by Nicolle

  1. Has a job: about 80 percent
  2. Isn’t bald: about 75 percent (under the age of 30)
  3. Taller than 5 feet 8 inches, but not too tall (not over 6 feet 2 inches): a little over 53 percent
  4. Between the ages of 25 and 34 (and even 34 is a little old) who has never been married: less than 18 percent

For a 23-year-old female, the above characteristics seem relatively common for boyfriend selection. Most women would willingly admit to overtly or subconsciously holding each possible mate to a list much longer than the one above; lifelong happiness can’t be gained if we’re not specific about what we want.

Unfortunately, though we’ve been socially inundated with our right to be picky, by making ourselves so choosy, we’ve actually reduced our likelihood of finding a spouse.

courtesy of PhotoXpress

Take my stats from above. As my characteristics get more specific, the percentage of guys who have those attributes decreases. And that doesn’t even take into account the likelihood of finding a guy who has all of my chosen traits, nor does it include religion (a factor for many), proximity (it’s difficult to meet a guy in Texas when I live in Minnesota) or education (while 80 percent of men may have a job, they could be flipping burgers at the local Mickey D’s).

I’ve basically set myself up for failure if I limit my boyfriend search to such objective characteristics. Rachel Greenwald, bestselling author of Find a Husband After 35: Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School, is an expert in the dating market for men and women who haven’t gotten it right in their 20s. At age 25, she says, people are looking for instant butterflies as an indication that a guy or girl is the one. But that thinking is dangerous, especially as we get older – looking for butterflies limits our choices because it causes us to ignore perfectly wonderful people if we’re missing a “spark.”

Instead of butterflies, instant heat and never-ending excitement, we should be looking for what Greenwald calls subjective qualities, things that are crucial to a marriage (or long-term relationship) like patience, selflessness and stability.

Constant butterflies may make you feel as though Hollywood-style happy endings really do come true, but those feelings won’t make you a more selfless, patient person. On a daily basis, marriage is about choosing to maximize your happiness or the other person’s – and a fluffy feeling isn’t going to consistently drive you to choose to sacrifice for your partner.

If we don’t reevaluate our standards, it only becomes increasingly harder to find someone who measures up. Instead of letting ourselves waste precious time on lists of objective characteristics, we need to think about what we want in the long run.

Will a short, thin-haired, compassionate guy treat you better than a tall, dark, handsome and self-centered one who looks good in photos? Probably.

Will a funny, selfless girl who you’re not instantly head-over-heels for but enjoy spending time with be a better girlfriend/wife than a hot girl who gives you immediate butterflies and makes you work for her affection? Most likely.

Greenwald, who also does private dating consultations, tells her clients that the more they focus on objective characteristics, the more likely they are to end up staying single. “I’d give the same advice to a 25-year-old that I’d give to [a 35-year-old],” she says. “But the 25-year-olds don’t want to listen.”

So, 25-year-olds (and other 20-somethings who wonder why their strings of relationships only end in dissatisfaction, why they can’t embrace the great people who don’t provide a stomach full of butterflies or why they’re approaching 30 and are still single) listen up: Change how you think about dating today or you’re likely to end up single tomorrow.