In my blog post about how to have more fun online dating, I mentioned the spreadsheet I made to help with dating. Yes, a spreadsheet. For dating. Because when you’re feeling romantic, you just want to fire up Excel and input some data! Nothing like an evening of writing formulas to get you in the mood for love!
But seriously, enough people were intrigued by my spreadsheet-dating ways – including the excellent dating expert Virginia Roberts – that I cleaned it up, added some instructions, and licensed it CC BY-SA. You can look at it here, or keep reading to learn more about why and how I made it.
Note: While I’m the only person who has used this spreadsheet, I designed it to be useful for people of all genders and a broad range of sexualities, including asexual folks. If it doesn’t suit you, please fork it and make your own changes!
A couple of years ago, I watched Amy Webb’s amazing TED Talk about how she “hacked” online dating to work for her. Her advice is what inspired me to put some work into online dating, and I put a lot of her talk into my post about having more fun with online dating. Part of Amy’s system was creating a scoring system for everything she wanted in a partner, and refusing to go on dates or continue relationships with people who didn’t score high enough on her system.
Then I read the poorly named “Is He Mr. Right?” by one of my favorite relationship writers, Mira Kirshenbaum. Mira broke down “chemistry” into five requirements: ease and closeness, fun, safety, mutual respect, and affection and passion (see this summary of an earlier version of the five elements by Lisa Wolcott).
I decided to combine these two concepts – creating a spreadsheet full of things I wanted from relationships, and then figuring out which ones were important (“dealbreakers”) and which were optional (“extra credit”) by rating how they affected the five elements of “chemistry.” I showed it to several Double Union members who came to our “Quantified Relationships” meetups, who gave me a lot of useful feedback and tips. My good friend Leigh Honeywell was particularly helpful with sources, ideas, and encouragement.
What I intended to get was a tool that would tell me whether to go out on dates or continue a relationship with any particular person. What I got instead is a really good tool for introspection and learning more about myself. It turns out a lot of what I thought was important, wasn’t important at all, and vice versa.
My original intention for making this tool was to make me more aware of and responsive to my “dealbreakers” – things that meant a relationship wasn’t possible. But while making and using this tool, I discovered that my own ideas about what was a “dealbreaker” were frequently wrong. I am now in a happy relationship with someone who had six of what I labeled “dealbreakers” when we met. And if he hadn’t been interested in working those issues out with me, we would not be dating today. But he was, and working together we managed to resolve all six of them to our mutual satisfaction. Talking to my friends, I found that this was a pretty common experience.
So I added a third category, in addition to dealbreakers and extra credit: things that you need for a happy relationship, but if your partner doesn’t have them, it is possible that if you both work together with good will you could come to some kind of solution. I called these “workables.” But remember: both of you have to be willing, motivated, and able to resolve these issues. And it will take time and patience. But also, many of what you would consider dealbreakers will end up being acceptable as long as you have the five elements of chemistry.
I don’t think you should use this spreadsheet to start or end relationships. The “scores” in particular are just helpful tools to think about people you might date, in addition to all the other information you have about the relationship. I do think you should use this spreadsheet as a way to explore what is important to you, what your relationship patterns are, and how much effort you are willing to put into a relationship.
How to use it
The relationship preferences exploration tool is here. Here is the current version of the instructions; for the most up-to-date version, read the instructions in the first tab of the spreadsheet. Enjoy!
This spreadsheet is a tool to help you figure out what you are looking for in a romantic partner by leading you through a process of brainstorming which starts with examples of specific people, and progressively distills descriptions of those people down to specific qualities you can use to think about potential partners.
While there is an overall “score” for each person, the point of this tool is to help you think consciously about what is important to you, not tell give you yes/no answers to whether you should date someone.
How to use this spreadsheet:
This is a little complicated! There will be an example at the bottom, as well as examples in the spreadsheet.
Anti-archetypes & Archetypes
Start by thinking of several people who are or would be bad partners for you, but whom you have been attracted to anyway. Enter their names in the “Anti-archetypes” tab and write down their major qualities, both bad and good. Do the same thing for people that you have been attracted to and think would make good partners for you, and put these in the “Archetypes” tab. In both cases, you can include people whom you never dated, or even people who don’t exist – fictional characters are totally okay (after all, often our ideas about what real people are like are also totally fictional). You should start seeing groups and trends – several people who share a lot of traits. Group them together and give them a name. Then on the “Anti-archetypes” tab, make a summary of common things you are attracted to in people you shouldn’t date, and vice versa.
Red flags & Green flags
Now go to the “Red flags” tab and start writing down all the qualities or actions that, in retrospect, were a clear sign that you should not date that person. Refer back to your “Anti-archetypes” tab for specific ideas. Pay especial attention to things you find attractive that are also signs that this person will make you unhappy. You can use things you learned from other people’s relationships, from friendships, from work relationships, or books you’ve read. Do the same thing for the “Green flags” tab, but for positive qualities that indicate someone is worth getting to know better.
Bad things & Good things
Once you have a good collection of red flags and green flags, turn them into short descriptions and put them in the “Bad things” and “Good things” tabs. What you are going to do next is find out which of these things are incredibly important, which are kind of important, and which are totally optional. For each quality, you will rate whether it affects you in each of the 5 key components of relationship happiness. For more explanation of what these mean, read Mira Kirshenbaum’s embarrassingly titled relationship book for straight monogamous women, “Is He Mr. Right?”, or read this summary of the 5 components:
The 5 components are: Ease & closeness, respect, safety, affection & passion, fun. For bad things, put a “1” under each component if it would make you feel less of that thing. For good things, put a “1” under each component if it would make you feel more of that thing. Some qualities will affect your feelings for all 5 components; some will affect none of them. Now sort them by their total score. Things that have a score of 1 or more are important. Things that have a score of 0 are nice extras.
You now know what things are really important to you, and which things are totally optional. You might be surprised by what they are! And you should expect them to change a lot as you go on more dates and learn more about yourself.
What you are going to do next is turn the “Bad things” and “Good things” lists into a single list of things you want in a partner over in the “Ratings” tab. For each thing in your bad/good/extras list, enter it in to the “Ratings” tab in a positive form (e.g., “Smells good” and not “Smells bad”). Then decide whether this is required (a score of 1 or higher on the bad/good things list), required but something that might change or compromise on if both of you are willing to work on it (“workable”), or an optional extra (a score of 0). Next decide if you have to know that quality for sure before you will (a) go on a date, (b) have sex, or (c) enter a long-term relationship. (If those aren’t your goals, you’ll have to do some heavy spreadsheet hacking to change them – sorry!)
The final tab is the “Scores” tab. It will calculate numerical “scores” for each person you’ve rated, and whether you know enough to make a decision about going on a date, having sex with, or starting a long-term relationship with them. It also tells you if they have dealbreakers, how many positive things they have going for them, and how much work you’re in for if you decide to continue the relationship. The “Scores” column is intended to give you a sense of overall how attractive each person is, but you shouldn’t take it very seriously.
Here’s an example: Your awful ex Ashley smelled liked old socks. You create a column named “Ashley” in the anti-archetypes list and enter “Smells like old socks” in that column. You notice that a lot of your other bad exes smelled bad too, so you put “Smells bad” in the “Red flags” tab. Then you put “Smells bad” in the “Bad things” tab and rate it. Smelling bad affected your ease & closeness, affection & passion, and fun, so you put “1” in each of those columns. Then you enter it into the “Ratings” tab. Under “Trait” you type “Smells good.” You decide that this quality is required for you to have a satisfying relationship but possible to change with mutual work and effort, so you write “Workable” under the “Type” column. You’ll go on a date with someone before you know whether they smell good, but you have to know someone smells good before you will have sex with them, so you put “Sex” under the “Threshold” column. Now you go on a date with someone named Skylar and he smells delicious to you. Then you put Skylar’s name into the first open column in the “Ratings” tab and put “Y” in the row for “Smells good.” Then you look at the “Scores” tab and see that his score went up by 1 point.
You don’t necessarily need to rate people before you go on a date or at any other time, and most of the time you’ll just make decisions without using the spreadsheet. This is spreadsheet is for when you are feeling uncertain or noticing that you are tending to go out with people who aren’t a good match for you. That’s a good time to sit down and update this spreadsheet. You’ll probably find a lot of things that you thought were dealbreakers, aren’t, and things you thought were optional were actually very important.