The Five Non-Negotiable Things I Look For In A Partner

A man and woman holding hands together and looking into each other's eyes.
Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

One summer, I was working on a makeover and dating show in a studio in Manhattan. The show was loads of fun: women came to our hosts frustrated with online dating, and, throughout the episode, a woman would get a makeover, have her dating profile redone, and gain the confidence, skills, and self-love needed to survive the crazy world of online dating.

One woman getting made over was extremely picky when it came to deeming someone “dateable” in her eyes. One of the show’s hosts, Devyn, made this woman perform a unique exercise to figure out the qualities she valued in a potential partner. In the middle of Central Park, with a large chalkboard, we filmed Devyn make the woman name all the things that she felt she absolutely needed in a man. The woman got to work spouting off qualities left and right. She had an extensive list of “must haves,” and Devyn feverishly scrawled these qualities onto the chalkboard. Then, Devyn told her to choose only 10 of these qualities. After much resistance, back-and-forth, and talking things through, the woman was able to cross some things off her list and erase them from the chalkboard.

This went on for some time and, as I watched in the summer heat, under a gazebo, the list went from 10 down to only five qualities. It was interesting to see which attributes went and which stayed, as well as listen to the conversation that was happening out loud between Devyn and the woman. Together they weighed the importance of each quality, comparing each one to the next, swapping them out and arranging them in different ways like pieces of a puzzle.

As I watched them solve the Rubik’s cube that was this woman’s insecurities, I thought about what my list would look like. Did I want someone super successful? Did they need to enjoy shopping as much as I do? Would it be a deal breaker if they didn’t make me laugh? What was important to me and what wasn’t? I thought about how this exercise could be helpful for just about anyone. We are constantly thinking about finding “the one,” but how often was it that we thought about who that one special person is?

On the first day of 2016, my roommate, my best friend, and I sat on the floor of my bedroom talking about our expectations for the year. We talked about our careers, physical and mental health, passion projects, and travel plans until inevitably the conversation led to dating. As we started talking about putting ourselves out there, I remembered the list exercise immediately and ran for a pen and notepad. I explained the who, what, and how of the list to my present company and dove in head first as the guinea pig. Lead by example, right?

First, I jotted down everything that immediately came to mind when I thought about what I wanted in a partner. I plopped things onto my list willy-nilly. The point here was to word-vomit all over the page. I got out every single quality I remotely thought of when I was thinking about my future partner. There were no wrong answers.

Until the second phase of the exercise where I weeded out wrong answers and refined and specified vague ones. It’s easy to write down things like “smart, funny, charming,” etc., but your entries should be more specific and targeted than that. First of all – anything physical should be stricken from your list. You’re obviously applying this list to people that you’ve already found physically attractive. For example, my roommate put up a fight about having “tall” be one of the top five qualities she wants in a partner. My friend and I had to keep explaining to her that this list does not deal with physical attractiveness but instead personality traits, morals, and virtues. If someone is not tall enough for you to be attracted to them, you shouldn’t ever be getting to the point of evaluating them using your top five list.

Secondly, a word like “smart” is extremely vague. Do I want my partner to simply have a high IQ? Do I want this person to have a good job? Be able to have deep and intellectual conversations with me? These are three very different qualities, so it is important to be as specific as possible. Someone can be “funny,” but is that on the list because I want them to be playful and make me laugh? Do I want them to have a similar sense of humor as I? Or do I want them to enjoy performing for whatever audience will listen to them like I’m constantly doing in just about any situation? Again, be specific.

Once we had written out our lists, I instructed everyone to cut them down to 15 qualities, then 10, then 7, and, finally, five qualities. It was helpful to do this in a group setting because we were able to talk things through with people who knew us well, and we didn’t allow each other to slip up or lie to themselves about what it was they truly wanted.

My results of the exercise – the five things I look for in a partner, are below:


I’m constantly pushing myself to do better, do more, create something new, and aim higher. I have a demanding career and still am hungry to work on successful side projects (this blog being one of them). My partner will have this same sense of hunger for something more than simply going to work, coming home, collecting a paycheck, wash, rinse, repeat. I have a pretty clear vision of what I want my life to be like in the future, and having a complacent partner will not afford me the life of my possibly-achievable dreams.

Close to family and friends

I dated someone for over a year who was somewhat of a loner and did not have a close-knit group of family and friends. I, on the other hand, have more friends and family that I know what to do with. My mom is one of 8 children, so my family is fucking huge, and I’ve maintained relationships with people from every phase of my life: childhood, high school, college, and beyond. My friends and family welcomed my ex into their homes with open arms, and there’s a part of me that still feels that my ex didn’t fully appreciate the amazing hospitality and love that was given by my loved ones. In the future, my partner will have a loving group of people around them who will give me the love and hospitality that I know my loved ones will give to my partner. I will enjoy my partner’s family, and they will get along with my family.

Has hobbies.

I have a zillion hobbies. My blog is a hobby. Writing, in general, is a hobby. Creating websites is a hobby. My podcast is a hobby. Fashion and styling myself are hobbies. I put energy into a lot of different things that give me happiness, and I won’t ever be able to be with someone who just comes home from work to do nothing but go to the gym and/or drink. My friend Kristina will tell you how important having hobbies are to us, and I cannot allow myself to be with someone who doesn’t have any. PS – Almost anything can be a hobby, and many hobbies are 100% free.

Generous with money.

As I’ve written before, I think of money as a stream that flows to all the people I love. I’m the first person to say “let’s just split the bill” even if I owe the least. Anyone in a relationship with me would need to feel similarly. I think it’s not only rude to pull out a calculator at the table and tally up who owes what, but I believe that the people I love are worth an extra ten dollars here and there. This does not mean that my partner needs to spend exorbitant amounts of money on my loved ones or me, but they must not be unnecessarily cheap or frugal. I know my relationship with money is extremely unique, but I will never be able to be with someone who has a negative relationship with their bank accounts.

Social Chameleon.

My ex claimed to not like public attention. Dragging my ex out to meet my friends for drinks was an almost impossible feat, and I was often told that I was selfish for wanting to be out in the world with the person I was in a relationship with. Putting my ex into unfamiliar social situations was constantly being held over my head, and I was accused of being self-centered for having friends. Never again will I accept this kind of treatment. My partner will need to be able to take social situations head-on and know how to navigate them accordingly. My partner will be able to dress up for a formal event and have cocktails with my coworkers but also be able to eat pizza and drink beer on the couch with my friends. In both situations, my partner will be able to hold their own in conversations without me holding their hand through it. I can talk to anyone, about anything, for an hour, and although I don’t expect my partner to do the same, this person should be able to bond with the people I love.

Doing this exercise did wonders for me. It’s similar to making a vision board, except instead of posting aspects of the life I want, I’m posting aspects of the person I want. Narrowing down my list caused me to weigh qualities against each other and truly ask myself what it is that I’m looking for in a partner. We dream of the person who we will spend the rest of our lives with, but now I can say that I have an idea of who that person is. I’m certain I haven’t met this person yet, but when I do, I’ll be that much closer to recognizing it. TC mark

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