In the movie The Ugly Truth, a woman, played by Katherine Heigl, works with a bigoted man, played by Gerard Butler. Butler’s character sets out to prove that the checklist and tests Heigl’s character has designed for men to date her is faulty (spoilers ahead). In the end, the two fall in love, demonstrating that her checklist and what she was actually interested in did not coincide. But is there scientific evidence behind the plot of this movie? Are all of our mental checklists for significant others just wasting space in our brains?
With millions of potential romantic partners, it seems as though a checklist or some criteria would be helpful to navigate potential significant others. For men, this checklist often includes physical attributes of their potential partner, while women are often looking at status. The problem with these checklists is that they hold us back. They truly limit who we may initiate a relationship with, restricting our options to only the people who meet the criteria on our checklist. But meeting the criteria for a checklist does not guarantee a successful relationship, especially in the long run.
Studies show that, nowadays. people do not adhere to their checklists. In a study, participants marked their ideal preferences and then were asked to do a series of speed dates. It turns out that the preferences they marked did not predict which speed dating partner they preferred. This new evidence contradicts implications of previous data. But another study, which is a meta-analysis of data, again demonstrates that people tend not to pursue the romantic partners they expect to. So the idea that people can state what they are interested in, in a romantic partner, and stick to it is null and void. But what does this mean for us?
Next time you hear a guy say he likes blonde hair and you look at your brunette hair and think about how hopeless you are, forget it! According to science, he doesn’t actually know what he prefers, so he may as well drop that line. Same goes for guys, so next time you hear a girl say she prefers someone in the business career and you look at your general chemistry book thinking about how hopeless you are, forget it! It is likely that their stated ideal preferences are disconnected from their actual preferences.