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Over the past decade, dating apps have fundamentally changed the mental calculus we use to forage for romantic partners.  We can swipe left and right while through a mass of faces in no time at all while making quick decisions about ditching potential partners and securing better ones.  Humans have always found a way manage this behavioral economic trade-off, but given the sheer volume of choices the struggle today is more challenging than ever. A recent study described “a hierarchy of desirability” in the strategies of online daters and found that we often try to partner up with others who are quantifiably out of our league.

With hand held mobile devices granting instant access to an entire world of would-be partners how do you know when your search is over? Here are nine signs that you should keep swiping because you have partnered up with the opposite of Mr. Right.

1. Being Around Him is Never Fun

This should be obvious, but it is amazing how often we jump through psychological hoops of self-justification to convince ourselves that things are really working out even in the worst partnerships.  Trust your instincts and don’t over analyze your emotions here.  If you are not happy around him 90% of the time, pay attention to these feelings.  This is especially true if you are in a situation (e.g., party, favorite restaurant, etc.) that is supposed to be enjoyable.  If being with him turns everything sour, you might want to think about a partner that makes all things fun, even the boring ones.

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2. Your Dreams Don’t Matter to Him 

He knows you want to go to graduate school, medical school, law school, etc. but doesn’t care. Instead of supporting you and helping you search for the best programs, he says, “Oh, that’s nice.”  This could be part of a much larger issue: He might not be interested in many of your preferences and desires, big or small.  If he cannot handle your big goals and aspirations, how is he going to deal with all the small, weird stuff you are into?  If he was right for you, he should have no problem when you eat assorted cold cuts in the shower or talk for hours in a super cute British accent.

3. He Rarely Does the Little Things

Individually, small things are just that – small.  But add them up and it is a big deal.  Scenario A: He goes to the coffee shop and gets a cappuccino and his favorite muffin.  Scenario B: He texts you, “I am going to the coffee shop in 15 minutes.  Can I get you something?  How about something sweet for my sweetie? (emojis: happy face, heart, cupcake, coffee cup).” Or, imagine that you just made a romantic dinner for two.  Mr. Good Guy would offer to bring wine or bread. If he truly believes you are the most amazing and gorgeous girl in the world, he will make you feel that way even on days when you are not sure.

4. He Gives You Space (Good)…By Totally Ignoring You (Bad) 

We all need some “me-time” in our lives.  Does he let you take time for yourself?  That’s great! Or has he learned to use that as an excuse to abandon you in favor of other pursuits?  In a perfect world, you would both go your separate ways, recharge, and come back to share stories about what you did. At the very least, he should be excited to see you.  Always!

5. He is Not There Emotionally

Does he try to figure out what you are thinking and feeling? Empathy, arguably one of the most consequential social emotions, is the capacity to understand what someone else is experiencing. Lack of empathy is part of the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders, so it is nothing to dismiss.  It is meaningful.

Physical needs are connected to emotionality too.  Did he find out about your fondness for foot massages and then make it part of his routine because when you feel good, he feels good?  Even if you are not sleeping together, he discovers you love kisses on your back and delivers them whenever possible.  That is an empathic response.

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6. He Does Not Challenge You to Be Better 

Personal growth is sometimes in conflict with self-esteem.  A healthy sense of self-worth is magnificent, and we want our friends and partners to have a similar view of us.  He knows you are amazing, and you know you are awesome, so where can you go next?  The answer is that you can be at your best right now compared to other times in life, but this does not eliminate the chance for even greater change.  If he shares this way of thinking then he will nudge you in this direction:  “Honey, you are supa dupa and that’s why I love you, but you are capable of so much more and I support you totally. Let’s grow together.”

7. His Friends

You might know who some of his friends are, but not all of them.  Take it as a warning sign if they have no idea who you are.  Ideally, he would talk about you with all his buds to the point where they know you even without having met.  Also, you should have some idea of what his pals like and do not like.  If he is not talking excitedly to you about his group, what else is he hiding?

8. Your Friends 

Does he remember details you share about your friends?  If not, it could be a sign that he is just not paying attention.  More importantly, does he ask if they are doing well?  This indicates genuine interest and shows that he is keeping track of what you value both socially and emotionally.  “How is Penelope doing? Was she able to find a new job?  Let me know if I can help.” Of course, do not expect him to ask every day about all of your relationships. You will know what feels reasonable.

9. Your Parents 

Same as above, but with Mom and Dad.  Does he ever text your Mom or Dad just to say hi or pass along some nice info they might like?  For example, if he knows your Mom loves Tom Selleck, he can text a pic of the Magnum PI action doll he saw in the vintage toy store.  Better yet, he can buy it for her!  Watch out if he never shows interest in communicating with your family, or he only reaches out when he thinks it will make him look good in their eyes.

Note: The suggestions presented here do not represent a psychometrically valid assessment of relationship strength.  However, if your boyfriend goes 0 for 9 on these, it might be time to start rethinking this relationship.


Bennett, K. (2018). Teaching the Monty Hall dilemma to explore decision-making, probability, and regret in behavioral science classrooms. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12 (2), 1-7.  DOI: 10.20429/ijsotl.2018.120213

Bruch, E.E., & Newman, M.E.J. (2018). Aspirational pursuit of mates in online dating markets. Science Advances, Vol. 4, no. 8, eaap9815. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aap9815