Self-control is the prerequisite for all other successes in life. For every bright young person who drops out of education because of boredom or lack of motivation, another sticks it out and gains their qualifications, despite the disparity in the two individuals’ natural intelligence. Likewise in the workforce, self-discipline is key when you want to wow the top brass with your performance.

But there’s a less obvious realm of your life in which self-control is essential: your relationship. Because no matter how much you love your partner, there will inevitably come times when you experience the urge to do something that you know will hurt them. When this sort of behaviour becomes habitual, the problems can get out of hand—and sometimes the relationship will be derailed entirely. Impulsive partners risk wrecking everything they’ve built through thoughtless misdeeds. But partners who exercise self-control—regardless of whether they feel those impulses—enjoy happier, more prosperous relationships, because they keep one eye on their urges and the other on the long term.

But how important is self-control when you’re single and looking to settle down? On the one hand, too much self-control can make you seem uptight, and potential dating opportunities may pass you by. But on the other hand, if you’re not controlled enough, you risk wasting your precious time on frivolous dates with people you know deep down simply aren’t The One.

Amazingly, until 2020 there existed almost no research on the relationship between self-control and dating success. That’s why psychologist Tila Pronk of Tilburg University in the Netherlands stepped up to the plate, with a fascinating study in which she and her colleagues invited students to a series of speed dating events to observe the formation of romantic relationships—in real time.

Before the speed dating commenced, each participant responded to a questionnaire which assessed two aspects of their personality: self-control and sociosexual orientation, one’s interest in and willingness to partake of sexual behaviours without expectation of deeper emotional attachment. Self-control was measured with items such as I’m able to work effectively towards long-term goals and I’m good at resisting temptation, each quantified on a scale ranging from Completely agree to Completely disagree.

During each three-minute speed date, no topic of conversation was off limits for the ephemeral couples. When the bell went, each person indicated on a form whether they’d be interested in going on a date with the other. The process continued until all the men had met all the women—then the researchers provided contact information to the couples who’d expressed a mutual interest in meeting again.

The researchers analysed participants’ selectivity in potential dating partners. They hypothesized that selectivity would correlate with self-control—but only for those with a restricted sociosexual orientation (that is, those with little interest in casual sexual relations). In other words, they assumed people who felt more serious about settling down would indicate interest in fewer dates if they also scored highly on self-control, because they would be attracted only to those strangers who met their criteria for a romantic partner. And conversely of course, the researchers expected no relationship between self-control and selectivity. After all, you can’t have lots of sexual partners if you’re also especially picky about who you spend time with.

But while these hypotheses were intuitively appealing, the data actually revealed a more complex dynamic between the three variables of selectivity, self-control, and sociosexual orientation. There was certainly evidence in support of the first hypothesis that those seeking a long-term partner and who described themselves as high in self-control would indicate interest in only a handful of their speed dating partners. But contrary to expectations, the second hypothesis also showed an association between selectivity and self-control—except in the opposite direction. When seeking out multiple short-term sexual partners, highly self-controlled individuals were interested in more of their speed dating partners, and those lower in self-control requested fewer dates. But why?

Monogamy is the default mode for romantic relationships in the West. Once we’re in a regular sexual relationship with someone, we tend to assume things are getting serious and we’re now committed to that person. Western relationships are serially monogamous; that is, people generally have sex exclusively with their committed partner, and move on only if the couple breaks up.

But pursuing a lifestyle of numerous casual sexual relationships actually takes a lot of effort. You need not only motivation, but also the means of appearing fresh and desirable for each new partner. In other words… it takes a lot of self-control to follow through on every potential sexual encounter. And this encapsulates the importance of this new research from Pronk et al., which demonstrates how critical self-control is when finding and attracting a long-term committed romantic partner. You need discipline to weed out those dates who are unlikely to make the cut.

When people have greater self-control, they’re often happier and more satisfied with their relationship. They’re more likely to be attuned to their partner’s needs, and to have a better understanding of their own needs and how they fit into the intricate tapestry of the partnership as a whole. And if you’re in need of a little help with your love life, Maclynn (formerly Vida) can help. The experts at our elite, award-winning international matchmaking enterprise can bring you together with attractive, dynamic, highly compatible singles—all of whom are ready and excited to settle down with someone special. Get in touch today, and say goodbye to speed dating for good!