Decisions are a part of life. At various times you may need to choose the best vacation spot, job candidate, babysitter, or place to live. Your most important decision may be figuring out your best romantic partner. Relationships matter – a lot. They have implications for your health, your reactions to stress and even how you look at the world.
But how can you determine if your current romantic partner is the best of the best for you? It’s hard to know what factors truly matter, what you should not overvalue, or what is best to ignore entirely.
This kind of assessment comes up in a variety of contexts. Consider, for example, something that may seem entirely unrelated to relationships: determining whether a baseball player qualifies for the Hall of Fame. The task requires wading through dozens and dozens of highly qualified candidates, each with various outstanding characteristics, to determine who warrants permanent enshrinement. Still, no candidate is absolutely perfect – just like finding a quality relationship partner.
So as a relationship scientist, I’ve gathered inspiration from the Hall of Fame selection process and infused some science to draw up a checklist of intangibles you can use to think about your own relationship.
Instinct adds nuance to hard numbers
There are two general ways to make assessments: data and your gut feeling. In a sport like baseball, with a plethora of statistics, a data-based approach makes sense. But for a player to be truly Hall of Fame worthy, numbers may not tell the whole story. It should be visceral, a player should feel like a Hall of Famer. As Malcom Gladwell famously observed in his book “Blink,” snap judgments can have astounding accuracy. As a psychology professor myself, one example that always amazes me is that student assessments of a professor based on a 30-second silent video clip matches students’ evaluations based on the entire semester.
Relying on gut feelings isn’t perfect. But intuition is an important component of decisions, especially social ones. Clearly, people rely on instincts in a variety of situations such as deciding which job to take, which daycare is best, and who you should date. Trusting your own feelings is sometimes necessary because expert information is hard to access – published research articles are often locked behind paywalls – or written in a way that defies comprehension. And of course, the very nature of science and statistics is to focus on what is most typical in a population, instead of what is best for any individual.