For the best relationship, research finds that you should date within your league.

Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Ph.D.
When looking for a partner, should you really seek highest quality partner possible?Freestocks/Unsplash

What you want, may not be what's best for you and your relationship.

When looking for your ideal partner, what do you want? Ideally it's someone who is super attractive, smart, with a great personality, and solid values. In other words, we want someone with the highest mate value possible. Imagine a ranking system for potential partners’ mate value with a 10 point scale where one's are the worst and tens are the best. On this scale, we'd all really love to land a 10 out of 10. Who wouldn’t want to date a celebrity or supermodel? That’s what we want.

But the love lottery doesn’t care about our wishes. Instead, your own mate value rating (how attractive you are to others based on your physical attributes and personality) determines the quality of your eventual partner. Researchers tested the implications of matching and mismatching partners’ mate values in a study using > 12,000 partner ratings from members of a Namibian community (Prall & Scelza, 2022).

The researchers found that participants preferred partners who had higher mate values than they did. For example, four’s aspired to have partner who was a seven, and a six wanted a partner who was an eight. In other words, people wanted partners who were better than them.

While they may have wanted to shoot for the stars, participants were most likely to end up with someone at a similar level. That is, if a person had a mate value of seven, their partner was likely to also be a seven (or possibly a six or eight). In other words, fours end up with fours despite wanting much more.

And that's a good thing because the researchers also found that partners with matching mate values (i.e., a 6 with a 6, a 4 with a 4, or a 9 with a 9) had better relationships. Specifically, they stayed together longer, reported better sexual history, and had more frequent interactions.

In relationships, you can’t always get what you want. That’s ok because we don’t always want what’s best for us. This research shows what while we may want partners who are better than us, what’s best for our relationships is someone at our own level. Instead of “dating up” we should date “within our own league,” “only shop within our price range,” and avoid “out-kicking our coverage.”


Prall, S., & Scelza, B. (2022). The effect of mating market dynamics on partner preference and relationship quality among Himba pastoralists. Science Advances, 8 (18),

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Dr. Gary W Lewandowski Jr is the author of Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship…and How to See Past Them. His TED talk and relationship articles have been enjoyed by over 6 million people.

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