People date for all sorts of reasons—for sex or hookups, to have a good time, to meet new people, to find someone a companion to spend time with. And there are a myriad of variables that can influence this reason for certain individuals. For example, if someone just experienced a break up, and especially a divorce, someone may even want to date to prove to themselves that they are attractive and desirable. “If someone dealt with a marriage partner who didn't want intimacy or sex, they might want to make sure that what their former partner said is in fact not true,” notes Stef Safran, Chicago-based matchmaker and founder of Stef and the City. “If they were dumped, they might want to date various people to deal with their grief from the end of the relationship and the loneliness they feel.”
Of course, one of the most common reasons someone decides to date is to find a life partner, no matter the stage of life they are in. If you’re in this group, you probably have a more unique set of criteria than someone dating for mere companionship, for example. “When you are dating the the goal of establishing a healthy marriage, it is very important to pick partners who have similar relationship goals who are also are dating for the purposes of finding someone to marry,” says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., relationship expert, professor at Oakland University and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. This, she notes, is probably the most vital criterion to look for because you both need to be on the same page for why you're dating and what you're looking for.
Next important, she notes, is selecting a partner that shares compatibility with you when it comes to key values and underlying attitudes. “You're looking for someone who shares your key life values, because that similarity is key to long-term relationship health and well-being,” she says. “Although someone dating for mere companionship might look for this kind of similarity, if you're dating for marriage, this type of similarity isn't important to long-term marriage happiness and health.”
If you’re dating with the goal of finding someone who is marriage material, here are some tips from dating relationship experts.
Listen closely to what someone is looking for.
Whether it’s by scrolling through dating websites or, more specifically, their online dating app profile prior to meeting up or in-person while you’re on a first date, Wendi L. Dumbroff, a licensed professional counselor in Madison, New Jersey who obtained her training in couple and family therapy through the Ackerman Institute for the Family In New York City., suggests keeping an ear out for what the person you’re dating is looking for. “If you find yourself on a date with a person who tells you they are not interested in a long-term relationship, believe them and move on,” she says. “You don’t have to spend months (or years) of your life making them your project, or thinking you will be the one who finally changes their mind, only to be disappointed in the end.”
Only seek daters who fit your criteria.
If there are certain “musts” you have when it comes to someone you marry, such as having the same religious faith as you or political stance, Drumbroff suggests dating only people who fall into that criteria. “I am not in any way suggesting that people should not intermarry, but if something is that important to you personally, seek another who is more in line with your belief system,” she says. “It is much more difficult to end a relationship if you have developed strong feelings for someone, than to just go in a different direction when you first learn that you differ on deal breaking issues.”
Establish that you are sexually compatible.
Marriage (hopefully) lasts a long time, and, as a couple and sex therapist, Dumbroff has encountered plenty of couples with different sexual styles. “If sexual preferences are not discussed beforehand, it may lead to problems later on,” she warns. “If one person is kinky, they may tell themselves they can live without this particular need, but later find that they just can’t,” she adds.
Make sure you have common goals.
As you're dating with marriage as the goal, it's important to ask any potential suitors about their goals, whether professional or personal, as Elliott R. Katz, relationship expert and author of Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants, notes that having similar life goals is key to building a foundation for a life together. “Don’t assume that the other person will just go along with your goals or that they will change once you become a married couple,” he says. “Sometimes couples have different and incompatible goals—one person may want children while the other does not.” If this sounds familiar, he recommends postponing marriage and exploring your incompatibilities further.
Do your own inner work.
Finding the right life partner for you may require you to do some digging into yourself as well. “If you find you have a pattern of dating a ‘certain type’ who you are never quite happy with, or doesn’t treat you the way you are yearning to be treated, it can be a red flag," notes Dumbroff. "Exploring and understanding that pattern is really important, so that you don’t repeat it when you choose a life partner."
Be okay with things not working out.
If you’re dating with the goal of finding that very special person for you, it’s important to accept the fact that it will likely take time—and a handful of strikeouts. “The majority of the people you might come across are not going to be for you; that is normal,” says Safron. “Just because someone rejects you doesn't mean it's about something you did or want; sometimes people are dating for different reasons than finding a serious relationship.”
Weigh how the two of you handle stress and conflict.
“Think about the last time the two of you had a disagreement or something stressful happened (e.g., flat tire, traffic jam, credit card didn't work, flight was cancelled),” says Dr. Orbuch. “The key to dating for the purpose of finding a marriage partner is healthy conflict or how you treat each other when you're at odds or stressed.” How both of you behave now when you are at odds or stressed, she notes, says a lot about how you will (or won't) resolve problems in the future.
Make sure you trust them.
When you're dating for the purpose of finding a marriage partner, Dr. Orbuch recommends asking yourself whether or not you truly trust the other person. “When you trust someone, you believe the person tells you the truth, won't hurt or deceive you, and has your best interests at heart,” she says. “Bear in mind, trust is always a two-way street: you need to have the ability to trust someone else, but it is also just as important to have a trustworthy partner.” She recommends listening to your gut and looking at their actions to see if they're consistent and predictable.
Bottom line: In real life, every journey to love is and every love story unique and different, but the end result should be happy and fulfilling. By incorporating this check list into your dating structure as you seek out potential partners, whether you choose to meet someone in person or through dating apps, you can work to narrow in on the very special qualities that will make your future spouse the right person—and even the soulmate—for you.