You met him on Tinder and agreed to go for coffee. His appearance, age, and type of work are all you really know so far. What should you be looking for during that first meeting?
Be honest with yourself (and him) about what you want. Are you looking for a relationship that has the potential to be lasting and meaningful? If so, there are behaviors and traits to look for which will help you decide if this person is a good match for you.
1. Kindness and understanding. These are traits that most people will value in a relationship, whether for the short or long-term. Pay attention to how he reacts to people around you, such as cashiers and servers. Are people treated with basic kindness and respect? Rudeness or over-reaction to perceived offenses are both red flags that someone is lacking in empathy. The same consideration applies to you as well. If you arrive late because of unexpected traffic or an unfamiliar route, is he quick to understand and forgive you? An unforgiving response is a red flag that this person will not be generally understanding toward you.
2. Common interests and values. Make an effort to find out what you have in common, and in which ways you are very different. Couples who share similar interests will have fewer conflicts and a less frequent need to compromise. They will also have more opportunities to build a friendship with each other by doing things together that are fun for both. Obviously, you do not need to share all of your interests. Having some differing interests can be appreciated by both individuals. For long-term compatibility, you should also consider value-based issues such as a difference in preferred balance between work and leisure, and whether or not you generally agree on saving for the future or spending to live in the moment.
3. Basic personality styles. Opposites may be attractive in the short term, but as psychologist Kenneth Kaye has stated, “Opposites attract – and then can’t stand each other.” Where personality differences do exist, find out if they are complementary differences or conflicting ones. A difficult conflicting difference would be an extreme extrovert who needs to be socially active whenever time allows, with an extreme introvert who is exhausted and stressed by attending social events every weekend.
4. Emotional stability. Emotionally stable adults are not easily angered or offended. They do not take things personally unless there is good reason to do so. They are able to maintain a fairly stable mood and handle setbacks or frustrations without becoming highly anxious or angry. They are also able to quickly revert back to their normal mood after a minor setback. An emotionally unstable adult will tend to have wide shifts in mood and those changes will be frequent and often unpredictable. Sudden anger in response to a minor stress, such as arriving to a restaurant and being told that the wait–time is 30 minutes, is a red flag of emotional instability. On a bad day, a stable person may be exasperated by such a setback and express frustration, but he will then be able to recover quickly. He has learned to take a deep breath and reconsider his choices when things do not go as expected.
Assuming that you make it through that first date without too many red flags appearing, you will want to evaluate a few additional important personality characteristics in later interactions. Reliability, responsibility, and ability to be considerate of others are all important in long-term relationships. Is she always changing plans at the last minute? Does she lose one job after another due to lateness or poor attitude?
We realize that no-one will have every trait that we value, or share all of our interests and dreams. The challenge is to find a person who is similar to you in the ways that are most important for your happiness, has the capacity for understanding and empathy, and has a reasonable amount of emotional stability. For those of you looking for a long-term partner, I suggest that you prioritize one more thing: willingness to work through problems with you and not throw in the towel at the first sign of conflict. That includes speaking up when you have a valid concern and listening to the other person’s relationship concerns. Willingness to work through problems is probably the most important characteristic of successful long-term relationships. Each of us has the potential for positive change in the ways that we relate to others, as long as we are willing to work at it.