Predictive validity of partner preferences across the transition into romantic relationships
How do people decide with whom they want to be together? Do they know what they value in a romantic partner – and do they choose their partners accordingly? Although empirical research has investigated what we ideally want from and seek in a romantic partner for decades, the question of whether these ideal preferences actually guide with whom we decide to pursue a romantic relationship in real life has remained largely unanswered so far. One reason for this is
the lack of designs that assess individuals’ ideal partner preferences before entering a relationship and then follow up on them over an extended period of time. In the Göttingen Mate
Choice Study, we implemented such a naturalistic prospective design and tracked single individuals across three time points upon a possible transition into romantic relationships. The results, so far, indicate that partner preferences predict the characteristics of later partners.
Preferences proved to be relatively stable, yet were less stable for those who entered a relationship. In addition, participants seemed to adjust their references downwards when newly found partners fell short of initial preferences, but did not show consistent adjustments when the partner exceeded their expectations. This flexible adjustment of preferences hints towards a potentially adaptive mechanism for romantic relationship consolidation and maintenance. In future work, we will investigate whether the ability to adjust one’s partner preferences is conducive to the process of forming and maintaining romantic relationships.