Why the Most Impressive People Struggle in Love

couple showing off their arm muscles

I had a Memorial Day barbecue yesterday and got a chance to connect with some amazing friends. As the day wound down and the sangria pitcher drained, I started musing about dating and relationships, which is the kind of thing I do whether I’m sober or not.

It occurred to me that all of our friends are demographically similar: Attractive, fun, 30-40 years old. Writers. Directors. Marketers. Professors. Artists. MBAs. Just a solid bunch of folks.

And yet there was only one other couple at our party – everyone else was single.

So if the common denominator between my friends is that they’re single and impressive, is it possible that the reason that they’re single is BECAUSE they’re impressive?

When you have everything going for you, does it become that much harder to compromise on looks? Intelligence? Humor? Money?

So if the common denominator between my friends is that they’re single and impressive, is it possible that the reason that they’re single is BECAUSE they’re impressive?

Without psychoanalyzing any of my friends (since a. they didn’t ask me, and b. I’m not a shrink), I’d have to at least pose the question:

When you truly are an 8 in looks, a 9 in intelligence, a 7 in career, an 8 in humor… is it imperative to find someone as impressive as you are? Is anything less “settling”?

Believe me, I’m not one of those people who became an expert when he put a ring on his finger. After all, for most of my career, I was the single guy. Plus, it’s quite evident that married people aren’t necessarily smarter – they’re just more committed to one relationship.

But maybe it’s not just a coincidence that the cream of the crop is largely made up of “maximizers” as described in Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice”. These folks have so much self-worth that they feel that the grass is always greener. And if they have 90% of what they’re looking for in a mate, maybe they just won’t rest until they find 94%.

Alas, as Schwartz points out in his amazing book: maximizers are rarely happy. In fact, “satisficers” – the people who are content with “less” – tend to be happier people overall.

So, is it harder for the most impressive people to find love? Would they be wiser if they learned to compromise? Are they holding out for something that doesn’t exist?

What do you think?

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  1. 1

    Evan, I guess my first question would be it depends on whether or not these “impressive folks” are even looking. Is it possible that they are satisfied enough with their lives currently that they don’t feel compelled to look?

    I think that has a great deal of merit and is probably even spot on. However, I’m not sure that’s necessarily limited to the group of which you speak. I think many of us have a tendency toward this mindset. I think secretly, we all want someone who is “more” than we are. And it’s difficult to say what is “settling” and what is “holding out”.

    1. 1.1

      I think that people have an idea of who they want.   Then, they’re disappointed with the material they get that’s reality.   Ideas aren’t real.

      Material is real.   What I find interesting is how a lot of older women view themselves.   They’re very picky.   But, they’re not self-aware.   They’re 1970s/80s models and they’re trying to sell themselves as 2015 models.   [?]

      By their ages there’s nothing fresh or new to experience with them which is sad.   I don’t mind dating an older woman but she’ll have to pay for her expenses.   I’m not taking care of her and her babies.   I’m not her savior.   Life is tough.

    2. 1.2

      I totally agree with the idea that they might not even be looking!

  2. 2

    I really believe you have a point. People who have done well in life, looks …etc have an expectation of a similar partner. Factor in the crazy ones and there are just not enough left to partner up. Then a decision has to be made to accept less. Especially as you get older. That’s where I am at now. You start to decide what area, you are willing to compromise.

  3. 3

    I think it’s harder for impressive people to find each other, and they get discouraged along the way with all of the ‘unimpressive’ people that they run across.

    1. 3.1

      I really believe that it is hard to find someone who is going to impress you in know our days serious…….

      looking for someone who is demographically similar to you that can make the chances to find your soul mate





  4. 4

    There have been a number of articles lately about an epidemic of narcissism ( the neurosis, not the personality disorder ) in the U.S..

    I remember one thread about a preacher writing in for advice as to what to tell an obese underachiever friend. In that thread it was mentioned that this obese underachiever was refusing to settle for “less” than a 10 in a woman.

    In other words, you don’t need to be a “most impressive person” to confuse trophy hunting for self validation with happiness in the real world with a real person.

    You just need to have a big head like most Americans under 50 are getting.

  5. 5
    Karl R

    Evan asked: (original post)
    “When you truly are an 8 in looks, a 9 in intelligence, a 7 in career, an 8 in humor is it imperative to find someone as impressive as you are? Is anything less settling?”

    There’s some truth in that. In general we seek people who are close to us (though some people will seek out the 10s regardless).

    I consider myself to be a 10 in intelligence (let’s say for the sake of discussion that I’m in the top 1% of the population). I tend to date in the top 10% intelligence-wise, since they’re the women who can carry on an “intelligent” conversation with me. While I’m not looking for something more impressive than me, just getting somewhat close eliminates a large portion of the population.

    On the other hand, I have a job that’s a little over median income. Career-wise, I wan’t a woman who can support herself. While that may eliminate a few women, the vast majority meet that criterion.

    Where I’m most “impressive”, I’m also the pickiest. Where I’m less impressive, I’m a lot less picky. From my conversations with other people, that’s a fairly common trait.

    In some cases being “impressive” causes others to rule you out. For example, men generally don’t seek out women who are more financially successful than them. Women don’t seek out men who weigh less than them.

    “Would they be wiser if they learned to compromise?”

    Perhaps to a certain extent. However, I’m not certain that it serves anyone’s interest if I date someone who can’t communicate close to my level. So there’s probably some limits on that.

    I try to choose very carefully what areas I’ll be picky in.

    “Are they holding out for something that doesn’t exist?”

    No. I think they’re typically holding out for someone who is as impressive as they are. I automatically know one person who meets those criteria (me), so I can safely assume that someone else is that impressive as well. However, that means I still might be holding out for something that’s too rare for me to find.

    1. 5.1

      I think you refine the points here very well; that which we focus on most ourselves is that which we are reluctant to compromise on in others.

      I consider myself a 10 in intelligence, 8-9 in humour, but so far maybe a 2-3 in career (I’m in college, unemployed at the moment), and maybe a 4 in looks. I can definitely confirm that my standards are much more exacting in intelligence and humour, I think largely because I have enough sophistication in each to tell the difference between good and great, and to crave greatness. Maybe it’s just a desire not to be hypocritical.

      I wonder whether 9s and 10s in appearance would feel similarly loathe to compromise and accept lower than their level in looks. I am not in a position to say, personally, but I can imagine someone who “takes care of him/herself” looking down on anyone who doesn’t; I’ve seen similar epithets on dating websites, for instance.

      1. 5.1.1
        Karl R

        Serp asked:

        “I wonder whether 9s and 10s in appearance would feel similarly loathe to compromise and accept lower than their level in looks.”


        Generally, that appears to be the case:



        Serp said:

        “I can definitely confirm that my standards are much more exacting in intelligence and humour, I think largely because I have enough sophistication in each to tell the difference between good and great, and to crave greatness.”


        As I mentioned recently in another thread, selecting someone based on intelligence is about as superficial as selecting someone based on looks.   Christine supplied anecdotes from Einstein’s and Hawking’s first wives that their intelligence made it more difficult to be married to them.   So craving great intelligence can present some of the same problems that craving great looks can.

        Furthermore, it also hampers finding a partner.   Continuing with the assumption that I’m in the top 1% of the population intellectually, I could make an argument that it’s not unreasonable for me to want to date women in the top 2% of the population.   But it certainly hampers my choices if I rule out 98% of all women before I even check to see whether I like them (or find them remotely attractive).

        In all likelihood, you will end up with a partner who is significantly better than you in some areas and worse than you in others.   Based on my personal experience, your search may be faster and simpler if you allow intelligence to be one of those areas.


        As a nit-pick, I’m going to say that humor, unlike intelligence, is more of a matter of personal preference, not a matter of better/worse.

        1. Christine

          Well, I should be fair and note that not all marriages with brilliant people ended in disaster either.   For instance, look at Marie and Pierre Curie, who really seemed like intellectual equals (discovered radioactivity and won a Nobel Prize together).   By the accounts I read, they also had a fulfilling marriage (Marie really was devastated by Pierre’s death).   Perhaps there are also other brilliant Nobel Prize winners with happy marriages.

          On the other hand, you have someone like Albert Einstein, who got divorced.   Unlike Marie Curie, the first Mrs. Einstein (Mileva Maric) wasn’t as famous as her husband.   However, she was also a remarkably intelligent woman in her own right.   She was also trained in physics and, in fact, attended Zurich Polytechnic alongside Albert Einstein (which is a very impressive feat considering how those institutions usually didn’t admit women back then).   Jane Hawking was also a highly intelligent person (got a PhD in medieval poetry).

          There must be something else besides intelligence that helps hold relationships together–otherwise, you’d think that all of these marriages between very bright people should have have had equal chances of success.

          Perhaps it’s because Marie (by all accounts) was equally as workaholic and obsessive as Pierre.   Whereas, Mrs. Einstein and Mrs. Hawking (although also highly intelligent) don’t seem to have shared that obsession, so couldn’t quite relate to their husbands. They both made statements along the lines of physics being the “mistress” that tore their marriages apart.

          I’d be fascinated to see some actual scientific, controlled study of this–but at least anecdotally, I don’t think intelligence is a reliable predictor of relationship success.



      2. 5.1.2

        Watch this short 24min video by Alain de Botton at youtube.   It’s called “Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness – Schopenhauer on Love.”   Here’s the direct link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSy6mjhJC1k .   It seems there’s more ongoing than meets the eye.   What do you think?

  6. 6
    Curly Girl

    My vote is that a good number of them (us?) aren’t looking for “the one, forever and ever, amen.” There is so much to do in life and so many people to do it with. Marriage is only one thing on the menu and doing that often precludes doing other things.

  7. 7
    Carolin Dahlman

    Interesting Evan!

    People can be “impressive” on the outside, which can almost be like a prison. You appear so great and everyone tells you you are great, but inside you feel lost and empty. A frustration hits you when you’re not getting the deeper connection you need when it’s all about looks, intelligence or career. We think: “What about me, the true me…?” That’s a person most people hide. I would coach these super people to relax, calm down, feel the connection with life.

    The anxciety of freedom is a wellknown fact in human psychology but I’m not sure if this is the problem. Maybe the list they are choosing from is wrong?

    Btw, saw you were interviewed in an article in “my” Cosmo, between my columns 🙂

    Have a lovely day
    Carolin, The Love Coach, http://www.coaching2love.com

  8. 8

    I agree with Karl R. I consider myself physically to be a 6.5 or 7 (though if I could actually bring myself to exercise I could be an 8) so that’s where I’m most likely to compromise. But intellect-wise, I’m in Mensa, so…I need someone who’s pretty blindingly brilliant to even be interested.

    If you are looking for someone who is not only similar to your “overall” or holistic score, but also your different categorical/analytical scores, then your odds go WAY down, no matter if you’re near the top or not, I think.

    Honey´s last blog post…Vegas Memorial Weekend Sextacular: Preview

  9. 9

    I meant that with exercise I could be an 8…not a smiley face emoticon 🙂

    Honey´s last blog post…Vegas Memorial Weekend Sextacular: Preview

  10. 10

    I think it is a sign of the times. We see and believe that we are great and wonderful and deserve great and wonderful mates. Perfect looks, smarts, career, dream house, dog,school, …etc,. So much of what we see is not real. Just like the Star Trek movie, there are many virtual worlds coexisting. The measure of a man (and a woman ) now is on superficial things and we all are suffering. Complement does not mean equally matched. Something to consider.

  11. 11

    I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I discovered long ago that the majority of men I’ve encountered on dating sites are less intelligent, attractive, interesting, educated, and emotionally stable than are my personal friends. That’s not to say that great people aren’t out there, but if you throw in wanting someone with similar interests/goals as well as a high level of compatibility, and add physical attraction on top of all that, it does make finding someone tough. And getting older makes it tougher still. I live in a major metropolitan area, and I’m currently dating a great guy in another state. I know EMK’s against long-distance dating, but what’s a gal to do?

  12. 12

    What’s really interesting is in the grand scheme of things, all of us are really only here for a short while. Our lives are like a blip on the radar screen, yet this is an area that a lot of us behave as though we are masters of the universe. It’s not wrong to want to be happy and its certainly not wrong to want to find the right person. But we don’t want to hang on to love when it find it if it isn’t up to our idealized standard. And I’m just as guilty of that as anyone, so I’m not lecturing.

  13. 13

    What’s frustrating is being a genuine ten in intelligence, maturity, career, wit/charm, kindness and all those other important intangibles – but only a 5 in looks. No matter how great you are head- and heartwise, all those narcissists Steve mentioned won’t give you a second look.

  14. 14

    I have some issue with this, mostly on the intellectual/professional front. I have a great intellectual connection with all of my close friends; why shouldn’t I look for this in a relationship? The problem is that it rules out a large swath of otherwise perfectly nice/good guys. In fact, I tried to overlook this dimension in my last relationship, and it really did not work. Ideally I will find someone who I connect with well on this level, but it is easy to lose patience and consider settling. I find online dating very exhausting, largely for this reason.

    It feels like a fine line between judging someone for a superficial trait such as career status versus trying to find someone whose goals and lifestyle mesh well with your own. I am pretty smart, hard-working, and reasonably though not wildly successful. I was also lucky to be born into a supportive family that provided me with a lot of opportunity. And yes, of course I want a partner who can keep up! Why shouldn’t I?

    On the flip side, I had an excellent first date yesterday! There was a 3-dimensional spark: Intellectual, physical, and emotional. Date 2 is already scheduled. I am indulging in some post-date euphoria while trying not to get ahead of myself — after all, it was just a first date!

  15. 15

    @BeenThruTheWars, post #12

    IMHO not all of the narcissism in dating is about looks. People can have an inflated sense of their value with their educations, money, intelligence or jobs. They can also have it “just because”.

    The scary thing about excess (everyone has a little) narcissism is that reality sooner or later will not be denied.

    Junk loans come due, time moves on and lives end with opportunities missed.

    Like the rich guy mentioned in the dating the millionaire reality show. I think he created his wealth, so he qualifies as a “most impressive” person. He was also set up with some truly fantastic women who were a good fit and he threw it all away because of his big head. He isn’t getting any younger either.

    He could have been spending the remaining years of his youth happily in a romance, but instead it will be alone or on a stream of first dates.

  16. 16

    Right. But I think the moral of this story is not “oh shit, I should want/struggle/achieve less so I can be happier.”

    We’re not here to achieve happiness–at least no more than we’re here to achieve anything in particular. There’s no doom, no fate, and no reasons save the ones we invent for ourselves. I mean, we’re not here for any particular reason at all. We’re quirks of evolution.

    If you’re really all about something as tired and bourgeois as “happiness” then sure, go satisfice yourself up a storm. In my opinion there are other, far more awesome things you can do with your life. Crack a book open sometime and find out about them.

    casualencounters.com/blog´s last blog post…Bon’s breakfast for anal sex

  17. 17


    I agree, it’s not fair. But do you really want to date those narcissists anyway? They will wind up old and lonely, always thinking they can do better.


    Maybe there’s something between settling and dream come true? In searching for a mate, maximizers seem to ignore the very quality that has been their strength in other areas of life: the ability to make the most of something (or someone) by seeing past the present and finding true potential. I personally (having been deemed a maximizer by the “Strength Finder” method) have not so much lowered my standards for a mate as I have become more discerning in asking myself, “Could this person grow on me?”

    Settling may be an ugly word to many people, because it implies accepting someone who is immediately unattractive, lacking in intelligence, ill-humored, etc. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you have advocated in other posts is finding a middle ground, where daters take more time to get to know each other in different scenarios to see if there are hidden qualities in a potential mate. I’m not suggesting dating someone who is initially physically repulsive or whose profile is so rife with typos that I’d be forever chasing him with a red pen (my personal deal breaker). I mean dating someone who is attractive or interesting enough to at least say, “I could see myself kissing him,” or “He could be nice to talk to at the end of a long work day.”

  18. 18

    @ Casual

    I wouldn’t call happiness “bourgeois.” That’s a little jaded, even for me, and I’ve been a dyed-in-the-wool cynic since about the first grade.

    What I might say instead is the Buddhist philosophy, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

    I got that out of a book, BTW. 😉

  19. 19
    Curly Girl

    Hmm. Nobody is thinking that these people are just happy the way they are. Guess I have a different view. It sounds like a nice party!

    But I don’t associate the people EMK described with narcissism. They just seem like normal, intelligent folks who have it together. Narcissists very often get married–they love to be married. To people who keep their bubble of illusion aloft. So, narcissism does not necessarily equal “loser in relationship.”

    I’m actually thinking that those of us who champion singlehood, self-reliance, and self-knowledge are the most romantic out there. We refuse to submit to the pressure to be all encoupled, we recognize the dangers (emotional, financial) of a marriage/LTR gone wrong and are smart enough to avoid those traumatic situations, and we only bond when the love is there. And we stay only as long as the love stays.

    Radical, I know.

    1. 19.1

      I am so impressed with how eloquent you are!       and you seem to get it,   …I do too and I agree with you.
      wishing you good things,

    2. 19.2

      You got it just right! My ex husband is a narcissist. He got remarried to a woman who treats him like a king, and he’s just a below average in every way fat guy….quite socially weird too. She posts crap on Facebook about how he is a 99% on the husband quiz, a superhero! She keeps the bubble floating high! You also got it that those who are willing to stay alone in the hopes of finding real shared emotion are the most romantic. Also the hardest to hook up because it’s easy to be fake with someone to get them to “like” you but being true and transparent, that’s vulnerable and valuable, and RARE. Your post inspired me that someone sees it as it is. Thanks.

  20. 20

    I think the first comment is spot-on.

    When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you’re a relationship counselor, you assume everyone wants a relationship.

    Though I am in a relationship now, I have spent a fair amount of time in the category of being someone others might have labeled as “impressive,” while not being interested in a relationship. Some of the time, I actively did not want to be with anyone. Some of the time, I would have been open to it, yet did not prioritize it or care one way or the other. [In fact, that’s how it was when I made the choice to share my life with someone else, which was not so much a choice about HIM, but rather a choice about being with someone versus not. He’s great.]

    Many people wanted to set me up with other people or inquired about me dating. I used to chafe at the assumption that anyone who is single is interested or looking, and I didn’t like feeling like I had to explain that I wasn’t looking, because it always forced a discussion about “why not.” Eventually, I learned to take it as a compliment (hey! I’m “impressive!”), and to decline the offers politely. “Thanks, I’m not interesed right now.” End of discussion.

    Being single – whether by choice or not – is easiest when you have a cohort of people to do stuff with, whose company you enjoy. What Evan has not pointed out here is that all these people know him and likely know each other. If impressive people hang out with other impressive people, it increases the odds that those who want to date other impressive people will do so. If they are not, then it suggests that they are happy with their lives as is. And having other impressive friends may be one of the reasons that they are.

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