Romantic Ideals are Different on Paper than in Person

With the advent of internet dating, romantic partners are often first experienced on the page rather than in person. In a new study, Paul W. Eastwick of the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University examined how romantic ideals change from the printed profile to the in-person encounter. “Specifically, these studies tested whether the match between one’s ideal partner preferences and the traits that one perceives in a romantic partner predicts relational outcomes across several different contexts,” said Eastwick.  “The present research examined the circumstances under which relational outcomes (e.g., romantic desire, commitment) are predicted by the match between (a) the traits that characterize one’s ideal romantic partner and (b) one’s perception of the traits of a specific individual who is or has the potential to be a romantic partner. We refer to this predictive association between ideal-perceived trait match and relational outcomes as the predictive validity hypothesis for ideal partner preferences.”

In a series of experiments, Eastwick evaluated romantic ideals in potential romantic partners and existing romantic partners. “Two attraction experiments in the laboratory found that, when participants evaluated a potential romantic partner’s written profile, they expressed more romantic interest in a partner whose traits were manipulated to match (vs. mismatch) their idiosyncratic ideals,” said Eastwick. “However, after a live interaction with the partner, the match vs. mismatch manipulation was no longer associated with romantic interest.” He also found that current partners were more romantically attracted to their mate if their ideals were similar overall. “In general, the match between ideals and a partner’s traits may predict relational outcomes when participants are learning about a partner in the abstract and when they are actually in a relationship with the partner, but not when considering potential dating partners they have met in person. Eastwick added, “Particularly when initiating relationships, it seems that potential partners who happen to match our ideal partner preferences get no preferential treatment from our hearts. But once a relationship has been established, the match between a current partner’s traits and the pattern of our ideal partner preferences may ultimately affect relationship well-being.”

Eastwick, Paul W., Eli J. Finkel, and Alice H. Eagly. “When and Why Do Ideal Partner Preferences Affect the Process of Initiating and Maintaining Romantic Relationships?”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101.5 (2011): 1012-032. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Monica

    December 10th, 2011 at 6:17 PM

    Everything looks better on paper than it it tyically is in reality. But if you know what you want and what you are looking for in a partner, then hopefully you have all of that figured out and it will work out when you find “the one”.

  • Geroge A

    December 11th, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    So the moral of the story is that you don’t always necessarily want what you have written down on paper when it comes right down to having or not having that. I had this huge list made of things that I wanted in a wife, but then when I actually met thewoman that I discovered that I wanted to marry I found that she had very few of those qualities. When you are looking at those things and when you idealize them you have to know that you are going to grow and learn and that maybe what you thought that you wanted five years ago is not that important anymore.

  • ben

    December 11th, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    you might like someone who shares your hobbies or activities on paper but in reality things are very may be interested in someone who is the complete opposite of what you are it just doesnt matter.and no,taking a look at someones profile page does not tell you about that person!

  • Evan

    December 12th, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    The real problem here is that far too many of us waste far too much of our time in front of a computer screen. For some of us that is what actually becomes our reality, and when we are hit with the way that someone really is, or what a real person looks like and what it is like to carry on a real conversation with someone it is no wonder that we are bummed. Real life has a hard time measuring up to the “realities” that we create for ourselves via the computer.

  • Darnell Williamson

    December 13th, 2011 at 1:51 AM

    Well I’m a psychologist who has dealt with this type for 20 years. I’ve observed many people are quite easily falling into this trap where they find a man/woman can be completely different on paper even to the point where it’s the opposite.

    That was a perfect example above I just wrote. I’m really 22 and my medical training stops at basic CPR. See? People can lie and they will lie like crazy, especially if they think they would get the girl.

  • jen c.

    December 15th, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    Darnell, you got me! :) I made an online dating profile and one guy that responded claimed he was the tall dark stranger type that women go absolutely mad for. He was a full-blooded Latin Adonis he said. Turns out he was half-Irish and short. The only thing that would have topped that is if he was actually a woman LOL. Caveat emptor. :)

  • Jude R. Carlson

    December 15th, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    @ jen c. -Anyone given enough time to craft their words can make themselves sound very respectable. It’s what they leave out that really matters. For example, I know of a man who never cheated on his wife, had war decorations, supported animal rights, rarely drank, and didn’t smoke. Who is that man? Adolf Hitler.

  • joshbell

    December 15th, 2011 at 7:46 PM

    @Ben-You’re absolutely right, people can lie freely in life without any form of punishment. That’s why I hate internet dating sites. You walk into the meeting place and find out that nice looking girl in the photo could in the flesh scare kids at Halloween without a mask. I’ve had that happen. Photoshop has a lot to answer for!

  • Les Rodgers

    December 15th, 2011 at 8:03 PM

    @joshbell–It would be very awkward and shallow if you just turned around and left when she was a perfectly nice girl even if she was a 2 on your personal attractive scale. Looks aren’t everything but mentalities like that are what make folks insecure enough that they feel the need to exaggerate or improve upon who they are unnecessarily.

  • deborah golden

    December 15th, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    “Photoshop has a lot to answer for!” Amen to that, josh! It does. The dating sites should make you add the date when the pictures in your profile were taken too. I see profile pics up on dating sites that must be ten or twenty years old judging by the clothes and hairstyles. It’s false advertising!

    Heck, all you need to do is go to a photo booth if you don’t have any other means of taking one. Timewasters, they all are.

  • Valerie Cole

    December 15th, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    Wow, joshbell. Comments like that make me wonder what your own photo and profile are like. It can’t be 100% honest because I’d sure not want to date you with that attitude and nor would any woman with half an ounce of self-esteem! People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  • Isabel F.

    December 15th, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    @deborah: I am so with you on that! It’s nuts anyway to add an old portrait shot. If a man’s age says 60 and it’s clear he is in his forties in the picture, I wouldn’t even contact him. It’s verging on deep insecurity at best and dishonesty at worst.

    I’m going to see he doesn’t look like that on the date anyway, so why add more pressure for that by sharing an old picture? And we don’t all judge by appearances either.

  • rosemaryblackburn

    December 16th, 2011 at 12:11 AM

    @joshbell–You’re reinforcing the online dater stereotype there about how they are all shallow and just looking for one night stands, you know that right? Even if you’re good looking on the outside (and with that arrogance I’m assuming you are), the inner beauty’s what counts most so don’t think you can get by on looks alone. It doesn’t work for men for very long any more than it does for women.

  • Clark D.

    December 16th, 2011 at 12:17 AM

    I agree, Isabel. You are who you are and if the potential date can’t accept that, then they can move on. Plenty more fish in the sea as my grandpa used to say. Not everybody wants a glamour queen, rock star or male model type. Give me a good heart and kindness any day. Looks fade.

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