There’s a neat little theory in Psychology called the Level of Aspiration theory, and it is used to explain how humans choose their romantic partners. The Level of Aspiration theory says there are two factors that influence your pick of romantic interests — the desirability of that person and the perceived probability of attaining them. In an Idealistic scenario, you would go for the person with the highest social desirability in a group. However, there are a few people who are desired by all. In such cases, the perceived probability of attaining them is tied to your own level of social desirability. So you will make a more Realistic choice and pick someone of about the same level of social desirability as yourself.

I find this theory fascinating because it also explains how our choice of partners reflects our assessments of our own selves. It explains real-world observations too — if you’re a fitness enthusiast, you’re more likely to pick a partner who is into fitness too; if you’re an actor, you’re more likely to take interest in someone in the show business and so on. Superficial traits are still high on the desirability list. There’s an interesting paper detailing the results of an experiment where the research team ran identical matrimonial ads of a woman who declared to be obese in one set of ads and a drug addict in another. More men responded to her ads declaring drug addiction than obesity. Those that responded to the ads divulged that they themselves were obese or addicted to drugs, confirming that they assessed their own social desirabilities same as the woman with those afflictions.

The point, after much meandering, is that we have some very exacting standards for our potential romantic partners. Often, these standards are what we wrongly assume we meet ourselves. There is tons of research to show that we all have an inflated and biased view of our own abilities. Illusory Superiority. So we are all out there, cockily dismissing her for eating weirdly, him for being too short and another for not being as smart as we are, while our search for perfection is only setting us up for huge disappointments — and embarrassments, if someone decides to give you back some reverse critiquing.

The truth is we are all flawed and we are all going to experience failure at some point. I would be alarmed if someone told me they were with me because I was perfect. Physical, mental, situational perfection — all vary with time. A prudent partner would be someone who understands that you have flaws, deeply unsettling flaws. Sometimes because of those flaws, and sometimes not, you will stumble and fail miserably. And in those moments of despondency, your partner is your biggest cheerleader.

A failure-tolerant partner will make it easy for you to reveal your weaknesses, admit mistakes and learn from them. More importantly, you will feel safe taking risks and experimenting, knowing you have a cushion to break your fall. This ability to take risks is vital for growth and will increase your chances of success. With the narrowing distinction between career and life, the spouse is for more than just domestic stability — you need someone who can be an active cheerleader and participant in your life. That automatically means you’re looking for someone with the same level of education, similar goals and interests, but crucially, someone who can withstand the rough-and-tumble of life over a long timeline.

All contracts without expiration dates are risky. You should rightly be extremely wary of entering into one. If it were up to me, I’d entirely suggest against it. Relationships and marriages are contracts without expiration dates declared upfront, so even though there is always an Exit option (if you are in an abusive relationship, an option you should not hesitate to exercise), nobody comes out of it entirely unscathed. So definitely don’t enter into one willy-nilly. It’s for a reason that the likes of Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg cite the choice of their spouses as the single-most important decision of their lives.

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