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Singles Are Starting to Care Less About Looks. Here’s What They Want Instead

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For singles in 2021, the hottest trait in a potential partner isn’t physical attraction, but instead a healthy dose of emotional intelligence. According to a new study by Match released today, emotional maturity tops the list of what singles are looking for, beating out all other qualities. It’s one of many recent shifts in dating trends that show singles are reconsidering their priorities when it comes to romantic relationships in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emotional maturity matters more, looks matter less

For Match’s 11th annual Singles in America study, researchers surveyed over 5,000 singles between the ages of 18 and 98 across the U.S. In addition to the shift toward an interest in emotional maturity, the study also found that singles are looking for stability and security in long-term partners—and that they’re far less concerned this year with finding someone who is physically attractive than they were in the past. In 2020, 90% of singles ranked physical attractiveness as an important quality, while this year only 78% did. And beyond emotional maturity, being open-minded and accepting of differences was important to 83% of respondents and being a good communicator was a high priority for 84%.

Read More: How the Pandemic Fueled the Rise of ‘Intentional’ Dating

A majority of singles reported being eager to be off the market—and the sooner, the better. The study found that only 11% of singles want to date casually, while 62% said they’re looking for meaningful and committed relationships. Urgency has also become a factor: 65% of those surveyed, especially Gen Z and millennial singles, said they wanted a relationship within the next year.

Singles want stability and security

The effect of the pandemic on these cultural changes cannot be emphasized enough, according to Helen Fisher, Match’s Chief Science Advisor, who said that the trends that have prominently emerged because of COVID-19 have the potential to impact how we date and form partnerships forever.

“I do think this is a historic time in human courtship,” Fisher told TIME, reflecting on the impact of enduring the pandemic. “I’m not surprised that those that came out of it alive grew up,” she said. “The bad boy and bad girl are out—people are going to be having fewer one night stands.”

A need for security and stability following the pandemic is especially apparent in certain statistics from the study. Singles indicated that their desire for a partner to have financial stability (with at least equal income to the survey respondent’s) was nearly 20% higher this year than over the past two years. Likewise, their desires for a partner to have a similar level of education and a successful career rose 10% and 5%, respectively, since 2019.

Fisher also noted that singles are looking to find more meaning in not only their romantic partnerships, but also their independent lives, often working on themselves and prioritizing their physical and mental health; 73% of singles said they got better at prioritizing important things in their lives over the past year. Lisa Clampitt, president and founder of Lisa Clampitt Matchmaking in New York City, attributes this shift to the time that the pandemic afforded people to slow down and consider what they really want.

Clampitt sees a tie between this trend toward self-reflection and the increased interest in finding an emotionally mature partner reported by the Match study. “It’s a lot of personal growth, self-reflection, thinking about what you want in life,” she said. “People have had so much time to reflect, and they want to be with someone who’s also reflecting on similar things.”

More men want commitment, more singles want marriage

The study also pointed toward a shift in gendered expectations when it comes to dating; researchers found that despite persistent stereotypes about women being more interested in commitment than men are, 70% of single men reported wanting to find a relationship in the next year, compared to 60% of single women. And when it comes to marriage, while the importance of putting a ring on it increased by nearly 20% this year over last two years for all singles, men across the board had a more significant increase in interest in getting married. Twenty-two percent more men indicated that they want to get married, while 14% more women did.

Maria Avgitidis, the CEO of Agape Match in New York, sees this trend less as an indicator of some sort of evolution for men and more likely another sign of how the pandemic has changed people’s priorities.

“Every single woman is ready for the right guy if he comes along,” Avgitidis said. “The only difference here, which is a 2021-2022 situation, is that more women are willing to walk away from partners that are not worth their time. If he’s going to gaslight me, if he’s going to be avoidant, if he’s not going to be emotionally mature, I’m going to just move away.”

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com