Photographer Dita Pepe has a series of photographs where she shows what she’d turn into with the different types of men she could could have married. The series is often hilarious for it’s ability to make fun of such a wide range of families that think they’re unique but are actually just living out their socioeconomic telos.
But there’s also a poignancy to the photos, because it’s almost as if the woman in the photos has no control over her own destiny. Love is fickle and unpredictable and whoever she falls in love with determines the rest of her life.
Which is to say that you cannot overstate the impact your mate has on your life. Your career is a product of what you and your spouse make room for. And your children are a product of the money you and your spouse climb ladders for.
Yet so many people walk around thinking they do not determine their own future—love either finds them or it doesn’t. But that’s not how love works. It’s much more scientific and strategic than we like to imagine. And the bottom line is that women who have been able to set goals for the other parts of their life and meet those goals will be able to set up goals for getting a life partner and meet those goals, too.
How to start? Well, the more you believe that you have power over your own destiny, the more you will take control. There are a lot of ways to help yourself feel like you are in control of your future. Sonja Lyubomirsky has a book of daily tasks to do to change your outlook. Shelley Brunskill-Matson has a list of questions to ask yourself to help transform your outlook.
Once you start thinking of dating as science instead of Cinderella, possibilities open up. Here’s some starter science to get you going.
1. Find someone with good communication skills. John Gottmann has data to show that if you are sarcastic or disrespectful, no relationship will work. If you see that type of relationship starting to emerge, move on. No sense pushing someone to change their communication skills: most people don’t change and therapy always feels more frustrating than good when the other person doesn’t want to go. Also, choose someone who has siblings. People with a sibling of the opposite sex are more comfortable with the opposite sex as adults. (Special bonus for women with sisters: they are happier in their later life.)
2. Don’t pick a guy you earn more than. Men who are financially dependent on their partners are more likely to cheat. A good way to mitigate this risk is to only date when you find someone who is a connector between people from different networks. That’s someone who has an open network, vs. a closed network (which is when you connect people who are all part of the same group). Multiple studies find that the number one factor for career success is how open your network is.
3. Pay attention on the date. So often we want to look independent and not desperate, but disinterest never works. People perceive us as more interesting when we look interested in them. Also, the world economy has shifted from food to labor to knowledge, and the next shift is underway toward attention. That is, attention is what we are trading on, and that’s what’s most valuable. So give your attention if you want the person to feel like you have value.
4. Don’t worry about shared interests. When you have kids, that’s all there’s time for. Kids. After work there is dinner and homework and bedtime and the last thing someone wants to do after a day like that is deal with the maintenance of shared interests. But more than that, you simply don’t have to worry about being bored, because as a society we don’t do boredom any more. There is plenty of just-in-time fun. Don’t worry about finding someone to have fun with.
5. Reconsider living together. John Molloy, author of Why Men Marry Some Women And Not Others, polled 3,500 men to figure out which women men like to marry. It turns out that most women see living together as a step toward marriage and men see living together as buying time ’til they have to consider marriage.
Also, don’t move in together if his parents don’t like you because men are very unlikely to marry a woman their parents don’t like. Besides, it turns out women know who they’d like to marry from information like the scent a guy leaves on his t-shirt, so you definitely don’t need to live with the guy to know if he’s right for you.
6. Don’t be too feminine. Men have facial preferences when it comes to commitment. They prefer less feminine women for long-term relationships and more feminine women for short-term relationships. If you have very feminine traits, like larger eyes and a smaller nose, men are more likely to think of you as a possible fling, but not a potential long-term partner.
7. Don’t make sex so easy. Economist Roy Baumeister, who is known for studying how people get happier, writes that sex is a commodity that women own and men pay for. Men are always trying to drive down the price, and women always suffer when the price is lowered. Today, most women will have pre-marital sex, which means men can marry much later. And since men like to marry women younger than they are (28 is the preferred age for a woman), there are not enough men for women to marry during their child-bearing years.
Now I want to tell you a common scenario I have as a career coach: I’m talking to a woman who is not happy in her career and she doesn’t know what career she wants and she wants kids but she doesn’t know when she is going to have them so she thinks she should change careers.
But career change takes a lot of time and energy. And, unfortunately, so does finding a mate. So what ends up happening on these calls is I say, “Well, you don’t have enough time and energy to create a new, serious career and create a new, serious relationship. So which do you want more?”
And the person I am coaching will, invariably, tell me that she probably wants the relationship more, but she feels like she can control her career and she can’t control her dating life, so she is just going to focus on her career.
Then we spend the coaching session talking about how if you can set a goal in your career and get it then you can set a goal for your personal life and get it. If you are clear on what you want in a career, you can get that career. And if you are clear on what you want in a partner then you can get that partner.
You can’t be unreasonable in either, or you won’t get it. And you can’t wait around for magic to happen in either, or you won’t get it. Knowing what we want is harder than getting what we want. Really. So if you are not getting what you want, assume you are not focused properly, and try again, or get help finding focus. But don’t give up and leave it to chance.