As part of PAPER's month-long "Sexpress" series, New York-based sexologist Shelby Sells will be writing weekly columns that investigate modern sexuality. Dive into her sexpertise, below.
Stepping into adulthood, I had no awareness of the concept of choosing your significant other. I assumed relationships took on a mind of their own and evolved naturally. While this holds true to a certain degree, I eventually became privy to the fact that I have a say in who my partners are, to what extent our partnership goes, and that nothing is left up to "fate." My dating experiences up until that point had consisted of partners who had chosen me. My laid back demeanor made it easy for me to experiment with people from all backgrounds; gathering information about what I really wanted from a significant other. After a couple of unfulfilling relationships, I began to notice a pattern evolving in my dating techniques.
I fell hard for the stereotypical bad boy (I know). Was he in a punk band? Check. Was his body hygiene questionable? Check. What was it about him that appealed so much to me? Was it his instability? The way he played me hot and cold? Whatever it was, the "ignore me harder, daddy" routine got old. Realizing I no longer prized the emotionally unavailable, I began pinpointing qualities in a partner that were important to me; traits like honesty, reliability, emotional safety and open communication. There is no such thing as the "perfect partner," but being in a mutually satisfying relationship does exist. Defining your version of satisfaction is up to you. Everyone has different needs.
How do we determine someone's value as a romantic significant other? At the end of the day your partner should bring out the best in you. This is not to say your overall happiness and success as an individual is solely based on your partner because that is absolutely not true (only you can make you happy.) A partner that brings out the best in us is someone who contributes to our continuous flourishing, engaging with us on a number of levels, as well as their capacity to participate in establishing and enhancing a long-term profound romantic relationship.
Researchers have discovered the two most popular methods when it comes to choosing a significant other: maximizing and satisficing. Maximizing your choice means picking the best option and never settling for anything less. Maximizers spend a lot of time going through relationships to find their number one love interest. Satisficing, on the other hand, focuses on figuring out what attributes you're looking for in a partner and making a commitment as soon as you find them. Satisficers select the first option that "satisfies" their pre-determined, specific standards.
I know I'm not the only who feels conditioned to be a "maximizer." We see the "grass is always greener" mentality run rampant in almost all aspects of life including work relationships, friendships, and romantic partnerships. This instant gratification lifestyle choice subtly (or not so subtly) encourages us to "choose up" i.e. whomever has the most followers on Instagram or whomever is the most well-known in an industry. While talent and drive are admirable qualities, they should not be the only attributes taken into consideration when choosing a mate. Remember, you and your partner should choose to be with one another. A mutually satisfying relationship is a successful relationship. If your needs are not being met don't settle for something unfulfilling. Your happiness should always come first.