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What You Want In A Mate May Not <em>Actually</em> Be What You Want, Study Suggests

Think you know what you want in a mate?

That may not matter when it comes to actually choosing one, a new study suggests.

"People have ideas about the abstract qualities they're looking for in a romantic partner," study researcher Paul W. Eastwick, an assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, said in a statement. "But once you actually meet somebody face to face, those ideal preferences for traits tend to be quite flexible."

In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, Eastwick and other Northwestern University researchers found that even though people had ideas of what traits and characteristics they wanted in a mate, they weren't necessarily attracted to people with those traits and characteristics.

For example, a person may say that they want someone persistent, only to not be attracted to such a person upon meeting them.

"After meeting in person, you might feel that, yeah, that person is persistent, but he can't compromise on anything. It's not the determined and diligent kind of persistent that you initially had in mind," Eastwick said in the statement.

The finding shows that people are not defined by a single trait -- rather, it's how a trait interacts with other traits that really determines how a person is, researchers said.

Previously, research from Northwestern University shed light on what men and women really want when it comes to physical attractiveness and wealth.

In that 2008 study, also published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, men were more likely to say that they cared more about their partner being physically attractive, and women were more likely to say they cared about their partner being a good earner. However, when the study participants were placed in a speed-dating scenario, the researchers found that both men and women equally desired attractiveness and earning power in their partners, Northwestern University reported.