Finding a Perfect Mate Starts With Self

3 min

The online world is negatively affecting the American dating scene. If you didn’t suspect that already, an experience recorded by Villanova professor Anna Bonta Moreland over at First Things will make that clear.

Moreland explains how she gave her students an online discussion assignment to share their dating experiences. The results were very moving and revealed how tired these young people were of what’s known as the hook-up culture. Yet when she got them into class to discuss, they clammed up. It was too personal to utter these things face to face, even though her students were used to barring all in online dating relationships (sometimes literally!).

“What have these dating apps done to young people like my students?” she asks. I would expand that question further, for I don’t believe it is just dating apps that have made it so difficult for young people to settle down and raise a traditional family. Instead, it is the idea that perfection is necessary in order to achieve marriage.

The quest for perfection is undoubtedly fostered by our need for instant gratification in a materialistic society. As Moreland says of her students, “they settle for a quick fix, a temporary satiation of a deep, human desire to love and be loved, to know and be known,” always thinking that eventually they will find the perfect mate…but just not right now. The online world reinforces this idea by presenting too many options—one potential spouse offers great charisma, but then another one offers great kindness, while a third has an intelligent mind. If only a person could find every perfect quality in one package, a package where the chemistry explodes when it finally interacts with the one who receives it!

The quest for perfection is also fostered by fear of repeating the mistakes of past generations, namely the divorce mentality that permeates American culture. Because so many of today’s young people were raised in broken homes, they are scared to even try marriage. So they engage in a number of short-term relationships, hooking-up with first this one, then that one, then moving on to another when the last one disappoints, always seeking that soul mate who will satisfy all their needs and never leave them.

Unfortunately, the quest for perfection in a mate and marriage is futile, a fact which Alexander Riley explores in a review of Jordan Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order, in the October issue of Chronicles Magazine. Instead of wasting effort on imagining and searching for perfection in others, Riley agrees with Peterson’s suggestion that individuals cultivate their own character, seeking to prepare and refine themselves to take on the responsibility of marriage:

Contrary to the dominant message in this culture, one does not find the perfect partner and marriage. One makes a good match by constant effort and the steadfast will to persevere in the relationship. People waiting for perfect matches will find their idealism getting in the way of the practical work on self that is necessary to become the kind of person capable of being married to one other person for a lifetime.

In essence, those who want to marry and marry well will work on themselves first. They won’t waste time swiping left and right or hooking up with this one or that one to test if perfection is there. In rejecting this quest for their ideal and focusing on improving self instead, they will learn to deny themselves, an all-important quality which will actually make a relationship and then marriage between two imperfect people work.

It is good and right that young people should be careful about whom they choose to marry. But in that caution, they should be the ones doing the work to ensure that their future spouse marries a selfless person.


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Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.

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I am tempted sorely to observe that given the extremely unhealthy effects of the narcissism that is so rampant among today's younger individuals, the all-too-often motivating dynamic is "What's in it for me?" when it should be more reality-based, of course, or "What's in it for both of us?" But that is an awareness that more often than not comes with age & experience...something that is typically denied us humming beans until we've put a certain number of miles on the experiential & chronological odometer! Drawing on my own example, I've been married to a wonderful woman from China for over 33 years and although every other day poses a new challenge of one sort or another, I have always been in it for the long term, as has she. We both fully understand the requisite that a marriage requires constant work, despite coming from contrasting cultures half a world apart, and I consider myself thrice blessed (I'm NOT a 'believer', by the way) to have such a marvelous woman as my mate and life partner! I am, admittedly, from a much older generation and I have no uncertainties that that makes a HUGE difference in the 'not-perfect-but-still-WOW!' game of finding someone to build a 'nearly' perfect future with! Thanks as always, Annie, for sharing your illuminating thoughts w/us less-than-perfect students of life!


Ken LaFave
In a majority of states in the USA, no-fault divorce is the law. This means that either husband or wife may, for any reason (!), simply end the marriage and move on. Looked at from a certain perspective, this could reasonably be interpreted to mean that in those states (and in countries with laws like them) marriage no longer exists. The whole point of marriage is that you are not going anywhere else, ever. You will stay and work on the relationship no matter how rocky it becomes. I don't see how a condition in which either party may pull out on a whim can be called marriage.


As you wrote 3 years ago,Annie, "But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.” After over 40 years of marriage, to the same woman, I am amazed at how suited we are for each other. There are personality traits as well as likes and dislikes, that work so well in our marriage. I never even thought of considering them back then. But then there are the "other" areas that often make me wonder at how she puts up with me. Or at times the reverse. But the long haul is what counts and what brings reward and satisfaction.