A lot would agree that there are two types of dream dates: the ones we conjure in our minds and the ones we’re likely to choose in life. Very rarely do the two actually correspond on more than a few points. There’s nothing wrong with the disconnect — it’s just that most people don’t actually want what they think they want, particularly when it comes to love. 

It’s not a matter of settling for what we can get; it’s about going after the soul mate that fits our soul’s needs. How closely is your fantasy aligned with your reality? Take a look at this guide to see if you really want who you think you want.

The Physical
Ready to step up for the first test? Close your eyes (though you might want to finish reading the exercise first) and picture your ideal mate, the epitome of what you find visually appealing. Fill in as many details as you like. Is he burly and tall, or toned and compact? Is she freckled or tanned? Blue-eyed or brown? You get the idea.

Got it? Now picture the last four people to whom you were truly and deeply attracted. It doesn’t have to have been a spiritual connection — just honest chemistry. Consider where the reality and fantasy overlap and where they don’t. It might not be a shock that it’s not a perfect match; it isn’t easy to find your physical ideal in the earthly realm. What is intriguing is the kind of discrepancies we find. Men who dream of exotic femme fatales serial-date girl-next-door types. Women who imagine they want a manicured Abercrombian repeatedly eschew the well-groomed for the ruggedly handsome. If your fantasy matches your recent reality, congratulations; your subconscious is in touch with your desires. But if they didn’t, you’re in good company. Most people are strongly, viscerally attracted to someone other than their alleged ideal.

The Professional
You might have considered what your perfect match does for a living. It’s not uncommon to fantasize about a high profile lawyer, a brainy neurosurgeon or a sensitive artist. If you’re already attached, maybe your fantasy is a little out of sync with how your partner spends his or her days.

They say that businessmen dream of being artists, while those artists fantasize about careers in business. It’s perfectly natural to wonder about the lives we didn’t choose (and the partners we don’t have). But that doesn’t mean your fantasy is a recipe for happiness. You chose your partner among thousands of people. You didn’t do it blindly. If you’re not emotionally obtuse, your partner’s career probably means less to you than, well — your partner, and his or her interests and skills factored into that preference. And besides that, in terms of your relationship, the most important occupation of your partner’s time isn’t his or her occupation. It’s you.

Colin Farrell and Selma Hayek are perfect for the occasional roaming thought, but let’s face it — if they stepped off the screen and into your life, they wouldn’t have time for you. The same is true of any famous politician or concert cellist. People who have built fantasy lives for themselves often do so at the cost of their personal lives. Those who nourish their personal lives reap the rewards — and so do their mates. Just something to think about if you thought you were chasing the wrong dream.

The Emotional
It’s important to have expectations for our partners. And it’s not unreasonable to have specific demands about what you have in common and how you communicate. Just remember that one’s flaws are the flipside of one’s strengths. And those strengths all come with corresponding weaknesses. Sensitivity is wonderful; it probably means your partner will understand your needs and be adept at communication and conflict resolution. Of course, you’ll also spend a great deal of time talking about feelings and fulfilling emotional needs. None of these are expressly negative. In fact, they’re all potential plusses. Just remember that these things are polarized before you drop your mate in search of the strong/silent/sensitive/supportive type.

Another common fantasy is the pursuit of one’s own polar opposite. We’re fascinated by the traits we aspire to in ourselves. Perhaps an analytical, introspective person fantasizes about the fearless, extroverted comedian. That’s all well and good, but when it comes to finding someone to relate to, she might find more of a kindred spirit in someone with both feet on the ground. Studies show that people are more compatible (and more likely to share lasting relationships) with partners with similar beliefs, interests and goals. That means the figment that gets your heart pumping in theory often falls flat when it comes to spending time together on a Saturday night.

The Impossible
Some might say they want the whole package: the best in form, focus, charisma and intellect. But there are few egos that are equipped for that kind of near-perfection (and probable self-involvement). Do you really want to spend all your days with a genius-model-success story-socialite? Chances are you’re not choosing the partners you choose because you’re settling, but because you need someone who can grow with you. We want partners who compliment us, who can share our interests and our attention, as well as our hopes and our fears. That makes our real mates far superior to our dream dates.

So have expectations. Have fantasies. Continue to clarify what it is you want and need in a relationship. But sometimes a dream is best left as a dream. Try not to let looking for the perfect love keep you from finding (or appreciating) the best one.