Look for Green Lights When Choosing a Partner

January 27, 2012

Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.

Alfred Sheinwold

 

Let’s end the week on a positive note. This is a post I wrote a couple of years ago, and I think it makes a nice bookend to the posts on narcissism. I’d written How to Make Sure You Don’t Fall For a Player, and responding to the list of red flags, a male reader asked:

What I’m curious about: This is a list of red flags, warning indicators if you see them. Can anyone suggest an alternative list of green lights, which are behaviors that should positively indicate someone is on the up-and-up? Yes, technically the lack of a red flag could be called a green light. But I’m looking for something more active and definite: are there any reliable ways to spot good character and honesty from what a person actually does?

A female reader responded with an excellent list for objectively evaluating the behavior of someone you’re spending time with. I endorse it wholeheartedly:

Green Flag 1: Congruence

This is simply that things make sense. They “fit.” A lot of women’s intuition is piecing together all the little details and seeing if they fit. If something doesn’t make sense, there’s probably a reason.

Green Flag 2: Effort

He makes time to be with you non-sexually. I have dated men who worked 100+ hours weeks and they still found time to spend with me that wasn’t 1am for a booty call.

Green Flag 3: No excuses

You don’t make excuses for him to your friends/family. This is a bad habit women have. Don’t do it. Even better, find someone for whom you don’t have to do it.

Green Flag 4: Respectful of others

His behavior and attitudes towards other people, particularly women, is respectful and consistent. He tips even ugly waitresses, doesn’t talk trash about people, and has a decent relationship with his mother.

Green Flag 5: Considers you a catch

He seems proud to be with you. He likes showing you off and having you meet people he knows.

Green Flag 6: Familiarity breeds affection and respect

The more you learn about him, the more you like him. Time should bring *less* doubt about him as a person, not more.

Green Flag 7: Demonstrates interest

He seems to genuinely like you, enjoys your company and he shows it in some way. He does not act as though he is doing you a favor by spending time with you. Seems basic, but it’s amazing how many people don’t get this one.

Green Flag 8: Takes responsibility

He takes responsibility for his actions. This extends to realizing his own contributions to relationships that have ended. If all of his exes were “raging psychos,” he isn’t seeing or admitting any of his culpability.

Green Flag 9: Not manipulative

He doesn’t make you crazy. There are guys out there that are expert “crazy-makers”. They’re deliberately vague, hard to pin down, feed you little bits of *incongruent* fluff to keep your hamster running on the wheel. A little bit of intrigue is good. A lot will just make you another one of his “raging psycho” exes.

Green Flag 10: Inspires more than lust

You like him. Yeah, I know, you’ve liked assholes before, but you genuinely *like* (not just lust) the man he is. If you didn’t date him, you’d probably still want to be friends with him (not that I recommend that, just saying, even if you didn’t find him hot, you’d like him). He has positive qualities that have nothing to do with sex appeal.

SW: But how about when it’s early days? What are the green lights that say:

Talk to this person, flirt with this person, respond to this person!

What signals “high potential” in someone you’re just getting to know? The key criteria, in my view, are Availability, Character, Compatibility and Security.

Availability

  • Is this person truly available for a relationship? Are they single? Are they free from emotional entanglement, or are they on the rebound? Do they have a relationship history that you can respect?

Character

  • Sincerity: Is the communication meaningful? Does he display an open manner? Does he show an interest in getting to know more about you?
  • Discernment: Who does he choose to associate with? Do his friends seem good and decent? Do they make good choices? Who has he dated in the past? Are they women you would choose to be friends with?
  • Loyalty: How important are his existing relationships to him? Does he have old friends from way back? How does he talk about his family?
  • Generosity/Kindness: Is he considerate of others? Does he show concern for you, e.g., getting home safely? Is he sympathetic? (Note: This is NOT about his being willing to spend money on you, though he is generous if he does.)
  • Sense of purpose: Is he a man with a plan? Does he have a strong work ethic?
  • Self-discipline: Do you see evidence that he values his health? His time? Is he sensible rather than overly impulsive? Does he know his limits and respect them?
  • Intellectual curiosity: Does he have interests? Does he read? Is he aware of what is happening in the world around him? Does he care? Is he thoughtful?
  • Flexibility: Is he affable? Willing to look at both sides of an issue? Respectful of your opinion? Willing to compromise?

As you get to know him better, other important traits become apparent: reliability, consistency, integrity, honesty, trusthworthiness, stability.

Compatibility

Compatibility includes character, as you cannot be in a healthy, fulfilling relationship with someone of poor character. However, you must have compatible personalities for the relationship to thrive. Helen Fisher of Rutgers became fascinated with the question of why we choose certain people over others. What is it about another person that makes them “the one?” Before writing her latest book Why Him? Why Her, she developed a questionnaire, which has since been taken by 7 million people in 39 countries. If you’re interested, you may take it here. She found that four different brain chemicals dramatically affect personality, depending on which hormones had the highest levels.

A. Dopamine – The Explorers

People with high dopamine production crave novelty. They’re impulsive and like autonomy. They describe the most dissatisfaction in relationships and are the most likely to divorce. They tend to be drawn to other Explorers, and do not enjoy parenting. (I wrote about male Explorers in What Women Really Love About Bad Boys.)

B. Serotonin – The Builders

Builders have traditional values and are most comfortable with other Builders. These folks are the most likely to be married 50 years.

C. Testosterone – The Directors

Directors are tough-minded, direct, decisive, focused, technically skilled, and competitive.

D. Estrogen – The Negotiators

Negotiators are socially skilled, talented with words, mentally flexible, compassionate.

Fisher found that Directors and Negotiators go for each other and often complement each other, regardless of gender. What’s interesting is the effect these two have on each other. When Directors challenge Negotiators, it can trigger a surge of testosterone in the Negotiator, making them more assertive. When Negotiators demonstrate affection to Directors, it can trigger the release of oxytocin. The Director/Negotiator combination is considered the best for child-rearing.

There are no absolute truths when it comes to personality. Obviously, all of these labels represent a spectrum, with an infinite number of combinations. You will be more attracted to certain people based on your own genetic makeup. In my own marriage, it’s definitely a case of opposites attracting in some ways. I’m highly extraverted, my husband is quite reserved. Though we’re both intelligent, he has more “sharp points” intelligence, and mine is “rounder.” On the other hand, we find many of the same things interesting, and we generally laugh at the same things, too. We have very compatible values. I’d say I’m a Negotiator with a bit of Explorer thrown in. My husband is a Director with some Builder in the mix.

I find it fascinating that Fisher’s work contradicts the notion that all women want the “bad boy.” Her findings suggest that only fellow Explorers will go for that pleasure-seeking impulsive creature. That’s perfect – since they tend to be unhappy in their relationships and aren’t great at raising kids, they should eventually become extinct. Fisher suggests that people with high dopamine originally thrived because their ability to embrace and enjoy risk made them more likely to survive.

It’s important that you pay attention to the chemical green lights. This is an area where intuition will serve you well if you respect it.

Sense of Security

Finally, one of the most important things a person can demonstrate is their belief in their own attractiveness. This is the  source of one’s ability to be friendly, open and flirtatious. If you don’t believe that you are attractive, you can and should take action to change that. It’s not impossible to find a mate without that sense of security, but it’s a big green light and a positive signal to others. It’s an invitation.

Helen Fisher says that we’re genetically designed with a built-in system to try to win life’s greatest prize: the right mating partner.

That system comes with red, yellow and green lights. Move ahead only on green, and don’t play in traffic.