Why can’t I find someone with all the qualities I am looking for?


Do you think age matters?

I feel your frustration. You are only looking for the one person – just one! – and you cannot find someone with all the qualities you are hoping for. Perhaps you find most of the features, but never all of them. If she is a cool and worldly person – which you want – your luck is such that she is not on the same religious level as you. If she is bright and intellectual – which for you is a must – she does not share your goals in raising a family. You really want someone with a great sense of humor – you find this super-appealing – but why then are you unhappy with her appearance? The answer is: the math. It is boring old statistics. I shall lay this out for you below.

Finding the Needle in a Haystack

Here is the unvarnished (and perhaps uncomfortable) truth: it is not impossible to find a husband or wife that is exactly what you are looking for, but the more and the greater your expectations, the more mathematically unlikely it becomes. It may be statistically possible, but very improbably all the same. That explains why you are finding it too hard. Basically, you may be looking for a needle in a haystack. I have no evidence of this, but I am fairly certain that someone somewhere has indeed found a needle in said haystack. I am also pretty confident that it was very difficult and took a long time.

Now, it is conceivable that by sheer luck anda bit of good thinking, the person could have found the needle far more quickly. Still, the reason why the cliché “like finding a needle in a haystack” has been around for 500 years (yes, I checked this out) is because it is pretty accurate.

The greater the number of wishes, the more you reduce the chances of finding someone that meets your criteria. This is why you need to choose your wishes carefully – otherwise, your statistical odds plummet. And the rarer the features you seek, the steeper the statistical decline. Let me illustrate this through a visit to Macy’s to buy a t-shirt.

Three Choices and (Potentially) You’re Out

Macy’s may have hundreds of t-shirts available, so you have a massive choice. Let’s say it is a very big store and there are 300 t-shirts to choose from. But the options narrow very quickly. Say, you specifically want a red t-shirt. The chances are that only 10% of the t-shirts in the store are red. So, you have already eliminated 90% of your options. But that is not bad, you still have 10% to choose from – or 30 shirts. Now you want it to be long-sleeves. Sadly, most of the t-shirts are short-sleeved, so now you only have 2% of t-shirts to choose from – or 6 shirts. You only need one shirt, so that is not a problem. Now you want it to have black stripes, to go with your new black pants. You will be lucky if you find even one. If you do, do not expect to have any say on the design or position of the black stripes.

Look how quickly it went from a very healthy 300 choices to potentially none – just three choices (red, long-sleeved, and black stripes) and you walk away empty handed. Even if they do have a long-sleeved red t-shirt with black stripes, you will have to accept the other features of the clothing item as is. Now what if you also wanted the t-shirt in an odd size, or with any other additional feature? Forget about it. You will statistically find nothing. You could go to another store – maybe a hundred stores – and you still could leave disappointed.

The Statistics of Dating

The same goes for dating. You are looking for a man; that is not a problem as roughly half the population is male. We shall even concede on all the fundamental factors, such as age range, religious identity, and so on. You will still see how quickly the numbers turn sour. Say, you want someone tall – six foot or above – you have eliminated at least 80% of candidates. But you say, that leaves you with fully 20% to choose from.

But we are not done yet. You want the guy to be highly attractive. Let us be more specific; you want him to be in the top quarter. That is not a problem per se, as there are plenty of attractive people. But the percentage of highly attractive people who are also tall is the same as in the whole population, namely 25%. So, now you are down to 5% of the population. As you only need one man, you are content to look within that 5% – so all is good for now.

You also want him to have a professional career. Now in the population you are looking for, only 10% may be pursuing that kind of career route (in many cases it could be less). This brings you down to 0.5% of the population. That means half a person for every hundred people. If you add even one more specific expectation – say, sense of humor – you could be talking about a tiny fraction of one percent. That is what you get to with just four stated requirements potentially eliminating yourself from the game.

If you are looking for things that are average, you will not limit your chances by having a long list of preferences. That is because they are highly represented in the population. The minute you add less-common features – in other words, present in a minority of the population – you quickly can reduce your likelihood of finding someone to a statistical nil. Even if you are starting with a list of thousands of people – and that is rarely the case – the numbers will play this cruel rationale on you. There is no escaping it.

Be choosy about your choices

The brutal reality, therefore, is that as most people have many more than three wishes, most people get far from everything they want in a partner. In fact, research has proven that most people don’t end up marrying the kind of person they had hoped for. That’s the bad news. The good news is that getting more wishes does not make for a happy marriage; it depends on getting the right wishes met.

If you have three wishes that are meaningfully above average, you can still stand a strong statistical chance of getting what you are looking for – perhaps as high as 1/100. But the higher the expectation, this quickly declines to such a poor statistical chance as to be “like finding a needle in a haystack.” With each above-average choice having the potential to wipe out such a big chunk of your dating options, you need to be very selective in your choices.

Choosing high intelligence may mean sacrificing a demand for a higher-than-average appearance. Prioritizing finding someone from an elite family may mean sacrificing your preference for a certain hair color. That is just the reality. Of course, this is just statistics, so some people will by virtue of their own desirability or sheer luck get more of what they are looking for. This is not a realistic strategy for most people and would explain why some people find it hard to have all their expectations met.

Marriage gold

There is a twist to all of this. As explained in several of the other articles, the factors that are most important to the chances of a happy and lasting marriage are in the individual character. Being stable and easygoing, for example, is more likely to contribute towards a good marriage. Ideally, you are looking for someone who is above average in those qualities. But those also count as choices and will eat into your math. If you use all of your options on above-average looks, intelligence, and social status, you run out of capacity to also demand above-average personal qualities – each of which is worth their weight in marriage gold.

Considering that you can only have so many expectations and still retain a statistical chance of achieving them, it is important that you do not put all your dating eggs into the wrong marriage basket. The data is overwhelmingly clear that physical attractiveness and social status are not features that make a marriage more likely to succeed. Hollywood marriages are the most striking reminder of this. Marrying someone with an agreeable personality contributes greatly to a positive outcome.

If you had unlimited options, then go for everything. But, sadly, someone thought up mathematics and ruined it for everyone. As a result, we are left having to make choices. So, to answer the question at the head of the article, if you are looking for a set of qualities that are not strongly represented in the population, then you are going to find it harder. The smaller the representation in the population, the harder it gets.

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