There was an episode of How I Met Your Mother that discussed this theory: every “good relationship” has both a “reacher” and a “settler.” “One person reaches for someone above their league and one person settles below theirs.” But is this theory really valid? I know that for my personal love life it doesn’t really ring true, so I had to explore it. Evolutionary psychology (theory based on survival and reproductive mechanisms’ perspectives) suggests that people end up matched with mates of equal value. For instance, if you and your significant other were to be in a study and you had to be rated on your attractiveness and they rated you as a “7” lets say, then most likely your significant other would be rated around a 6 or 7 also, since the theory suggests that you end up being paired up with others of similar “mate value” in your communities. Across different cultures, evolutionary theory research has found that people want to be with the best they can get. It is suggested that people aren’t only settling for the best they can get, because people are also very much attracted to their mates (of similar attractiveness).

Evolutionary theories can be helpful in understanding mating preferences and dating behaviors, but when it comes to the emotion of love you have to recognize its limitations. Physical attraction is only part of it. How are we to judge the connection between two people? And how are we to judge whom is settling for whom? Yes, we see some couples and we may think “he’s too good for her” or “what does she see in him?” And yes we all know those people who will even admit that they aren’t in love, or they may be cheating, etc. In those cases it’s more evident that someone was “settling” for that relationship (for whatever the reason may be). But in most cases, I would argue the reason most long term relationships work is because no one was settling or reaching. Instead, two people who were attracted to each other, for more than just physical reasons, had a strong connection.

With that being said, if we are going to judge other couples on who is the reacher and the settler, it is important to consider the whole package. Therefore, a model (lets pretend she’s bitchy and mean) married to a short bald guy musician (lets pretend he’s funny and charismatic) may not be settling for him, but instead they could be of equal value taking other points into perspective beyond just attractiveness. This perspective takes getting use to, but keep an open mind on examining the whole package, which includes intellect, humor, creativity, and so much more.

Self-awareness and experience help us know our “mate value.” I have observed in some people who have a difficult time finding a long term partner lack that self-awareness. These people believe they should get that tall, dark and handsome (and rich) guy, or that beautiful, smart, cover girl look alike lady. Yet they don’t offer the same value in return. Our mating preferences get shaped by our experiences, positively or negatively, reinforced. It’s okay to have deal breakers, I’ll admit that I’ve overlooked several guys because they weren’t tall enough or smart enough for me to be attracted to them, but the truth is we do discriminate when we choose our mates. Not saying to not discriminate but to be open minded. If you’re single for a long time and you’re wondering why, it could be that you have unrealistic expectations of who you’re long term significant other should be.

Anyway, so get out there and start dating! Stop thinking that you are too good for him or her and be open to the idea that love sometimes happens with people you wouldn’t (initially) expect. A relationship doesn’t need a “reacher” and a “settler” to make it work, but rather equal partners who are in love (regardless if others “understand” it).