Finding a mate isn’t luck. It’s about setting a goal and reaching it.

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.

75 replies
  1. Julie
    Julie says:

    As a 29 year old woman trying to find a new career outside of law, this is what I needed to hear. I need to find a mate, not a new career! Thank you so much for the (as usual) spot on advice !

    • logan
      logan says:

      I don’t think that is what Penelope was saying.

      It is a matter of knowing what you want that allows you to change careers, and finding a mate is similar.

      She did not say, find a mate instead of changing careers.

      • Angie
        Angie says:

        I think she is saying that, actually. She’s saying you need to focus on one or the other first instead of trying to do both at once.

      • Caitlin
        Caitlin says:

        She’s not saying it directly, but she seems to be implying that women decide to change careers because they are trying to control their life in some way. And that is probably due to the fact that they feel like their romantic life is out of their control. I think she’s just saying… do you really want to change careers? Maybe, maybe not.

        Also, if you’re around the preferred age of men (28) you might want to reconsider putting career first if you want to get married and shift your focus to a relationship. That’s what I get from this. Great post!

        • Logan
          Logan says:

          From the title, I think what is implied here is that one has to set a goal of who one wants in a relationship and part of figuring that out is deciding what exactly one wants, and approaching it like finding a new career.

          Penelope does have a point though, when I do talk to high income earning men, they all want a woman who’s more of the literary, arty type who stays at home and maybe writes for magazines or something.

          I guess women have to decide what they rather prefer:

          1. Being the breadwinner and finding a hot, younger husband who’s more of the stay at home type

          2. Marrying a high profile breadwinner and being more of the supportive wife who raises children

          Personally I don’t want a lot of children, maybe just one girl who’s like a mini-me and two dogs. Typically though, the more successful a guy is, I find the more kids he seems to want, and desire a big family.

          I wonder though about people who are divorced. I’ve seen lots of twenty-something marriages break down, including my sisters’ and it’s made me more cautious about making that kind of commitment. The problem is, most women don’t decide to marry a guy on a whim, and it takes two years before people really get to know each other.

          For me, I’d rather be happy cohabitating until we decide if we want to have a child. Otherwise I’m not sure marriage is that big of a deal, I’m more about looking for a life partner.

  2. logan
    logan says:

    I think knowing what you want in a mate is most important in a mate. Most people don’t know what they want, they just become attracted to whatever.

    Of course, we’ll probably get criticised for making “lists” of our desirable qualities, but it is better than people just settling for people because there are no other options.

    Typically though, I find my first impressions are the most accurate, and I always get in trouble when I don’t listen to my instincts.

  3. Julia
    Julia says:

    Since I am past this stage (well, I could still change careers, but anyway), I am saving this in a secure but highlighted place to work on the concepts with my daughters when they are old enough.

  4. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    My favourite part of this post is the advice you gave at the end. Anyone who is smart enough to hire you for a coaching call will get the most brilliant and clear advice. Where she thought she was getting career advice she actually got refocused which is exactly what she needed. Great post Penelope! x Maria

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s not the size of your nose and eyes. It’s the spacing between them. And it’s not that it prevents you from finding a mate. It’s that you will invariably end up with someone with similar spacing.

      Just being honest here, okay? Probably, what’s keeping you from finding a mate is the knee-jerk defensiveness you exhibit in your comment.


        • redrock
          redrock says:

          sorry, but all of these studies saying “if you have similar facial features you are ….” and are at best trends. They are not absolutes, and I doubt they even reach a very high correlation statistically speaking. They are not specific measures you take when choosing a partner – this trend is unconscious and thus cannot be used as a guide for partner selection. Unless that is we start publishing quantitative data on a dating website – but maybe then we can also go back to arranged marriages which likely tend to promote sameness and socioeconomic background.

      • Katie Dowling
        Katie Dowling says:

        That is a rude way to treat someone commenting on your post. For a life coach your manners are poor.

      • Katie Dowling
        Katie Dowling says:

        You’re rather defensive yourself aren’t you Penny. What a rude way to respond to a follower. Not hiring you as my life coach thanks.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Correct. Don’t worry about shared interests. Here’s why.

      If you want children and a career, and you are 29, you do not have any time left in your life for any interests. You will have kids, a career and a spouse. Find me someone in the entire universe who has room on their plate for anything else. I mean, we are having a national discussion about how people can’t even find room on their plate for this.

      So shared interests is something that matters in ones early 20s, way before kids. And it’s a red herring. It doesn’t make a marriage better. Shared values makes a marriage work.

      Can you find any research that says people who have shared interests before kids keep marriages together better than people who don’t?

      Imagine two people raising a nine and ten year old. Most parents spend their time doing the kids’ interests. Do you think it matters what your shared interests are when you have one kid on a hockey team and one kid doing math decathlon? There is no time for anything else.

      It’s lucky, though, because if you have too long a list of things you need in a mate you’ll never get one. So just cross shared interests off the list.

      Anyway, interests change over decades but values don’t.


      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Shared values matter so much.

        My husband and I have shared interests too, but they align with our values and our interests as kid centric, entrepreneur centric, career centric. Where are we headed, why and how and for what purpose are common conversations in our house.

        I guess we have our hobbies and that’s what we are both separately interested in outside of each other (music/gaming/yoga/friends). They take on a ‘filler’ role in life at this stage.

        • Lindsey
          Lindsey says:

          Just want ot say I agree! I think if you have shared values, that you’ll likely share some interests, too. Not all, but there will probably be overlap where you can have fun together.

          In choosing partners, I cared way more about shared interests than I should have, and worried less about earning money than I should have–and I bet there are lots of twenty-somethings doing the same.

      • Jenya
        Jenya says:

        This advice is sound if you just want a mate for the child-bearing years. But the second you’re an empty nester, you need common interests again.

        • Stef
          Stef says:

          But it’s impossible to predict what your interests or your spouse’s interests will be way down the road. People choose a mate in their young adult life, but people become empty nesters decades later.

          I think a lot of couples have differing interests (ex. he follows a sports team, while she gardens and has book club), and I don’t think that will doom a marriage. A couple doesn’t have to do *everything* together.

        • Sandra
          Sandra says:

          I was wondering about this too. With young kids life is very busy, but in time that changes and then it’s probably better to have some shared interests with your partner. Or maybe the kids and possible grandchildren are your shared interests then.

      • Amy A
        Amy A says:

        But everything about career, kids, and marriage *are* interests (and values) . Not everyone has an interest in being married to their job (or to NOT be married to do their job), or to be with a career-hungry partner, or to be the bread winner, or to be a servant to their partner, or to play kid taxi driver, or to schedule their life around kid activities, or to have their kids in a bunch of external activities, or to have a super scheduled lifestyle, or to have heaps of friends/acquaintances, or to be low (or high) on the priority list, or to be around their kids, or to talk to their spouse, or to parent alone, or to run errands alone, or to be at home, or to be present with / attentive to their loved ones.

        How one spends ones time is a reflection of ones values. And if a couple doesn’t jibe with both values and interests, it isn’t going to work.

        • Stef
          Stef says:

          I think that interests and values are two different things. Pretty much everything you listed falls under “values,” not “interests.” And yes, sharing values is important.

      • Teryn
        Teryn says:

        I have seen a trend in many of my friends parents who are getting a divorce after 30 to 40 years when they become empty nesters and from an outside perspective I wonder if a big reason is they have no similar interests to connect them once the kids are gone. I definitely think what your needs are in a spouse depends on where you are at in life. But this advice makes sense for career women looking for someone to raise children with. If you are trying to raise children with someone who has different values than you it will be a disaster. I am a stay at home mom and as my kids are getting older I have started wanting my husband to be a companion to me again and for us to do things together we both love. I need to feel like we are having fun together and life/marriage is not just one big chore. We don’t have a lot of the same interests but in listening to Brene Browns study on play I did a venn diagram to find out what connections we do have with each other and our kids. It is lovely to be spending time with my family in ways that are fulfilling for all of us rather than someone always making a sacrifice because the other person enjoys it. If you have very little time for play it seems even more important to be intentional with it. Most people have a lot of interests and you can probably find a way to connect on that level if you put some effort into figuring it out.

        • Dee
          Dee says:

          These people had bad marriages before the kids moved out. They didn’t just “realize it” all of a sudden after 30-40 years.

          You can’t ignore your marriage because you have kids together. Growing should be done together as a couple.
          I know several people that are planning on giving up the marriage as soon as the kids move out.
          I wonder if their spouse knows this. Basically they’ve been ignored and taken for granted by the spouse for too long.
          The “don’t make sex so easy” comment is for me really smart, but not in a manipulative way.

          If you don’t have sex just to have it- it’s a great gauge for the marriage.
          If you’ve ignored me for some time- we’re not having sex- red flag, both parties need to aknowledge the problem and communicate. You remember to not take each other for granted and poff- sex happens again.
          Having it in the dark fantasizing about someone else, going through the motions or the grocery list is killing your relationship slowly but effectively.
          Choosing that over the uncomfortable owning up to your actions leads you down a slippery slope.

          Why on earth should you ever have bad sex? Of course your going to want to stop having it all together after a while. (As some couples do).
          It’s not because you’re asexual all of a sudden.

          Now I’m ranting.

          Values include how you look at marriage and relationships. If you both put marriage and family first and believe you should fight for togetherness – that beats shared interests any day of the week.

          You don’t need your husband to have shared interests with you- you need him to show that he’s interested in you as a woman and friend now that the kids are “out of the way”.
          As a man said to his wife recently after 40 years of marriage : “you only hold my hand when it’s slippery outside, and when I come home, I’m the one that kisses you, you never come meet me at the door, kissing me”.

          All he wanted was some love… As we all do.

  5. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    I was a doubter when I saw friends set goals to find mates. But it worked. Every time. The key for them wasn’t a detailed list of traits they wanted in a partner, but rather being exceptionally clear with potential partners that they were looking for something long term, their stance on children, and any deal breakers. Then they could take it or leave it. It worked out for me too with the added bonus that I met someone who was willing to support me in a transition to a second career. All I had to do was ask.

  6. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I earn more than my spouse and we’re not planning on having kids. This article feels very patronizing, and antiquated.

    I agree that communication skills are important, but not having shared interests?? Well, have fun with that.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I think u need more shared interests without kids, for sure.

      Kids and their well being become the overriding interest is all.

    • Maria
      Maria says:

      when you have a career, children, a husband, a house, and a lifestyle company to run, you dont have time for share interests. Shared values are the absolutely most. Values is what connects my husband and me nowdays. And I am so happy it is this way. Another connector is sex, but that is more important for him than for me.

      I met my husband when I was 22, we did not have share interests besides going to his rugby parties during college and having sex. He played rugby, I went to the gym, he took electives about turbine physics, I took electives about business. On thing, we both shared (besides values) is we both prefer beach to mountains. So, today is easy to choose our vacation spots!

  7. meistergedanken
    meistergedanken says:

    On the whole, this is rather pragmatic, actionable, advice. You left out an important one, though:

    8. Don’t Be Fat.

    • Aurora
      Aurora says:

      Well, I’m pretty fat, and I basically concur with this statement. I have a lot of good points: very charismatic, attractive, very intelligent, up for anything, good in bed, generous and kind. But I’m also pretty picky when it comes to men (I like ’em hot) and the reality is that because of my body, my choices have been limited.

      One choice that turned out to be a great bet came in a funny, gentle, sweet and extremely handsome man who also happens to be overweight. But it seems true that for men, money compensates for the body. So I’m pretty sure I landed my husband because when I met him at age 33 he didn’t have a career put together and was actually totally broke. Honestly, if he was rich and had a good career he would have found a very very hot woman before we met.

      We’re also lucky because we are super attracted to each other, and I think that matters as much as communication (though I could feel differently someday).

      And, through a lot of hard work and attention to our relationship and our finances, his career is starting to come together. But mine is off the chains, and dual-career households can be a real pain in the ass to manage. But since he works gigs, and it’s not his life’s work or passion, he’ able to be a house-husband when I need it, and is completely comfortable with the embracing the stay-at-home dad role, which is likely what we’ll choose.

      Part of what makes my hubby so hot is that he’s extremely comfortable in his masculinity. That makes everything so much easier because he doesn’t see me earning more or him doing dishes/laundry/chores as an affront to his ego or manhood. As he would say, after a day like that, “I’m all man, woman!”

      I say all that now, when I’m happily on lexapro, a wonder drug that makes all my anxiety and depression disappear. I kinda wonder if Penelope wrote this out of an anxious space of ‘holy shit, all i’ve done is follow my gut and we’re broke and the farmer is pissed at me, and fml” Whenever I feel that way I call my sister and tell her to dump her boyfriend and not fuck up her life. But then the PMS or whatever subsides and I just feel so grateful for what I have, and for just following the path I’ve been on.

      Ultimately, I think you have to be really careful trying to engineer your life based on correlational studies. If you treat your life like a science experiment, you’re going to spend all your time in your head, and much less of it enjoying the flow.

  8. J
    J says:

    This post made me feel sad for women (& men) who are straight, want to breed and also have some desperate urge to conform to old fashioned standards & values. Bad deal all around it seems.

    Additionally reading this list I can hardly blame those men reluctant to marry. I don’t see why a man would want to marry a woman who only wants him as a means to an end. This list may also shed light on the high rate of divorce on average.

    Just a quick question by the by: Was this written in the 1950’s?

    #4. – yeah I’m with the other commenters on this. Good luck with that.

    • Bookish Jen
      Bookish Jen says:

      The woman as gold digger who sees men as walking wallets is just a myth. And Penelope buys into it because she’s a materialistic narcissist from Wilmette and has all the depth of a Jimmy Choo in-step.

      BTW-took a look at your website. You are very talented.

      • J
        J says:

        I think Penelope buys into statistics and averages as though they are absolute and unchangeable and infinite. Like God.

        But I can also understand how statistics that conform to what we want to believe or conforming to statistics as a guide rail to life in general is greatly comforting but it’s also kind of distorting (at least for me) almost every post written through that lens. I have to try and navigate how much of this advice is real, based on experience and how much is aiming to conform to a statistical analysis.

        Also thanks for seeing my work! :)

  9. Erin
    Erin says:

    There are a lot of criticisms of this post, and I get it. But Penelope isn’t talking about the way things *should* be. This is pragmatic advice that addresses the way things are.

    We carry around these ideals, this perfectionism, that we can’t be happy unless we have X, Y and Z. But this post says we can be happy without our checklist of requirements. And Penelope is right on that point.

    Some people sacrifice money. Some sacrifice having kids. Some sacrifice an interesting career. We all make choices, so we all make sacrifices.

    And, anyways, love and happiness has more to do with vulnerability and self sacrifice than it does “being with the right person.” Because (here’s the secret) we are all flawed.

    The trick is finding someone who’s willing to stick around with you and all your flaws (and visa versa) so together you get to experience the joys of relationship.

    • James
      James says:

      Whatever happened to “Be the change?” If this is actual practical advice, then I’ve got better advice: just forget about men entirely. I mean, if you are going to make a decision about whether to move in with an individual you actually know based on data about how a class of individuals behave, then you have given up on actually knowing anyone to the point that you are probably better off alone.

  10. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    Love this article! I have personally had a coaching call with Penelope that played out exactly the way she describes.

    Most people want to believe love is romantic coincidence. But you have to be a match for the kind of person you want to attract. This can’t be done without setting goals, being clear on your own values, and doing what it takes to put yourself out there. So yes, while I can agree that love may play out like in the movies, getting married is the most important decision anybody will ever make. We shouldn’t spend less time thinking about it than purchasing a car!

    I’m an INFJ (who presents as hyper logical due to a strongly developed introverted thinking function). After talking to Penelope, I realized that although my career was important (and still very much is…I’m obsessed with being financially independent and changing the world), love is in my own value system and doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

    Once I became clear on what I wanted, the most interesting men have been coming into my life. It isn’t that they didn’t exist before. I think it’s because I was ready to pay attention and appreciate them. And no, this was not through online dating! Like the stereotype of INFJs I can read people pretty accurately within minutes of meeting them. I’m also an intensely private person who had to learn how to do small talk. We do, afterall live in an extraverted world of chronic small talkers! Online is good for small talk, but when your energy to socialize is quite limited this no longer is viable. For me it has to be done in person, since most communication is non-verbal (and online forces it to be mostly verbal…a pathetic percentage of the package). For this reason, I gave up on online dating and decided playing to my strengths (friendliness from extraverted feeling, mind reading people, quickly picking up on red flags, assessing whether or not our personalities would mesh well) would be a more efficient way to meet prospective partners.

    I haven’t entered into a serious relationship yet (though there is a contender), but just putting yourself out there and practicing a specific skillset will give confidence in your ability to attract compatible and desirable mates. Without the goal-setting and motivation, this becomes a boring and tedious task.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      catherine, I also an INFJ in the exact same situation. I was wondering, if love is in your own value system, what kind of men would be a good match?

  11. Dee
    Dee says:

    I’d like to add this: you have to be willing to give more than you get- on blind faith that you’re partner will reciprocate.

    No one married is complaining about what penelope wrote, hmn – could it be because they agree?

    I think people are too selfish to meet someone today. They want so much but without any sacrifice or compromise.

    I have several friends that shoot for the moon when looking for a partner. The problem is that they are not looking hard at themselves and at what they can offer the guy.

    The career focused super busy woman that spends her evenings hanging out at the right place to keep networking after hours…
    Looking for a career focused, sucessfull guy, that’s hot and gorgeous but only interested in her…
    Well- that guy is most likely interested in a hot and cuddly girl that’s at home when he gets there and doesn’t talk about stuff he listens to every day at the office. The girl that has time for him and can complement him.
    Who wants to date the other sex- version of themselves?

    Values- super important.
    Shared interests? I’d almost say you should make sure you don’t have shared interests.

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      Yes! Because interests can and WILL change after 5, 10, 20 years and if you set your foot on that, then you are definitely setting yourself for failure and disappointment. If you don’t want a man who loves to watch baseball all day long at the weekends, your problem is most likely that he prefers TV to you/family (=values), not that he’s into sports.

  12. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I agree with a lot of information in this article. I have been married for almost 6 years and communication is definitely the key! Having a shared interest is nice but it will not make or break a relationship (or it shouldn’t). I have no shared interests with my husband, besides our family, as long as you both agree to the big decisions (having kids, religion, etc) then everything else will fall into place. I am not an expert in marriage, I just know my experience :)

  13. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    What happens when people flip flop on their values? For example two people marry who aren’t very religious and then a few years down the line, for whatever reason, one partner does become religious but the other stays non religious. That can completely change a person’s value system. Same for having kids. Two people may agree that parenthood isn’t for them and then one suddenly becomes desperate to have a baby while the other still does not want to be a parent. Two people can start out agreeing that they value the same things with each agreeing that their value system is who they fundamentally are and then one of them does a complete 180. I’ve seen it happen to couples I thought were rock solid. I think there are a lot of value changers out there who in that moment think they have their personal truth and value system figured out and know who they are, but then something comes along that changes that and suddenly they have a totally opposite value system and “truth” that they feel just as strongly about.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Once you make a commitment such as marriage to someone, that commitment should be more important than a change in one’s literal personal value system.

      That being said, the person who changes their value system (which takes a lot of time) has a responsibility to themselves and their partner to be an adult about it: honest, open, etc.

      I think a change such as that can strengthen marriage if done with intelligence. If done recklessly and carelessly then sure there will be conflict and problems.

      Sometimes also people marry the wrong person for the wrong reason, or the right person for the wrong reason etc.

    • Richard Ryan
      Richard Ryan says:

      telos: A telos (from the Greek τέλος for “end”, “purpose”, or “goal”) is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term “teleology,” roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions.

  14. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    The little girl in pink glasses is so adorable.

    I did not follow too many of these on the list and have managed to be married for 10 years. But I guess it could still end in divorce! LOL

    I have been reading about the 36 questions lately, it seems like a good idea.

    My own list would be, be willing to be vulnerable and get hurt, have a sense of humor, and acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with attempting to change yourself for the love of another person but only if that person is willing to do the same for you.

  15. Stephen Borgman
    Stephen Borgman says:

    Penelope, would you have specific advice for Asperger/AS men and women who have set this goal, yet struggle with the social nuances needed to form and maintain a significant relationship? Or any other readers, can you speak to this?

  16. LisaP
    LisaP says:

    On the subject of career vs mate change, in my late 20s I wanted to 1. change my career and 2. marry my long-term boyfriend. I made the latter a priority (by letting him know what I wanted and that I wouldn’t be around much longer if it didn’t happen. You could call it an ultimatum, I call it honesty) After we got married, we both made career changes which were probably a lot easier to do together than it would’ve been to do separately because we supported each other.

  17. Amy
    Amy says:

    Married nearly 20 years. Me: INFP. Him: ESTP.

    Absolutely no shared interests to speak of. Sometimes we even laugh when we try to figure one out. Can “eating supper” be a shared interest?

    Lots of ups and downs … but we’re still together!

  18. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This shared interest thing is intriguing, and nope, husband and I have no shared interests. Never have. And we have no kids. My Goodness, what holds it all together! ha!

  19. sunship
    sunship says:

    To some of Penelope’s advice in the comments – ouch! Penelope, do you ever watch the Millionaire Matchmaker with Patti Stanger? ( . It’s been a reality series guilty pleasure for a few years now, but sometime last year I realized how much similarity there is between what she does and what you do – clear, pragmatic, often cringeworthy Jewish motherly advice and reality checks.

    I’m with those who find the advice of this sort somewhat vulgar (this particular one less so than previous similar posts). But I acknowledge that it holds in its intended domain of application. There are historical, cultural, economic, biological reasons why things are the way they are. And that might well imply that if you are 27, have the desire to have children and operate within the current society/framework, it’s probably wise to consider some of the realities that Penelope gets at in posts like this – especially if the alternative is to make choices based on a sort of ungrounded mental idealism(of the sort that Penelope tries to debunk). And there does need to be a place to acknowledge those realities without being judged.

    Trying to work with the status quo in this way is always, to some degree, a conservative position. But “progressives” also need an understanding of the social, economic, and biological realities behind the kinds of advice that Penelope dispenses the current reality and use that understanding to clarify what exactly they feel is wrong with it. Which in turn can help individuals to determine what sorts of specific actions they can take within the current circumstances to bring society (or a sub-society) closer to the desired value system. Small concrete example: for instance, if the economic aspects of, say, #2, seem especially vulgar to you, one possibility is to consider what sorts of forms of small scale interpersonal economic cooperation beyond two parent households can help us move beyond the male breadwinner-female nurterer pattern. To avoid “ungrounded idealism”, look to the psychological obstacles of previous attempts in, say, the 1960’s-70’s and attempt to move beyond those in your own developments.

    Of course, another issue is: the biological clock and the subsequent time pressures of point #4 in many cases don’t leave time for introspection and carefully considered paradigm rejection. A lot of the sort of change discussed in the previous paragraph is hard to implement in one human lifetime. And that, of course, is one of the many things that keeps the current paradigm in place. Yes, that makes for more difficult choices, in some ways, than a conservative position – but why shouldn’t it be more difficult to combat deeply entrenched forces than to go along with them?

    That Dita Pepe series is fascinating. However, I think that only a thoroughly Marxist argument would hold that the husbands’ socioeconomic statuses are the only determinant of that range of colorful and varied lives …

  20. jessica
    jessica says:

    I just finished DVFs the woman I wanted to be.

    She made herself and her development a priority.

    I really liked her book and approach.

  21. ValterV
    ValterV says:

    8. Do not take dating advice from an Asperger person. ;-)
    Because they see love and relationships in mostly unusual ways.
    Just a couple of examples:

    > 4. Don’t worry about shared interests.
    Yeah, sure. So, after you two have taken care of the kids, you won’t have anything to share beyond kids. Sure recipe for mutually losing interest – and being attracted by someone else on your same wavelength (at last!).

    > 7. Don’t make sex so easy. […] sex is a commodity
    Yes, sex can be seen as a commodity – especially when you contemplate a career in prostitution. ;-)
    A woman who use sex as a commodity, shouldn’t be much surprised when she’ll find a mate who, sooner or later, will see her as a property or something disposable. :-|
    After all, that’s what happens with the things you buy.

    • Ryo
      Ryo says:

      After reading this I was just about to reply the same. Glad to know that there are people with common sense nowadays. Best regards.

  22. Allister Freeman
    Allister Freeman says:

    Interesting subject to photograph with some even more interesting points! I have 4 children and shared interests do tend to take a little bit of a backseat, point 4 really hits the nail on the head.

    Great article.

  23. Julia
    Julia says:

    What most nay sayers here seem not to understand is that this advice is not for everyone. Nor does Penelope say all points should be followed by everyone, her own life is a collection of exceptions from these rules. It is a collection of tips, especially for women who have little time and too many options. If you are twenty and not yet worried about marrying, this is not for you (although she would advise you to start worrying about it sooner rather than later, as per other posts.) If you already have someone you love and would go to the moon and back with them if needed, this is not for you.

    This is for those who are not sure whether to insist on someone they are already dating, or who are single and getting late for the having kids train. One of these may be a good tipping point for your particular situation. Maybe you have someone who seems to be a good match and is interested, but you are worrying there are no shared interests. Guess what – this is most likely not very important if you already have other good stuff in the relationship. Build your shared interests in twenty years, or take the opportunity to acquire new ones. If you think a comfortable life is important and/or would like to stop working or work less to take care of kids, stop looking for dates in bohemian bars. The sex part only means you may only find the guys who want nothing but sex if you do not wait a bit longer to see what else they may be looking for, not that sex in the first date will prevent you from finding a good partner. Etc., etc.

    These are VERY generic rules based on majority trends. Exceptions happen. If a happy exception happens in your life, just go live your happy exception. My parents decided to marry the first day they ever met, in the street. It worked, for thirty years, but even their shared interests did not prevent divorce when the time came (they are still close however). No planning at all, but that is an exception and they were definitely not the kind of people Penelope is aiming at.

  24. Nita
    Nita says:

    I agree with #7 – Don’t make sex too easy- it seems like ladies give it away like candy today. Guys also start to expect it too early in the relationship. Now once you get married – don’t withhold, because that will cause cheating, lol! I totally disagree with #2. I started off making more than my husband – now he makes more than me. There were years of transition, but the point was, neither of us cared about the money because we shared it. Also, I disagree with #6. Don’t be too feminine. – that’s about personal attactiveness and too general a statement.

  25. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Relationships are so complicated and I don’t think they can really be defined by any set of rules for success since people really are very different.

    I have been with my partner for 13 years and married for ten of those with three children. I still don’t feel qualified to dish out relationship advice. More like empathy and understanding when people are going through various phases in their relationship to let them know that things can still work out.

    If you must be married (some people enjoy being single) then my only advice is to make sure the person you are choosing to spend your life with is not an abusive person, physically, mentally, verbally, or emotionally. Don’t be too clingy or needy all the time. Don’t be manipulative. If you don’t have any shared interests then make sure your personalities are compatible. What is the most annoying thing about your mate? Can you live with that annoying habit every day for the rest of your life? Don’t expect annoying habits to change. ;)

    • Olly
      Olly says:

      Very sound advice, Elizabeth. Thank you. And good point about annoying habits. In my previous relationships I didn’t pay much attention to this being a big believer that time and love will work wonders. But once “little” annoying habits tend to grow into big issues. It’s I am still balancing somewhere between enjoying being single, but not giving up hope to have a family of my own either. About a month ago I met a quite nice guy. We seem to have a lot in common, and spend but I am taking my time and quite cautious about taking our relationships to the next stage.

  26. Dee
    Dee says:

    Reading these comments I just realized what will now be my number one relationship advice.

    Judge your compatible by what type of relationship advice your partner dishes out to others. (Or what relationship advice he/she agrees with).


  27. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Another FAB article…and totally relevant–I’m 29 and single… What I love about your writing, Penelope is that you are so insightful and get to the heart of the matter. And, you say things that no one else has the balls to say. Every young woman needs to read this article. It’s that revolutionary.

  28. Kat
    Kat says:

    So people need marriages to forge their identity and lifestyle. It’s sad.

    The wake up call in this post isn’t that setting goals has a big impact. This post sounds like the most important adult milestone is just an excuse to cover their immaturity to grow up by themselves. Therefore lets consider some strategies to score a new raison d’être.

    I mean, I’m all for taking actual steps to maximize your life’s chances through marriage eg. women who aspire to work in private equity banking just to meet rich men. But i find it difficult to be intimate with mates who bring identity crisis into relationships.

  29. Alta
    Alta says:

    Very well said – Love is fickle and unpredictable and whoever she falls in love with determines the rest of her life. I will keep it as a collection of quotes. May be a blog is now required to hold Penelope’s quote.

  30. Dee
    Dee says:

    Dear Penelope,
    May I just say that I love you. I’ve gotten so much great advice and so many laughs and “I-knew-I-wasn’t-the-only-one” moments reading your blog… and I look forward to many more!
    Kindest Regards,
    Dee in Texas

  31. Storm
    Storm says:

    Is this article about Love, or merely ‘finding a mate’?

    If it’s about Love, then I’m sorry, but no.

    Anyone can write “find a mate” on a shopping list, but Love can neither be ‘found’ nor demanded. It can be dreamed about, yes, but not demanded, forced, coerced, cornered, tricked or rushed.

    Love is gentle. elusive and infinitely patient – and it must be left alone to find YOU.

    It’s not a ‘goal’ to be conquered and viewing that way only ensures its continued avoidance of the one wanting it the most.

    Love doesn’t respond well to desperation and nagging demands. It’s like a little Finch in your garden – rush at it, and it will flee. Be still and be calm, and it has a chance to draw near.

    Love is a gift that will find its own way to the right heart at the right time.

  32. Ms. L
    Ms. L says:

    This: “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.” is insane!! Large eyes and a small nose are seen as beautiful traits and what heterosexual man would want a woman who looks masculine? Are you suggesting women cut their hair short, wear butch clothes, and act like men? Yuck. I will keep my long flowing hair, dresses, and heels thankyouverymuch

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