My friend Anuja recently got engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Varun. When I asked how she was sure he’s “the one,” she told me it’s because their goals for the future align, they have similar core values and are compatible — emotionally, intellectually, as well as sexually.
This got me thinking: how does one decide whether a prospective partner is ideal for them? In a short meeting, is it possible to discern all these traits about a person — at least well enough to make them your life partner?
This article discusses exactly that. It’s based on my conversations with Anuja (which she kindly gave me permission to use) as well as extensive research from various studies by experts on the field. If you’re conflicted about whether your current partner is ideal for you, or if you’re in a place where you’re looking for potential life-partners, this article will provide you some valuable insights.
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10? 20? 50?”
Sure, this sounds like a question one would get asked during the HR round in a job interview, but nothing reveals a person’s life goals better than their vision for the future.
Usually, this reveals more about their mindset than whether or not someone would actually be able to achieve whatever goals they are setting. For example, someone might well say, “I want to be a life coach” and end up becoming an entrepreneur. But what matters is their ability to think out of the box — away from the realm of what’s considered “normal”, i.e. a stable job in a company.
Here are some more important points to keep in mind while asking this question:
What are their core values?
Usually, the first topic they touch on will reveal what’s the most important to them. A person who says “I’ll have my own private jet and go on several company-sponsored trips all over the world” will definitely have different values than the one who says “I’ll live with my partner, two children, and dogs at a cozy house by the beach.”
Neither is wrong or right. What matters the most is whether or not these align with your values and beliefs. Most often, someone who appears the perfect match on paper (good-looking, earns a lot, lives in the same city, etc.) might not be the most compatible person for you. Compatibility is decided by their mindset and values.
Do they factor in their partner in their dreams?
The person who wants to own a private jet and go on foreign trips might not see their partner as a part of their day-to-day life. If having a family and a close relationship with your spouse and children is important to you, someone like this may not be the ideal match.
A single-sentence answer to the above question might not tell you whether or not they value intimacy with their partner, but you can probe further, ask them follow-up questions like, “And what about your partner? Where would they be when you’re on your trips?” The key to knowing a person better is asking the right questions. Communication is the most important factor.
“Communication will bring understanding and understanding will cause harmonious mutual relationships which can establish peace and stability.”
– Lobsang Tenzin
“In a relationship, what are some dealbreakers for you?”
Anuja wants a lot of time and attention. Her love language is “Quality Time.” Her partner, on the other hand, loves feeling understood and receiving recognition for a job well done. His love language is “Words of Affirmation.”
While a couple might have different love languages, with some kindness and compassion, it’s definitely possible to make it work. But before that, you need to know what language your partner speaks.
Asking them about their non-negotiables will help you understand them better. For example, if you’re someone whose ideal date is cuddling under the blanket, ordering pizza, and watching a movie together, you might not be compatible with someone who says their idea of a dealbreaker is “My partner embarrasses me in front of my colleagues at office parties.” This just shows they place a lot of importance on what others perceive of them, and office parties are an important part of their life.
Again, if they say “A partner who refuses to take care of my parents is a strict no-no for me,” and you’re someone who never even got along well with your own parents, how can you ever make it work with someone else’s?
Alternative: “What’s your idea of a perfect date?”
This seemingly simple question reveals a lot about a person’s priorities in life and may possibly give hints as to what their love language is. It can have countless different answers from different people, and while working out the dynamics of you two as a couple, always keep in mind the most important question: “How willing am I to adjust to someone with a quirk/trait like this?”
“How did you cope when you last felt deeply vulnerable?”
This might be a deeply personal question, but it’s important to know a person intimately before you decide to spend a lifetime with them. Knowing how they dealt with pain in their past would help you understand how good they are at processing past trauma.
If their answer is along the lines of, “I’ve never felt vulnerable — not as far as I remember,” or, “I just let it be and moved on with my life,” — they might be carrying around unresolved trauma without even knowing it. According to Melanie Greenberg Ph.D., past trauma can adversely affect relationships by creating negative patterns, like:
- Unresolved traumas or chronic rejection can create toxic shame — something that’s a supremely destructive emotion for relationships.
- Traumas can lead a person to choose unhealthy partners and stay with them too long.
- They can form rigid, negative beliefs about relationships that are based on assumptions or fear, rather than facts.
The healthy way to let go of past hurts is to make the conscious decision to take control of the situation. This can take time and practice and requires tons of self-compassion. If your partner’s response makes you feel they’ve achieved this state, it can be a safe option to consider a future with them.
Bonus: “How willing are you to try out Seawolf?”
Where “Seawolf” is the wildest, most audacious sexual kink you can think of.
This question is only valid if physical intimacy is an important way for you to connect with your partner. If one partner greatly enjoys sex and wants to constantly try out new things seven days a week, while the other is happy with sex once a month in a single position over and over again, there might be trouble. Sexual incompatibility is a major factor leading many couples to divorce.
Of course, the kink you mention — your Seawolf — doesn’t have to be something even you’re comfortable with. In addition, not everyone will be open to thinking about Seawolf right at the beginning of a courtship. But the way they answer reveals a lot about their personality. If their face contorts into a frown and they go, “Whoever does that? It’s not natural!” — they might not be willing to try out kinks even several grades lower than Seawolf.
However, if they are surprised and say, “I’ve never thought about that, but if that’s what you’re into, we can give it a try,” then this reveals two things about them:
- They care about their partner’s happiness and satisfaction during sex.
- They are open-minded about trying out new adventures in the bedroom.
If that’s the kind of partner you’re looking for, you two might be a match made in heaven.
These four questions will help you understand a prospective partner on a deeper level. At the end of the day, your partner should challenge you, quench your intellectual curiosity, and be the shoulder of support when you need them. There’s no universal definition for the “perfect partner” because each relationship is different. However, if someone constantly pushes you to be a better version of yourself without expecting anything in return, they might be “the one.”
“Maybe that’s what love was, finding the person who brings out the best in you and eliminates the worst.”
― Diana Holquist, Make Me a Match