On old-school dating services like eHarmony, you answer a battery of questions to find a match.
On Tinder, you work with a combo of cute pictures and a few sentences description.
These platforms don’t get at what couples psychologist Peter Pearson calls the “holy grail” of relationships: finding someone who shares the same core values as you.
Core values are more important than the chemical rush of excitement that you feel when you meet someone you have mutual attraction with, he says, since those hormonal reactions will fade with time, but shared values can sustain.
“People don’t really negotiate their values,” says Pearson, who’s the cofounder, along with his wife Ellyn Bader, of the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California.
“You can negotiate your interests,” he says, “but not your values.”
If one of you wants to spend the weekends hiking through forests and the other wants to party through the night, that can be compromised on. (Trek one weekend, rage the next). But if one of you really values moving up in the world and the other couldn’t care less about social status, then you might run into some problems.
Pearson recalls a couple that he worked with at a workshop: he was a chiropractor who made lots of money, she was simple living personified.
“He was building this huge house that overlooked a big vista,” he says, “and she did not want to waste money on this ostentatious, wasteful shlock. She had so much disdain for his life dream of this house — that’s a huge collision of values, and that’s not an easy thing to compromise on.”
When Pearson asked me what my core values were, I stammered a bit (as journalists do when the interview is turned onto them) and mumbled something about caring and curiosity.
“You value caring and curiosity,” he replied. “Can you imagine being with somebody where you said, what’s the last book you read, and they go, huh?”
That’s the importance of asking good questions: if you value curiosity (and who doesn’t?), Pearson says, then inquire elsewhere, like about attitudes around travel or personal growth.
If you’re with someone who doesn’t share those same core values, look out.
“It ain’t gonna work,” he says. “Everything small will grow into huge proportions.”
Drake Baer contributed to an earlier version of this story.
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