Jill Layton
Updated May 24, 2016 @ 2:26 pm
Credit: Warner Bros.

Those of you who are in love might think you’ve met your most perfect match. The person who lines up with everything you could ever want in a partner. And that may very well absolutely be true (in which case, mazel tov!).

But according to a study published in Evolution & Human Behavior, the “perfect” match may not exist and the level of happiness you find in a relationship might actually be determined by all the people you’re NOT dating.

In the study, psychology researchers from the University of Texas at Austin note that “potential mates do not come à la carte. Most people on the mating market have a choice between an array of imperfect matches, each of whom satisfies and fails to satisfy different subsets of their mate preferences.”

Researchers surveyed 860 people (and granted, they were all in heterosexual relationships; we wish this study had been a bit more inclusive), asking them fill out relationship satisfaction surveys, ranking how desirable they find their partner’s traits and how much both they and their partner live up to those traits.

The study found that the most desirable traits don’t necessarily relate to how satisfied people are in their relationship.

Instead, the researchers found that people who are happy in their relationships feel like their partners have more to offer than they do, and are a better catch in general. Those who feel like they’re more of a catch than their partners are less satisfied — but only if other potential matches in the dating pool are closer to meeting their preferences. Interesting!

So if you feel like you’re a 10 and your partner is more of a six, but you feel like other potential mates are fives, chances are you’ll stay satisfied in your relationship. But if you happen to meet someone who matches up to your awesomeness, you may start to question things.

Based on the study, it doesn’t matter how well a partner fulfills preferences. The level of satisfaction in a relationship is weak if the partner rates poorly compared to other potential mates. And obviously that’s not in anyone’s control.

Quartz points out that these thoughts make sense from a natural selection perspective, “as it wouldn’t be evolutionarily advantageous to abandon a weak partner only to be left with an even worse match.”

The study also found that the level of satisfaction people feel in relationships is based on “mate retention behavior” — in other words, how hard you work to keep your relationship strong and healthy.

So whether people make those decisions consciously or subconsciously, it’s a thing that happens that won’t have a positive outcome without putting forth effort to keep the relationship on solid ground.