3 Ways To Tell If You're Actually Compatible With Someone Who "Looks Good On Paper"

by Annie Foskett

I love paper the way Brick Tamland in Anchorman loves lamp. First, I love floral wallpaper. I also love hundred dollar bills. I love writing to-do lists on sticky notes. I really love checking off boxes, especially when it comes to dating. And not just that box. (Clearly, I also love trash jokes.) I like ambitious, successful, and funny people. Color me superficial, but a good alma mater turns me on. VP of something? Ooh baby! And it's not just about looks good on paper when it comes to the green kind — give me a man who loves Fleabag and The Wire as much as I do, and I will marry him.

Blame Disney, exes, my parents' loving marriage, too many compliments and too much self-esteem from said parents my entire life, or some combination of all the above, but somewhere along the way, I got particular. I decided there were a whole bunch of boxes I wanted my eventual Prince Charming to tick off, and I set my mind on seeking them out: tall, cute, hilarious, smart, good school, great job, amazing taste in food, even better taste in popular culture. My friend one told me that someone being up on the zeitgeist is my dirty talk. She's not wrong.

With the advent of dating apps, it became super easy to nail down some of these boxes with a swipe or two. Arrested Development reference? Oh hell yes. Harvard Business School? Hot and nerdy and rich, oh my! My typical dark haired, cute-but-not-intimidating-looking type? SWIPED! This approach of paper-first is actually a terrible idea.

Here's the thing, I've gone on 25 of 51 dates I committed to for a podcast, and so far, the best dates have not been with the people who seemed "the best" on paper to me. The Harvard Business School alum was perfectly nice, but the best dates I've gone on have been with people there has just been undeniable, effortless chemistry with — regardless of what happened to be on their resume.

I will absolutely call myself out for a moment: I ask for so much on paper, and yet, what do I provide in return? Christ, I owed the IRS money this year! I was recently listening to Alexi Wasser's "Love, Alexi" podcast with Whitney Cummings, and Cummings brought up an interesting point: we all want the "best partner ever," but why? Do we think we are the "best?"

NO! I in no way think I am the "best" woman, on paper or not. I am the antithesis of Princess Charming — I am Princess Snark. I'm just a person with OK manners who sometimes gets a little gloomy and self-involved. What am I doing holding out for the "perfect" man? Especially when my own experiences have taught me that the people I think are best for me on paper, are actually quite the opposite.

I spoke to dating expert and coach Meredith Golden of SpoonmeetSpoon about how to tell if you're actually compatible with someone.

Identify What "Good On Paper" Qualities You Might Be Prioritzing

Maybe I'm not such a monster, because while what makes someone "good on paper" can be subjective, it "typically refers to all the desired boxes being checked: good job, good education, good looks, the works," says Golden. She adds that it's often based on the type of person we would be proud to bring home to our parents.

If you're wondering if you are just into someone because they fit your "prototype" of a future partner, or if you're actually compatible with them, first identify what you tend to be wooed by on paper. It can make you feel shallow — see: me, above — but if you can admit that you really like someone who went to a great school, and you're dating a Yale grad but don't really feel the sparks, the verdict might become clear. You're just not that into them aside from their schooling. Good to know! Time to move on to someone who makes you feel like the heart-eye emoji.

Consider The Chemistry You Have Off The Page

I personally don't find feelings easy to catch — the real feels full of butterflies and nonstop thinking about the other person are rare, IMO. So why rule the possibility of chemistry based on a particular job or religious background someone has on their dating profile?

"There's so much more that goes into what makes a connection between two people and a lot of it is intangible," explains Golden. "This is why I encourage my clients to be open because you never know which package [they] will show up in. They could be 'the one’ but just with a different list of 'stats' than what you had expected." This has pretty much always been my experience with people I've really liked — they weren't what I was looking for at the time.

Ask Yourself If The Person Makes You Happy

"Compatibility supersedes checking off the traditional boxes," says Golden."A date can meet all your standards on paper but be a jerk, or moody, or a million other undesirable traits." In some alternate universe, even if you were the one dating Prince Harry (sorry Meghan) and he turned out to be a giant piece of poo (British!) ideally, you wouldn't stay with him. (For the record, I have a crush on Prince Harry and I assume he's a lovely person.)

It's cheesy but it's true — you only live once, and it's a very short life. Instead of focusing on what palatial home you might own one day, ask yourself how happy your date or partner makes you. Golden recommends asking yourself questions like "Did I laugh?" and "Did we have fun?" and "Are we comfortable together?" Is this person easy to be around? Loyal? Supportive? Sexually compatible with you? "No matter how great someone looks on paper, if the other stuff isn’t there, there’s no chance of a healthy relationship flourishing," says Golden. It's possible to settle for someone who is "good on paper" — don't do it. Find the person who makes you feel your very best.