Picking the Right Partner

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,

“I always seem to pick the wrong person for long-term relationships. There’s something wrong with my ‘picker.’ I should just give up.”

Many times I have heard this kind of gripe from patients, acquaintances, and friends. While I understand why someone might think his or her “picker” is broken or defective, in truth, it belies a misunderstanding of the human pair-bonding process. Let’s review.

The initial pair-bonding process is psychobiological. You, as you think of yourself right now, are not the same person you were when you first met the love of your life. You were on infatuation “drugs” throughout that initial courtship period. Your body, your lower (and faster) brain, and your neuroendocrine system (endogenous drugs) ran that show. The thing is, nature cares more about procreation and mixing of the gene pool than it does about the success of long-term relationships.

So if you do care about long-term success and all you’ve got is your brain in love, you are in trouble. Of course, if you are over 25, your picker most likely is better than it was during the initial mate selection phase of your life.

However, we tend to forget that mate selection for long-term relationship is a social process involving other people, not something to be done alone. Mate selection for long-term relationship is a vetting process in which family and friends (who, unlike you and your wannabe partner, aren’t on drugs) have a chance to weigh in. If you are among the unfortunate who do not have family who can vet your partner, you need to be creative and find other ways to evaluate your new relationship. Find friends, colleagues, and other mixed gender helpers who can offset your own less sober judgment. If you simply prefer not to consult your social network because you don’t want to hear anything negative, well, good luck to ya.


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