As Amy Webb tells it, finding her husband was as easy as making a list.

"You'll know your list is finished when the person you've described suddenly feels real and tangible," she writes in the appendix to her memoir-cum-online-dating-advice book Data: A Love Story. "In my case, I could literally see [my husband] in my mind's eye before we'd even met. This isn't spiritual hoo-ha or some kind of 'visualize your destiny and it will appear' [baloney]. It's about digging deep and writing a really thorough character profile so that you can use it to find that person in real life."

In her case, that profile began as a 72-point description of her ideal man, a set of attributes she later culled down to 10 essentials and 15 pretty important traits.

Now, I've made my share of lists. Who hasn't? But in the early days, I frequently drew them up at the same time I was nurturing a crush, which meant each list bore a suspicious resemblance to the current man of my dreams.

Webb started hers the night after a devastating date. Through further analysis and charting (let's just say she's a tiny bit obsessed with spreadsheets), she resolved to use her list as a rubric for dates. Thereafter, she would only date men who met a minimum eligibility threshold, based on the traits she deemed most important.

In some respects, Webb's basic approach seems wise. In fact, I used a similar method to navigate some early geographic decisions, creating a rubric that very helpfully distinguished between places I'd merely liked visiting and those where I'd really thrive. Whenever I wasn't sure about a city, I'd run it through my list, rating each quality on a ...

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