A lot of research, from all over the world, has asked people about what they prefer in a future romantic partner. There is a big assumption in almost all of this research: that these preferences matter when people choose a romantic partner from many possible alternatives. For example, if my friend Chris says he prefers a woman that is a few years younger than him, outgoing, ambitious, and wants to start a family (eventually), most would assume when deciding to enter a romantic relationship he should be more likely to select someone that closely matches, rather than defies, his preferences. If my friend Shelby says she is looking for a dark-haired man with sagacious eyebrows who can simultaneously walk and chew gum, then she should be more likely to enter a relationship with a man that is both intelligent and has eyebrows and that scores high on the sagaciousness scale (assuming he knows what sagaciousness means).
I have not counted the number of studies that focus on “interpersonal attraction”, the general term used to describe research that is concerned with partner preferences, but it is safe to say that there are hundreds upon hundreds of published research studies on this topic.1 So do individual’s preferences for a romantic partner when they are single reflect the traits and personalities of their actual future romantic partners?