A man and woman chat on their first date
Published by  
Wes Myers
June 18, 2024

The Most Dreaded First Date Question

"What are you looking for in a relationship?"
Wes Myers is the co-Founder and CBO of Keeper, an experienced matchmaker, and relationship expert. He is an Iraq veteran and Wharton MBA.

"What are you looking for in a relationship?" can feel like a job interview question. For many, it prompts a fight, flight, or freeze response. But it doesn't have to. This question is an excellent opportunity to filter out bad fits, connect with high-quality matches, and improve your chances at finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. Here's how:

Be True to Yourself

If you're uncomfortable answering "What are you looking for in a relationship?", you haven't introspected enough. Regardless of how directly you want to answer, the first step is knowing your answer. What sort of life do you want to lead? What's important to you in a partner and family? What unique qualities do you bring to the table? You may find these easier to answer by journaling, analyzing past relationships, or daydreaming. Then, it's time to separate your needs from your wants, calibrate your expectations, and analyze yourself objectively.

Define What You're Looking For

For most people, the key areas for relationship success are the same. To get started, open up a fresh document or grab a piece of paper and start jotting down your thoughts on these topics:

  1. Children: Do you want children? How many? How do you want to raise them?
  2. Religion: What role does religion play in your life? What religions and levels of religious significance would be acceptable in your future partner?
  3. Lifestyle: What work will you do? What will be your work-life balance? Where would you like to live? How important is location?
  4. Values: What are the core values you live by? Do you care about your partner's politics? What sort of relationship dynamic will you find most fulfilling?

Until you know your answers to these questions, you'll be buffeted around by others' desires. That might be alright for the short term, but it's unlikely to build a solid foundation for a long-term, stable partnership.

Separate Your Needs from Your Wants

You're not going to find a partner who's perfect in every respect. Fortunately, they don't have to share 100% of your passions, interests, and opinions. They only need to respect or enjoy those aspects enough to satisfy you. Therefore, for each of these key areas, you must separate out:

  1. What answers to the above questions are dealbreakers, and which are you flexible on?
  2. Which of these areas are needs and which of them are wants?
  3. In what areas can you adapt to your partner's preferences by compromising on yours?
  4. How much compromise would tip the scales against your favor?

Accuracy and precision are key. If you'd like to have five kids, would you accept having four? If you want to live in New York, would you accept living in London, Paris, or Chicago? Be as honest with yourself as you can. If you find yourself with too many requirements, perhaps you need a reality check. Too few and you may be settling more than you should.

Look at Yourself

Relationships are a two-way street. In addition to satisfying your requirements, you'll need to satisfy your partner's. To find the sort of person who will appreciate you, take stock of how you invest your time, attention, and effort. What's important to you in work, hobbies, community, and family?

Helpful questions include:

  1. Work: Do you live to work or work to live? Do you want a partner who matches your style, or one who encourages you to push yourself in other ways?
  2. Hobbies: How much time do you spend on your hobbies? Are these hobbies you'd want a partner to join in on, or would you prefer doing them alone?
  3. Community: How much time do you spend with your communities (family/friends/religious groups/work colleagues)? How would your partner fit into these communities?
  4. Family: How much time and attention do you plan to give your future family? How do you see yourself balancing caregiving vs. providing financially?

Not every potential partner will be interested in you. When you imagine your future partner, be clear with yourself on where they might have misgivings. If you enjoy spending weekends at the office, a free spirit might turn you down. If your main social circle is your family, a social butterfly might not be sufficiently stimulated. It's okay if people reject you for these reasons: those rejections allow you to find someone who fits.

Be Honest to Others

Now that you understand what you want, it's time to share it with your date. In an ideal relationship, both people are moving in the same direction. In unstable relationships, one partner is catering to the other's preferences at their own detriment. To ensure your futures align, it's necessary to communicate your desires.

Many people hesitate to share their relationship goals out of fear that honesty will eliminate potential matches. In reality, early elimination is actually a good thing. Honesty only weeds out bad fits. In finding a life partner, would you rather have quality or quantity. After all, "The One" is only, well, one.

When communicating your desires, it's best to be clear. Keep in mind, however, that clarity is less about what you say and more about what they hear.

Start Broad

Start by aligning on the broad, then get gradually more specific. The shape of your ideal relationship could be a simple start. For example:

  • "I'm looking for a long-term partnership of equals"
  • "I'm looking for someone to do activities with in the short-term"
  • "I'm seeking someone with traditional Christian values"

There's no point diving into specifics until you confirm alignment on the big picture. Then, you'll naturally get more specific as you spend more time with the other person.

For particularly important topics, pre-screening before a first date can help save time and prevent heartbreak. By learning the answers to big questions before you meet, you can avoid the all-too-common first date interrogation. Keeper analyzes each of your needs and wants before even introducing you, eliminating the need for first dates to feel like job interviews.

Example Template

When sharing what you seek, start with your needs (not your wants) and include what you have to offer. One helpful structure for this answer is:

  1. What I want my life to look like, and why
  2. What I'm doing now (ideally in service of that life)
  3. How I would be an asset to a partner on a shared life journey

Keep Communicating

"What are you looking for?" should be the start of a repeated conversation that gently deepens over time. You certainly don't need to answer everything on a first date. Relationships are defined by the people in them, and they evolve over time, so a bit of uncertainty is okay.

When you are discussing your life plans, you don't want to communicate too specifically or too broadly. On a first date, discussing baby names is probably a bit too much. However, if it's your fifth date and you don't know whether they want to have children, you've done something wrong. In the middle, there's a wide swath of fitting communication that works well.

The urge to be vague often comes from a desire to avoid rejection or from not truly knowing what you want. When one partner is vague, the other often fills in the gap with an overly-optimistic image, leading to later disappointment. There are eight billion people on the planet: regardless of who you are, you don't need to hoodwink anyone in order to find a compatible partner.

At Keeper, we specialize in lifelong partnerships. Our vision for the future is one where everyone can easily find their person without years of trial and error. If this vision aligns with your desires and you want help finding the person you're looking for, join us.

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