Predictive Validity and Adjustment of Ideal Partner Preferences Across the Transition Into Romantic Relationships
Although empirical research has investigated what we ideally seek in a romantic partner for decades, the crucial question of whether ideal partner preferences actually guide our mating decisions in real life has remained largely unanswered. One reason for this is the lack of designs that assess individuals’ ideal partner preferences before entering a relationship and then follow up on them over an extended period. In the Göttingen Mate Choice Study (GMCS), a preregistered, large-scale online study, we used such a naturalistic prospective design. We investigated partner preferences across 4 preference domains in a large sample of predominantly heterosexual singles (N = 763, aged 18–40 years) and tracked these individuals across a period of 5 months upon a possible transition into romantic relationships. Attesting to their predictive validity, partner preferences prospectively predicted the characteristics of later partners. This was equally true for both sexes, except for vitality-attractiveness where men’s preferences were more predictive of their later partners’ standing on this dimension than women’s. Self-perceived mate value did not moderate the preference-partner characteristics relations. Preferences proved to be relatively stable across the 5 months interval, yet were less stable for those who entered a relationship. Subgroup analyses using a newly developed indicator of preference adjustment toward (vs. away from) partner characteristics revealed that participants adjusted their preferences downward when partners fell short of initial preferences, but showed no consistent adjustment when partners exceeded them. Results and implications are discussed against the background of ongoing controversies in mate choice and romantic relationship research.