How to Pick Your Life Partner – Part 1

To a frustrated single person, life can often feel like this:

Staircase 1

And at first glance, research seems to back this up, suggesting that married people are on average happier than single people and much happier than divorced people.1 But a closer analysis reveals that if you split up “married people” into two groups based on marriage quality, “people in self-assessed poor marriages are fairly miserable, and much less happy than unmarried people, and people in self-assessed good marriages are even more happy than the literature reports”.In other words, here’s what’s happening in reality:

Staircase 2

Dissatisfied single people should actually consider themselves in a neutral, fairly hopeful position, compared to what their situation could be. A single person who would like to find a great relationship is one step away from it, with their to-do list reading, “1) Find a great relationship.” People in unhappy relationships, on the other hand, are three leaps away, with a to-do list of “1) Go through a soul-crushing break-up. 2) Emotionally recover. 3) Find a great relationship.” Not as bad when you look at it that way, right?

All the research on how vastly happiness varies between happy and unhappy marriages makes perfect sense, of course. It’s your life partner.

Thinking about how overwhelmingly important it is to pick the right life partner is like thinking about how huge the universe really is or how terrifying death really is—it’s too intense to internalize the reality of it, so we just don’t think about it that hard and remain in slight denial about the magnitude of the situation.

But unlike death and the universe’s size, picking a life partner is fully in your control, so it’s critical to make yourself entirely clear on how big a deal the decision really is and to thoroughly analyze the most important factors in making it.

So how big a deal is it?

Well, start by subtracting your age from 90. If you live a long life, that’s about the number of years you’re going to spend with your current or future life partner, give or take a few.

I’m pretty sure no one over 80 reads Wait But Why, so no matter who you are, that’s a lot of time—and almost the entirety of the rest of your one existence.

(Sure, people get divorced, but you don’t think you will. A recent study shows that 86% of young people assume their current or future marriage will be forever, and I doubt older people feel much differently. So we’ll proceed under that assumption.)

And when you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times.

Intense shit.

So given that this is by far the most important thing in life to get right, how is it possible that so many good, smart, otherwise-logical people end up choosing a life partnership that leaves them dissatisfied and unhappy?

Well as it turns out, there are a bunch of factors working against us:

People tend to be bad at knowing what they want from a relationship

Studies have shown people to be generally bad, when single, at predicting what later turn out to be their actual relationship preferences. One study found that speed daters questioned about their relationship preferences usually prove themselves wrong just minutes later with what they show to prefer in the actual event.4

This shouldn’t be a surprise—in life, you usually don’t get good at something until you’ve done it a bunch of times. Unfortunately, not many people have a chance to be in more than a few, if any, serious relationships before they make their big decision. There’s just not enough time. And given that a person’s partnership persona and relationship needs are often quite different from the way they are as a single person, it’s hard as a single person to really know what you want or need from a relationship.
Society has it all wrong and gives us terrible advice

 Society encourages us to stay uneducated and let romance be our guide.

If you’re running a business, conventional wisdom states that you’re a much more effective business owner if you study business in school, create well thought-out business plans, and analyze your business’s performance diligently. This is logical, because that’s the way you proceed when you want to do something well and minimize mistakes.

But if someone went to school to learn about how to pick a life partner and take part in a healthy relationship, if they charted out a detailed plan of action to find one, and if they kept their progress organized rigorously in a spreadsheet, society says they’re A) an over-rational robot, B) way too concerned about this, and C) a huge weirdo.

No, when it comes to dating, society frowns upon thinking too much about it, instead opting for things like relying on fate, going with your gut, and hoping for the best. If a business owner took society’s dating advice for her business, she’d probably fail, and if she succeeded, it would be partially due to good luck—and that’s how society wants us to approach dating.

 Society places a stigma on intelligently expanding our search for potential partners.

In a study on what governs our dating choices more, our preferences or our current opportunities, opportunities wins hands down—our dating choices are “98% a response…to market conditions and just 2% immutable desires. Proposals to date tall, short, fat, thin, professional, clerical, educated, uneducated people are all more than nine-tenths governed by what’s on offer that night.”5

In other words, people end up picking from whatever pool of options they have, no matter how poorly matched they might to be to those candidates. The obvious conclusion to draw here is that outside of serious socialites, everyone looking for a life partner should be doing a lot of online dating, speed dating, and other systems created to broaden the candidate pool in an intelligent way.

But good old society frowns upon that, and people are often still timid to say they met their spouse on a dating site. The respectable way to meet a life partner is by dumb luck, by bumping into them randomly or being introduced to them from within your little pool. Fortunately, this stigma is diminishing with time, but that it’s there at all is a reflection of how illogical the socially accepted dating rulebook is.

 Society rushes us.

In our world, the major rule is to get married before you’re too old—and “too old” varies from 25 – 35, depending on where you live. The rule should be “whatever you do, don’t marry the wrong person,” but society frowns much more upon a 37-year-old single person than it does an unhappily married 37-year-old with two children. It makes no sense—the former is one step away from a happy marriage, while the latter must either settle for permanent unhappiness or endure a messy divorce just to catch up to where the single person is.
Our Biology Is Doing Us No Favors

Human biology evolved a long time ago and doesn’t understand the concept of having a deep connection with a life partner for 50 years.

When we start seeing someone and feel the slightest twinge of excitement, our biology gets into “okay let’s do this” mode and bombards us with chemicals designed to get us to mate (lust), fall in love (the Honeymoon Phase), and then commit for the long run (attachment). Our brains can usually override this process if we’re just not that into someone, but for all those middle ground cases where the right move is probably to move on and find something better, we often succumb to the chemical roller coaster and end up getting engaged.

Biological clocks are a bitch.

For a woman who wants to have biological children with her husband, she has one very real limitation in play, which is the need to pick the right life partner by forty, give or take. This is just a shitty fact and makes an already hard process one notch more stressful. Still, if it were me, I’d rather adopt children with the right life partner than have biological children with the wrong one.


So when you take a bunch of people who aren’t that good at knowing what they want in a relationship, surround them with a society that tells them they have to find a life partner but that they should under-think, under-explore, and hurry up, and combine that with biology that drugs us as we try to figure it out and promises to stop producing children before too long, what do you get?

A frenzy of big decisions for bad reasons and a lot of people messing up the most important decision of their life. Let’s take a look at some of the common types of people who fall victim to all of this and end up in unhappy relationships:
Overly Romantic Ronald
Overly Romantic Ronald’s downfall is believing that love is enough reason on its own to marry someone. Romance can be a great part of a relationship, and love is a key ingredient in a happy marriage, but without a bunch of other important things, it’s simply not enough.

The overly romantic person repeatedly ignores the little voice that tries to speak up when he and his girlfriend are fighting constantly or when he seems to feel much worse about himself these days than he used to before the relationship, shutting the voice down with thoughts like “Everything happens for a reason and the way we met couldn’t have just been coincidence” and “I’m totally in love with her, and that’s all that matters”—once an overly romantic person believes he’s found his soul mate, he stops questioning things, and he’ll hang onto that belief all the way through his 50 years of unhappy marriage.
Fear-Driven Frida

Fear is one of the worst possible decision-makers when it comes to picking the right life partner. Unfortunately, the way society is set up, fear starts infecting all kinds of otherwise-rational people, sometimes as early as the mid-twenties. The types of fear our society (and parents, and friends) inflict upon us—fear of being the last single friend, fear of being an older parent, sometimes just fear of being judged or talked about—are the types that lead us to settle for a not-so-great partnership. The irony is that the only rational fear we should feel is the fear of spending the latter two thirds of life unhappily, with the wrong person—the exact fate the fear-driven people risk because they’re trying to be risk-averse.
Externally-Influenced Ed

Externally-Influenced Ed lets other people play way too big a part in the life partner decision. The choosing of a life partner is deeply personal, enormously complicated, different for everyone, and almost impossible to understand from the outside, no matter how well you know someone. As such, other people’s opinions and preferences really have no place getting involved, other than an extreme case involving mistreatment or abuse.

The saddest example of this is someone breaking up with a person who would have been the right life partner because of external disapproval or a factor the chooser doesn’t actually care about (religion is a common one) but feels compelled to stick to for the sake of family insistence or expectations.

It can also happen the opposite way, where everyone in someone’s life is thrilled with his relationship because it looks great from the outside, and even though it’s not actually that great from the inside, Ed listens to others over his own gut and ties the knot.
Shallow Sharon


Shallow Sharon is more concerned with the on-paper description of her life partner than the inner personality beneath it. There are a bunch of boxes that she needs to have checked—things like his height, job prestige, wealth-level, accomplishments, or maybe a novelty item like being foreign or having a specific talent.

Everyone has certain on-paper boxes they’d like checked, but a strongly ego-driven person prioritizes appearances and résumés above even the quality of her connection with her potential life partner when weighing things.

If you want a fun new term, a significant other whom you suspect was chosen more because of the boxes they checked than for their personality underneath is a “scantron boyfriend” or a “scantron wife,” etc. I’ve gotten some good mileage out of that one.
Selfish Stanley


The selfish come in three, sometimes-overlapping varieties:

1) The “My Way or the Highway” Type

This person cannot handle sacrifice or compromise. She believes her needs and desires and opinions are simply more important than her partner’s, and she needs to get her way in almost any big decision. In the end, she doesn’t want a legitimate partnership, she wants to keep her single life and have someone there to keep her company.

This person inevitably ends up with at best a super easy-going person, and at worst, a pushover with a self-esteem issue, and sacrifices a chance to be part of a team of equals, almost certainly limiting the potential quality of her marriage.

2) The Main Character

The Main Character’s tragic flaw is being massively self-absorbed. He wants a life partner who serves as both his therapist and biggest admirer, but is mostly uninterested in returning either favor. Each night, he and his partner discuss their days, but 90% of the discussion centers around his day—after all, he’s the main character of the relationship. The issue for him is that by being incapable of tearing himself away from his personal world, he ends up with a sidekick as his life partner, which makes for a pretty boring 50 years.

3) The Needs-Driven

Everyone has needs, and everyone likes those needs to be met, but problems arise when the meeting of needs—she cooks for me, he’ll be a great father, she’ll make a great wife, he’s rich, she keeps me organized, he’s great in bed—becomes the main grounds for choosing someone as a life partner. Those listed things are all great perks, but that’s all they are—perks. And after a year of marriage, when the needs-driven person is now totally accustomed to having her needs met and it’s no longer exciting, there better be a lot more good parts of the relationship she’s chosen or she’s in for a dull ride.


The main reason most of the above types end up in unhappy relationships is that they’re consumed by a motivating force that doesn’t take into account the reality of what a life partnership is and what makes it a happy thing.

So what makes a happy life partnership? We’ll explore in Part 2 of this post.

[Sources at the bottom of Part 2]

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  • Amber

    Tim – I’ve been following your blog and this post hit home. I think you’ve given me a bit of clarity, as much as I didn’t want to hear the truth. Thank you.

  • Leigh S.

    I love this blog because I like to think I’m a person who is able to see things from many different perspectives and your insights are really refreshing because many times they are new to me. I especially liked the one-sentence summary that begins with, “So when you take a bunch of people…” Thank you for including your references as well. As a scientist who also has opinions (right?!) it’s so nice to see that folks actually value the integrity of their opinions enough to research as well as concisely explain them. Love your work!

  • Katatonic

    Awesome post! Especially the bits about not using any kind of reason or logic to choose a partner and letting that chemically-induced infatuation dictate your future. Society has romanticized marriage/partnership to the point where being over a certain age and single really does get you talked about and too many cave (I did at 19-I was gone before the wedding gift thank you notes had been written).

    Being single at 52 seems disturb a lot of people I meet. Being ecstatically happy about it completely weirds them out. And when I joke about my cats eating me after I die home alone, they start sidling away…

    • samuel

      hahaha… nice joke! It must stand up the hair of your friends.

  • wobster109

    Heh, I like how you make characters out of all your concepts :)

    There are people around the world devoting their lives to understanding the universe. Death, not so much. But perhaps death, like smallpox, is natural, terrible, and waiting for us to defeat it.

  • María

    It´s 23:49 PM here in Madrid, Spain, and here you have me reading your blog. This may sound weird, but I believe that you are actually changing things with your posts, helping people, making them (us) think and reflect besides laughing (a lot). Your work is amazing. I found you by chance last summer and you´ve become a part of my life. Just wanted to tell you…

    • Krusty Shakelford

      Not weird at all. This website is saving me hundreds if not thousands of dollars in therapy. :)

      • Wait But Why

        These comments (and many others above and below) really mean a lot—great motivation to keep this going for a long time. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Great post as always. Maybe this would fall in the ‘selfish’ category, but one additional type I can think of is the ‘Happily Ever After Syndrome’. Lots of people become indoctrinated by Disney at a young age that when you meet your future spouse sparks will fly, you’ll fall in love and then live happily ever after. The problem is no one ever just lives happily ever after, even in the best of marriages. They take hard work, compromise and sacrifice on behalf of both parties for it to be successful in the long run. Many people just don’t understand that before getting married, then when things get tough their ‘Expectations – Reality’ score goes negative and they become unhappy with the relationship. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their choice of partner was terrible, but they have unrealistic expectations of what marriage is. Maybe that’s a topic for part 2?

    • Alex R

      I think that the ‘Happily Ever After Syndrome’ is part of Overly Romantic Ronald.

  • nicole

    I love you(r blog and how you process and analyze things! It really mirrors the way I think and generally get criticized for overthinking. Oh how I wish I had the above relationship foresight 20 years ago… and the maturity to make better choices. But you know what they say- youth is wasted on the young… or something like that)!

  • deep thought

    Good stuff. Totally hit home. Society tells us to invest behind education and career and hope that a partner will come along the way. This concept is so flawed. Finding the right partner is as important as choosing the right career. Needs research, experience and investment.

  • Steve D

    There are two fallacies that need to be discussed in here somehow.

    1. There is a unique Right Person for each of us. Sucks to be you if that Right One is in Novosibirsk. Unless you’re next door in Novosibirsk.

    2. The Lost Life Fallacy.* I think Wil Wheaton discussed this.* You wonder what would have happened if you’d made some key decision differently. You imagine things would be mostly the same except you’d wake up next to someone sexier, there’d be a classier diploma on your wall, or you’d have a bigger house.

    The reality is you’d lose every moment of your life after that point, Every changed decision leads to different options, which result in still more changes, and after not terribly long, you.1 would be completely different from you.0.

    *citations needed.

  • deep thought

    I don’t agree that religion is unimportant. When the romance glasses come off, Background incompatibilities such as religion and race start causing so much friction. Especially when your partner’s parents have a problem with you and your parents. Commonly seen in culture s having stronger parent children ties such as Asian families.

    You not only need to date your partner but also their parents.

  • Anonymous

    Yep. Definitely still helping to keep my petty little teenager boy-problems in check.

  • Srinath

    Well written and points are in perfect liaison with concept. Gave me much to think about.

  • Bill L

    Great post. I liken most of it as a game of musical chairs. There are different strategies involved. Too cautious and you get a crappy chair. It’s a chair but it’s crappy. Too indecisive and hesitation leads to no chair at all. That could be a good thing for some people.

  • socratezonline

    Good post! I don’t fully agree with everything, because I don’t believe it’s necessary to meet a large number of people to find the right person. We are all connected, so however you manifest yourself is what you’ll attract. Therefore, your idea of making such a big deal out of who you’re going to marry is, in my opinion, looking for the right things in the wrong place. If you want a partner that you can be happy with, then you should be happy with yourself first. The way I see it, finding love starts on the inside. After that, the outside will adjust to whatever you’ve developed inside of yourself.

    I’m 26 and have had one relationship in my life. It was a good learning experience that taught me all of the above. So I’m not concerned with finding a partner. I’m not in a hurry, because I know that finding fulfilment in my own life is more important. I have no doubt that the right woman will show up in my life sooner or later, which is just a side-effect of living a purposeful life.

    • samuel

      You’ve nailed it from my viewpoint, but don’t be so sure that the right woman will show up just like that. There are more than one who has developed happiness and love for themselves and haven’t found or run into a right partner.
      Dont fool yourself, in my opinion, find a nice/right partner is a big deal in life; but not a matter of life and death.

  • aman

    Spot on article, plus it is hilarious. I made a motivational video on this subject and let me say to all those single people out there that is is okay to be single and that you can fly high cause nobody has cut your wings

  • Katharina

    Societal pressure is surely not helping, as shown in this ad by a Chinese matchmaking portal:

    • Wait But Why

      That’s gotta be a joke. Right??


    I can see myself and/or my husband in every single one of these. We’re separated.

  • Sam

    I wish I’d had this resource before I divorced my wife a year and a half ago. Maybe it would have helped me understand, as I do now, that I sacrificed the very good for the sake of an impossible perfect. It’s taken the last year and a half to understand that my marriage was worth keeping and I’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake.

  • Bob

    You liken Thanksgiving to celebrating genocide? That is one of the most disgusting thoughts i have read in a long time. Just because you have the ability to sound smart in a post doesn’t make you knowledgeable or wise.

    • Alli

      Thank you! That comparison was appalling. I read the rest of the post skeptically and with a bad taste in my mouth. How ignorant and ungrateful people can become in rushing to judge the very history that delivered them.

    • duh.

      He’s very obviously not “likening” the holiday of Thanksgiving to genocide (no comparison language is used if you actually read carefully), he’s saying Thanksgiving IS a celebration of a time in history where genocide was committed against Native American people. Hope you enjoyed briefly having something to get outraged over!

      • Bob

        Here is the quote:

        “And patriotic holidays like Thanksgiving and Columbus Day will always cause a few tantrums because they happen to celebrate genocide.”

        I think the name duh says it all….

  • SMA11

    I understand that there exists this thing called a “bad mood,” but I think the most important function of a long-term relationship (if it even is a biological possibility) is to bring out the best in one another; to always bring your best self to the game, and support the other person in being their best self. I think unrealistic expectations come from hoping someone can be a Band-Aid for your life, but that it is reasonable to expect both people to give 110% effort whenever they’re together, like they would at their high-paying job, except that a lifelong partnership- if you choose to accept it – is even more important.

    This post is especially prescient for me in this moment – I’m in love for the first time, and it’s been better than great. He is sweet, funny, and kind to me. He surprises me all the time, and we have a lot of fun together. It feels like what I’ve heard tell of my whole life, but never really believed was possible. Last night we had our first fight. I thought because he was kind and mature that it would be a productive discussion, but he was mean, and dismissive, and we didn’t resolve anything. It has me more upset than I was before the argument. Which is a big red flag, isn’t it? It caught me completely off guard, but I can’t overlook it. The way people communicate is the greatest indicator of how they will work together as a team in the future. It makes me sad because I feel that I need to let him go, despite the fact that he has so many wonderful qualities. This is challenging for me – our culture seems to emphasize “working it out;” at least- that’s the message my family conveys. But I can’t compare my burgeoning relationships to my parents’ 35 -year-long happy marriage. I won’t be doing anyone any favors in trying to “work out” a glaring incompatibility that will only get uglier over time. At this point, we’ve only been together a few months. It will take a lot of self-restraint, but better to end it now, than to get further enmeshed, and risk it being more challenging to extricate from. It’s hard to let go of the attachment – frought with chemistry as it is, and to face the embarrassment of explaining to our friends that we’re not dating anymore, but the right move in the long run. Just like I met him when I wasn’t expecting it, there will be someone else, and maybe someone else after that. I think I’m going to choose door #2 – the one with the unknown. A singular existence, perhaps? Or a chance to be one of those people whose happy marriage increases their quality of life. Wish me luck! And sorry for the long-form; terrible etiquette, I know – it’s my first-ever blog comment. I wanted to share because this week’s post isn’t just a collection of theories, it has challenging real life applications. Just trying to draw on the strength of my anonymous fellow readers of this awesome blog, as I make this tough decision. Wish me luck!

    • nicole

      It sounds to me like you are taking a “black or white” approach to this situation. Your post was full of extremes: IN LOVE for the first time… FIRST fight… you’re ready to end it now… or accept the possibility of lifetime singlehood… comparison to 35 year marriage… only together for a few months… first blog comment… long form…

      Anyway, you sound relatively young, and without knowing you at all, the best advice I can give you is to slow down in general. I think that is what this blog was all about. We all try to rush into forming long-term relationships, but if you just met this person, it is too soon to determine where he fits in to your life. Your biology is working against you and I’m sure you’ve already had all sorts of physiological responses urging you to cement a lasting relationship with this person and blinding you to everything else.

      I’d suggest you read part 2 of this blog and work on element #1. A kick-ass friendship.

      Best of luck!

  • E

    Incredible post! Spot on! I really needed this right now as I’m in the process of ending a long-term relationship and you have laid out so clearly why I’ve been feeling the way I do. Thank you.

  • Ryan

    Wow. Just wow. I wish every young person in the world would read this. Hell, I wish I had. I am a family counselor and I would see far fewer couples if everyone read this. Good show!

  • C

    Some good stuff in here but you are way off base on a couple of important points:

    1. The only option for unhappily married people seems to be to to either stay unhappy, or get a divorce, do some soul searching and search for another life partner. Why can’t the unhappy person change? Become a better spouse? Fix the marriage within the marriage? Go to couple’s therapy? These kinds of options might make the marriage even happier in the long run than the happy people at the top of the staircase, because they’ve gone through a rough patch and are wiser for the experience.

    3. Romantic Ronald, Selfish Sharon and all the others aren’t static people. Many people behave differently while they are looking for a relationship than after it starts and they are in the thick of it. These characters can grow, and mature, and start to consider the lives and feelings of somebody else rather than just their own. I agree with you that we should hold out for the right person, but it’s possible that they can become the right person after the relationship starts.

  • Matt

    Well this is clearly written by someone who is 1: single, 2: single for a reason, 3: doesn’t understand that love, while unconditional, can grow from circumstances, and 4: love is a life choice in itself.

  • Sofia

    This post is so hypocritical on so many levels! I am so disappointed by it. I don’t know which aspects pissed me off the most….

    On the one hand you talk about contemplating the enormity of the universe and science and biology and how we are ruled by these things. And yet on the other hand, you stick to a mainstream religious rhetoric about life partners and how important picking the right one is.

    Your whole premise is based on a (SINGULAR) life partner who must meet all these conventional standards. Granted the post does highlight some idiotic personality/relationship types. But still, the whole premise is conventional, when the article could have gone into a far more interesting science based exploration, or a historical exploration that explains how we ended up with all these bizarre expectations! How can ONE person give you everything you need to remain happy over an entire lifetime? It’s totally unrealistic.

    Biologically, we are merely intelligent apes. How do apes mate and raise children? (after all, the main purpose of relationships is to procreate!). Maybe the reason so many “marriages” are shit and people are unhappy is because we are not meant to be chained to one person for our entire existence…… Where did this bullshit notion come from? RELIGION.

    I think you should re-explore all your notions of commitment & relationships. I mistook you for an intelligent, forward thinking scientific minded person. But really you are just a box-ticker like all the other drones out there!

    • boso

      haha, for you the sole purpose of a relationship is to procreate? I think you are the one that is being oldfashioned. Happy to tell you that nowadays (as a woman) you can easily order children in test-tubes in the hospital. No partner needed. For most of us partners nowadays are for love, trust, feeling safe, having a lifelong friend etc.

    • Leonardo

      Get over yourself, you’ve obviously become so absorbed in the scientific world that you’re just as off-balance as overly-religious individuals. Get off your intellectual high-horse, you’re just setting more bad examples of the stereotypical “scientific type”. Not everything in this world is tied down to strictly biology. Sure, humans do have that primal desire to procreate. But relationships also have a very emotional aspect to them.
      I think the reason so many marriages are shit is because people are too lazy to fix things when they start failing. It’s easy to blame religion though, I’m sure you have a lot of Richard Dawkins shoved up your ass. Don’t get me wrong, religion has caused a lot of problems in society.
      My main point is, this article is not purely scientific. And your writing does in no way make you appear intelligent, superior, etc. You’re just coming off as a cliche “scientific intellectual” that tries to attribute every facet of human life to a biological reason, and in the meantime arrogantly looks down at people that see the world through a different lens.

      • boso

        oooh, sharp! (Y)

  • Sofia

    And yes, my parents gave me a top 10 name and I don’t give a shit. Cos I still need to repeat it on the phone and spell it out constantly.

  • Kate

    I found this post to be quite insightful. Too many people think that all it takes is love, and while that is the critical piece, it is nowhere near enough on its own. All of the Gottmann books are excellent, by the way.

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  • Doug

    I read this article twice just to make sure the impression I got was accurate. It seems outrageously pro-codependence, giving all of one sentence (less than 1%) of itself to essentially saying, “You might be single and happy, but you’re really not.” I’m happily single at the moment, so that when a right person comes along I won’t be with a wrong one.

    A small aside: laying importance on giving your lover special attention on VDay undermines the mentality of giving them special attention on any or every day.

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  • DYW

    As one of those people that had to go through the steps: “1. Go through a soul-crushing break-up. 2. Emotionally recover. 3. Find a great relationship”…I can say without a doubt, you are unequivocally correct in how lucky some of these single people are (and don’t even realize it!). I found my 3rd step finally (Super Thrilling Coincidence), but it was one of the hardest chapters in my 29 years of life and I would not wish that on anyone. Happy Valentine’s all.

  • Mom

    The post is hysterical. So many of you posters are taking yourself so seriously. Nobody gets into a relationship for the right reason. There is a little bit of all these characters in all of us. Love, relationships, and marriage are all crap shots. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose, but the game is always so interesting and fun.

  • Nobody

    “picking a life partner is fully in your control” . Getting them to agree to be a life partner may be a different matter…

  • Anonymous

    @Hope C. Goude (“I wish I had read this before I got married.”):

    Each of my parents have been divorced–twice–from EACH OTHER. Naturally, I am single by choice–having learned my lesson through their example–but I do feel your pain, and have these two words of advice:

    1. “Insurance.”
    2. “Accident.”


  • Anonymous

    To anyone with anything negative to say about this week’s blog:

    1. It’s poking fun at VALENTINE’S DAY (Get a grip, then get over yourself#.
    2. This is PART ONE. Expect a PUNCH LINE #Get a clue, then get patient#.
    3. Romantic love makes people STUPID #Get smart, then get a dog).

    If you disagree, ignore #3. Dogs deserve better.


  • Flux Capture

    To the Author:

    I’m a fan. I started with “Procrastination.” Looking forward to next week.

    Have you done an issue on the concept of “Enlightenment?” I don’t see one in your archives, but I recognize its undercurrents in your writing. I half expect to see it mentioned in Part 2.

    Your stairway drawings are what brought “enlightenment” to mind. Great potential humor exists (whatever your beliefs) in examining the possibility that perfectly happy “relationships” may not stand atop the podium. Whether serious analysis or parody of “enlightenment” makes no difference to me. I find nothing on earth so funny–NOTHING–as people who stumble the planet thinking they’ve got it figured out.

    I find also nothing on earth so tragic as damage from righteous fools.

    I won’t be shy about my opinion–I fully believe the “ultimate” or “highest” happiness can only be found in solitude. That said, we should hang out some time, maybe hook up.

    [See what I did there?]

    Happy Valentine’s Day. My two dogs and I all thank you.



  • Ananda

    So where are the true confessions in this article, which type are you?
    But seriously, this was probably the closest to my own observation and opinion about relationships that I’ve ever read. Awesome to come across this!

    • Anonymous

      @Ananda: I like your name. Seriously.

      Reminds me of a cross between “Amanda” and “Anaconda.” In a good way.

      Forgive me if you get that a lot. I’ve been known to overestimate my sense of novelty.

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  • Lee Robbins

    Again I say great stuff though I did think Part I (The Problems) was stronger than Part II (The Solution) which of course is more difficult. For anyone really interested in improving their relationships and finding a life partner, I highly recommend based both on general reputation and on my and my spouse’s experience the work of Gay and Kathlee Hendicks; see — fairly inexpensive, relatively rapid and even fun. And for finding a good mate in particular, a short book of their array of books,
    Attracting Genuine Love: A Step-By-Step Program to Bringing a Loving and Desirable Partner into Your Life by Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks, is also very helpful but, like cognitive therapy, you actually have to do the simple exercises and not just read the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Who are you Tim Urban and how did you get to be so wise…..

  • 43 and single for no good reason

    Picking a life partner isn’t “fully in your control” if no one wants you.

  • Joe

    One thing I discovered is that girls always say no, but in many cases it’s just a generic answer and actually it means “maybe”.
    Sounds shallow, but hey- I’m married to a “no” person for the last ten years :-)

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  • Anonymous

    Sorry to say, but for me this was your weakest article.

  • Christine

    Amazed and glad I’m not the only one that thinks of things this way. It might not be ideal to be single and alone, but it sure beats being divorced and alone (not to mention lawyers fees and handing your kids over to someone you may not like or trust anymore etc etc).

    I’d like to see a future column exploring why Americans are so in love with love and weddings and feelings that they don’t think through such critical life-altering decisions. (analogous in my mind to those who splurge on luxury cars and electronics but then go have major elective surgery with potential life-altering complications in Cuba… wtf?!)

    And… Any thoughts of starting a WBW meetup group in NYC??

    • Wait But Why

      We love the idea of a WBW meetup in NYC and/or elsewhere. It’s on our to-do list. If anyone has ideas for what kinds of things would make a WBW event the most interesting/fun/useful, please send them to us at

      • Anon

        Wow, a NYC meetup!? That’s a great idea! It should involve some sort of fun fact finding mission/discussion of some sort! Or kind of act like a book club – read the article and meet and discuss.

  • Stephanie

    Every Tuesday, I visit the home page several times whilst allowing internets to distract me from what I should be doing. Each time, I tell myself, “why are you bothering? You know it won’t be up until 3 am which is technically Wednesday…” I like your posts enough to put up with the throne of lies upon which you sit! So thanks for being awesome.

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  • Trastorno

    Right now, I’m finishing up high school, and it’s been very interesting watching as all these different personality types develop within the people in my school. I was an Overly Romantic Ronald until about three or four weeks ago. Just woke up one day and realized, “what the hell am I doing?”
    Superb blog. Wish I could have even half the insight this stuff gives me.

    Not sure how many international readers you have, so just wanted to give a shoutout from Singapore. Keep doing what you do, it is brilliant.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve had to read quite a few thoughtful, informative books on romantic relationships. I stay away from gimic-y ones and just stick to sources that let me know what the hell is going on.

    I had mostly terrible relationships (hence the need for education). I’ve been single for a while and consistently turn down advances, because I’m pretty concrete in knowing what I want, which is really based in like values.

    I love being single, but sometimes I get sad and lonely, want to cuddle and get baby fever. So I’m open to the right kind of man. They are rare and few between; I’m okay with that. I’m super busy being awesome.

  • Jennifer

    ^Actually, I’m just super busy being an average human, while trying to carve out a decent and interesting life for myself that leaves me fulfilled and grateful. So, I’m not awesome, just average. And single. And mostly okay with that.^

  • Frenchie

    Great read, but as someone running a business, I disagree with the following paragraph:

    “If you’re running a business, conventional wisdom states that you’re a much more effective business owner if you study business in school, create well thought-out business plans, and analyze your business’s performance diligently. This is logical, because that’s the way you proceed when you want to do something well and minimize mistakes.”

    Most conventional MBA programs are currently less valued than grit & hands-on experience. Business plans are firmly a thing of the past, for new ventures at least. Analysing business performance is critical however. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a good read on the topic.

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  • Kface

    I am a firm believer that it doesn’t matter who you pick to be your life partner. As long as both parties are equally committed to the marriage you will be fine. Unfortunately that means a lot of compromise and a lot of hard earned lessons, probably in the first five or so years, which are the hardest for a reason. Of course there are plenty of outliers, such as Abusive Amanda and Adulterous Aaron, with whom you might be completely justified in divorcing, but there are ways of discovering who a person is and whether you will be compatible or not BEFORE you jump into marriage. Marriage is a beautiful thing, but people are imperfect and so marriages are usually also imperfect. So ASK questions of your potential spouses, get into situations where you might discover dealbreaking attributes, and discuss plans, goals, dreams, etc. Dont be afraid to put your all into your marriage instead of holding back and holding out for absolute perfection.

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  • Kevyn Jacobs

    This article presumes that we *should* choose a life partner.
    Some people never find a compatible life partner, and remain single.
    Some people *shouldn’t* be partnered in the first place.

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  • Lili

    While it’s true that staying in an unhappy marriage or getting divorced are options, you can also seek to fix your marriage. Yes, some marriages will still fail, but couples can choose to treat their spouse well and learn to look for the positive. You will fall out of love if you don’t nourish your marriage, but many times you can make a good marriage better and a bad marriage good. This can start with you trying to learn to be more kind and look for the good in your spouse.

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  • b

    I don’t know what to do about a marriage without intimacy. I have interest in sex, just not with my wife. I don’t find her good sexually, attractive/pretty, or fun. She is a terrific person-sadly, she just found out about a 6 year affair with another woman, and she is still trying to keep this marriage afloat. No kids, but lots of common interests and both nearing retirement. I asked her about not being intimate for 10 years.. do you want that to continue for another 30?? I can’t tell her I find her unattractive… she is actually thinner than my lover but my lover and I had chemistry… loving the way her mouth and tongue taste, her eyes blue and her smile great. She is my friend too and we often went months without sex, staying in touch with emails and phone calls. She has 2 college age kids and is probably too afraid to split because of the unknown.. hoping her husband would just have a MI.
    If i separate/divorce, I will work to take her away from him, but I won’t wait indefinitely. I am 61 and as a friend has said, this is not a dress rehearsal.

    • brensgrrl

      You are disgusting! Just disgusting!

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  • Sahar

    i searching for a good life partner who want to marry me

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  • Anonymous

    wow this blog post is so helping me rt now. bin in a dependent non-fulfilling 4 yr old relationship. I changed 4 the guy out of ‘love’, he did squat. now single and happy… will definitely think long & hard about getting a life-partner…THANK YOU!!!!

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  • Karen Hug

    Wow, now this makes sense, I especially agree with ‘the pool” Back in 1995 when I got married ‘the pool’ was very small. No dating websites, no social media networks, and the biological clock ticking. So here I am 18 years later wanting OUT! People do choose the wrong people and folks change quite a bit. Thanks so much.

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  • Gayle

    todo se toma el costo fijo de producir una unidad adicional para
    la exportaci. rminos INCO, y un desglose de todos los cargos, incluyendo
    el precio del producto y cualquier otro cargo relacionado y los costos de traspaso,
    como el flete mar. Este dictamen puede ser  vinculante o  meramente  referencial.

  • Perfectionist

    Datinf sites would help if they demanded more information like course of study, position in family (coughs). Institution attended, Genotype, e.t..c. Than making us spend whole weeks and even months on a datinf site looking for the right partner!

  • Good Guys finish last

    Its a real shame that there isn't a real acknowledgement that the real cause of all these problems we have is that we are not perfect at all and we have problems as a species in the complete psychologic region.

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  • Ian

    There’s also the notion of aesthetics. Less attractive or overweight couples, are way more likely to stick it out and stay together, regardless of any issues they may be having….since their relationship isn’t as based upon vanity. If one or both partners know they can likely find another mate after leaving their current partner, they are more confident in their decision to part ways. In some strange way, our actions are dictated by by our looks.

  • G.

    While I agree wholeheartedly with this article, I also wonder how many couples would there be around if everyone were to follow these very wise suggestions. Almost everyone I know got married for one of the reasons you pinpoint above and they’re not particularly happy with their marriage, but also not terribly unhappy. But they got what they most wanted out of it: a family.

    There’s only point that I find controversial and that’s “picking a life partner is fully in your control”. I’m afraid it’s not. As with everything in life, there are lots of things that stand in the way of finding the right partner which are not completely in your control: the place where you live (even using dating sites, if you’re in a remote village, your pool will be much smaller), your looks (shallow as it may be, I agree 100% with Ian), sheer luck and, most of important of all, time. Despite dating websites and speed dating, it may take someone a long time to find the right person and unfortunately our time on this planet is limited. Whatever the reason, if you only find the right person when you’re, say, 60, then it’s a bit too late to have a family. Yes, you can adopt kids, but you’ll never be able to see them through college, maybe not even high school.

    So, my feeling is that if everyone were to follow these suggestions, there would be fewer unhappy marriages and divorces, but also far fewer couples/families in general. The low birth rate trend in first world countries would spike. Maybe it’s a good thing, I don’t know. But I know for sure that I wouldn’t be here if my parents weren’t pressured by society and their own fears to marry and have kids. There are reasons why these idiotic notions about love exist and the chemicals in our body don’t seem to work in our favor, that’s mostly to avoid the human race going extinct.

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  • Benjamin

    You know nothing Tim Urban.

  • Smithe918

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  • Spartan

    This was a great article apart from 1 line – A woman has to find a life partner before 40. This is way off.

    Oldest a woman can safely and responsibly have a completely healthy baby = 33

    Number of years it takes to ensure the man is a good life partner and potential good father before getting pregnant = 2

    Number of years it takes to have a baby = ~1

    Age a woman needs to find a life partner = 30

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  • Smithf29

    Heya im for the first time here. I found this board and I find It really useful &amp it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and help others like you aided me. efbegedcakeckbbf

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  • Ahsoka23

    Wow did this article hit home for me. I know so many people who fit these categories, myself included, and it makes me think about my past relationships, and what I want in a future relationship.

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  • Mary

    I’d like to take the job

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  • vulnerable chick

    have you ever wonder why most relationships fail? is it because they fall out of love or just that they are looking for some thing that their partner doesn’t have?

    I’m in a 4 years 7 months relationship right my partner always tell me that he’s not happy and im psychologically incapacitated in fulfilling my obligations to him. I ask him about it then he told me that i must figure it out first coz he’s seeing someone right now (just a friend according to him for now). He’s trying to point out that i’m just an ideal girlfriend but not an ideal wife coz i lack the capacity to make him happy. I don’t know if its just sexually, physically or emotionally

    • Anonymous

      Several errors: nobody can make you happy. You make yourself happy. He is telling you you have a defect! Leave him now!
      Please read The rules if you are searching for a husband. That man doesn’t deserve you. But your attitude will attract the wrong guys!
      Best of luck!

      • eriannamoric

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  • Chi

    Love it, Happy Forgettable Wednesday =D

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  • Emil Bouchard

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  • Howard Ella

    i just want to share my experience and testimony here.. i was married for 6 years to my husband and all of a sudden, another woman came into the picture.. he started hailing me and he was abusive. but i still loved him with all my heart and wanted him at all cost…then he filed for divorce. my whole life was turning apart and i didn’t know what to do .he moved out of the house and abandoned the kids.. so someone told me about trying spiritual means to get my husband back and introduced me to a spell caster…so i decided to try it reluctantly. although i didn’t believe in all those things… then when he consulted his gods and cast a return and love spell, after 3 days, my husband came back and was pleading. he had realized his mistakes. I just couldn’t believe it. .anyways we are back together now and we are happy. in case anyone needs this man, his email address is or thought hid website or call him with +2348161850195.

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