It's not what you might expect.
Perhaps you imagine that love is mysterious and that what draws two people together is subject to the alignment of the stars in the sky. The truth, however, is that several factors are magnets which draw two people together in the beginning, and the glue that holds them together in the end.
In my practice as a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, I can tell you that I hear first-hand each day about the factors that turn on – and turn off – men and women as they date in search of the right romantic match.
One of the most common questions I hear from women is, Why does a man choose one woman over another? Though there is no one sentence answer, there is an answer: Men choose one woman over another for several reasons, and they're not necessarily ones you might expect.
When it comes to sexual compatibility, a man chooses a given woman because she meets the sexual criteria that he has for the woman in his life: He likes the way she kisses, the ways she moves, and the way she expresses herself. Does he need to be attracted to her sexually? Yes, but he doesn't need to feel off-the-charts sexual attraction in order to choose her.
Given the choice between two women he is equally attracted to, he will choose the one who is more compatible with him in other ways which I explore below.
In general, men love to be touched. Men are often less emotionally expressive than women, so they feel more comfortable connecting with their romantic partner through physical touch.
A man chooses one woman over another woman, in part, because he feels that she is compatible with him in the affection department: She is someone who is physically affectionate; she touches him the way he likes to be touched; and she touches him with the frequency that he likes to be touched.
For example, if you take two women who have many of the same qualities, the man will choose the one who is more physically affectionate because he perceives her to be warmer, softer, and more caring.
Social Group Compatibility
One of the main factors that goes into a how a man chooses one woman over another has to do with what social group he believes she fits into. Because most men have their own parents and siblings whom they see at extended family gatherings, a man needs the woman he chooses to blend well with his existing family.
Image is important to men, so they also need to feel that the woman they choose is someone they’d be proud to introduce to their colleagues at work, whether those colleagues are fellow mechanics at an automobile repair shop or partners at a law firm. The point is simple: She must fit in with his crowd.
Lifestyle Value: Family
Perhaps the most important lifestyle value men hold relates to family - whether a man wants to get married and have children.
For a man who chooses to opt out of the traditional family lifestyle, he will choose a woman who is forthright about the fact that she doesn't want to go the traditional route, either. For a man who wants the traditional marriage-child package, he will choose someone who is forthright about her wish to start a family.
Yet the lifestyle values men care about the most are not limited to marriage or procreation.
Lifestyle Value: The Social Spectrum
One of the most important lifestyle values a man has relates to how social he is currently, and how social he wants to be in the future.
To provide some context, one of the chief factors that causes tension in a dating relationship has to do with how much each individual likes to go out socially, including socializing in bars, hanging out in groups, and attending organized social events. For men who aren't extremely social, they will choose a woman who isn't extremely social, either. For men who are social, they will look for a woman who loves to paint the town red - and do so on a regular basis!
Lifestyle Value: Traveling Independently vs. Traveling Together
Another lifestyle goal that matters to men - and determines the kind of woman they'll choose to be with - has to do with the amount of freedom she'll give him.
A good barometer for the amount of freedom the relationship allows is, believe it or not, traveling. For a man who like to travel with friends on his own (whether it be a hunting trip, a trip to Vegas with the guys, or a religious retreat), he will choose a woman who allows him freedom and accepts the fact that he needs to keep a certain part of his life for himself.
For men who are looking for a bosom buddy, they will choose a woman who would rather be with him than, say, go with her girlfriends on vacation. A woman who likes to do too much on her own will threaten a man who likes to do most things with his romantic partner, and these tendencies are highly resistant to change over time.
As you wade through the dating waters en route to your romantic match, keep in mind that these factors are at work in the decision process a man works through to find the woman he wants to be with. At the end of the day, he is looking for someone who provides the best fit with respect to the categories above.
Though this recipe may not seem as romantic as the love-at-first-sight dynamic we see in the movies, understanding the roles these factors play can make your quest to find the right person a whole lot easier.
This article was originally published at eHarmony. Reprinted with permission from the author.