I had lunch with a good friend today. This idea hit me while chomping on a burrito.

When evaluating a man or woman for a potential relationship, we have to be selective. Not everyone can meet the needs we want met by our romantic partner. Not everyone has goals for their future that align with our own.

If we wish to have a quality relationship of depth, intimacy, connection, harmony, joy, growth, and reciprocity, we first have to be discerning.

How does one filter through the endless stream of potential candidates that life inevitably throws our way?

Pick a partner with the traits and virtues you want to embody.

If it’s true that we’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with, our romantic partner might be the most important of those 5. Over time, we modify our very thought and speech patterns from their influence in our lives. This is why of all our relationships, it’s most important to be most discerning in who we give our hearts to.

So whether you want to become more outdoorsy or empathetic, a more avid reader or more confident – find someone who has what you want, and spend time around them.

This applies to non-romantic relationships too. Find friends, mentors, colleagues etc who have what you want, and spend time with them. They will rub off on you in a positive, constructive way.

In order to do this, you have to embody virtues they want too.

Relationships are not a 1-way street for us to exploit for selfish gain. If we want to rise above choosing a partner solely based on physical appeal, we have to pursue virtue ourselves. The obese alcoholic man doesn’t get to be choosy in the women he dates. He hasn’t earned it. The emotionally instable and chronic complaining woman can’t afford to be choosy in the men she dates. She hasn’t earned it.

It matters not what gender you are. To attract and keep a quality partner that you love and respect for his/her virtues – you yourself must be virtuous.

That means we must first work on ourselves to become someone genuinely virtuous.

Nothing is more repugnant than someone who virtue signals without substance to back it up. We have to actually pursue self-knowledge, embark on the path of growth and independence, and persist in our self-development in the face of adversity. Facing our internal traumas and limiting beliefs head-on makes us stronger.

Psychotherapy is an extremely valuable tool to get there. I’ve done Internal Family Systems therapy for 5+ years. Therapy helps you live in alignment with yourself, not against it. It helps you pull the knotted ropes of inconsistent beliefs and contradictory motives out of your soul, gently untangle them, and restore them all to harmonious order. It heals you from the inside, so your natural radiance can shine on the outside.

So ask yourself “Is the woman in front of me like someone I myself want to be?” – and if the answer is “no”, move on.

Decide what traits and virtues you want in a partner. That’ll be almost exactly what they want in you.

Gender differences skew what we seek towards traditionally masculine or feminine virtues – but the principle holds true regardless.

Empathetic, Strong, Wise, Kind, Loving, Compassionate, Hard-working, Intelligent, Creative, Well-read, Good with children, Free-thinking, Free-spirited, Self-development oriented, Goes to therapy, Loves nature – whatever the heck you want. Make a list; it’s just a place to start from to help you evaluate later on.

You don’t have to expect every virtue out of a man or woman the moment you meet them. God knows we don’t always show up as the best versions of ourselves. But once you have a concrete idea of what you’re looking for, you’ll know it when you see it. And just because someone isn’t a perfect fit to raise your children doesn’t mean you have to write them off completely. You can still serve them and enjoy a profitable relationship with them as friends or colleagues.

What an exciting idea – that you can actually date someone and get closer to the ideal version of yourself simply by being with them – and that they can get closer to their ideal selves by dating you.

Love at it’s best creates a virtuous cycle of growth, rooted in mutual respect and a desire to see the best emerge in each others’ lives. Both parties become better than either could on their own.

Build a Self worth loving, and you can be with someone who makes you even better.