfaithful from the beginning right up to the day she caught him, which was (to her credit) the end of their relationship.
In the aftermath, her male friends shared their impressions of Bob:
“A real scumbag. I could tell the first time I met him.”
“The guy was a player. He tried to hit on my girlfriend.”
“You were so into him, I didn’t want to mention what he said when you were out of the room.”
What if she had married him? What if they’d had children? The outcome could have been much worse. Moreover, in this case, understanding the role of neurochemicals and the influence of visual systems and familiarity is insufficient to answer the question “What went wrong?”
Understanding the importance of familiarity might have helped Cinda realize she and Bob did not have enough in common for a good partnership. Still, even that would not have alerted her that he was likely to cheat on her.
What went wrong here is simple: Partners need to socially vet each other with both male and female friends and family before they get serious about dating each other. Cinda failed to do this.
[Listing the characteristics] you want in a partner is a valuable exercise because it’s important to be clear about what you want. At the same time, I think our discussion so far illustrates that your primitive [motives] don’t care much about your list.
The fact that we select partners based on biology, facial symmetry, smell, taste, touch, and other factors outside your control has been widely researched and documented over the past several decades. If you use your consciously created list to select a date, that person may be a perfect match on paper, but your primitive motives may not be on board. And if your body says no, then it’s a no.
Conversely, you could say to heck with it all and go out with someone who has none of the items on your list, and your primitives won’t stop you. Not the right one for you for the long run? Too bad.
Some people say, “I have a bad picker. I keep picking the wrong people!” But I would say that your picker is very good at finding the right people for you — at least from its perspective. Your picker is not your problem. In fact, there really is no such thing as a bad picker.
Your problem is very likely that you don’t have a social network that helps you vet your partner for you. In other words, you are picking a partner based on the whims and dictates of your primitive motives, without sufficient input from your brain — and the people in your life who influence your decisions.