L=Love Continue reading
L=Love Continue reading
As someone who takes comfort in reducing highly complex human experiences into single-line mathematical equations, let me share my latest shiny new toy: a formula that predicts the breakup percentage of a given sample of dating folk over a particular period of time.
Isn’t that intriguing?
Check it out: Continue reading
Can the tasty cacao bean predict your next love-life move? Not necessarily…but since I’ve already drawn one dubious parallel between food preference research and matters of the heart, why stop there?
Good, that’s what I thought too. Let’s consider, then, how our behavior in the presence of proliferating chocolate choices could predict our course of events when faced with a clamor of potential dates. Continue reading
I recently read Jane Austen’s Emma for the first time–a great read if you like the romantic antics of Victorian England. (And who doesn’t?) This quote reminded me of the series I’ve been posting lately, called “How Exactly You Talk Yourself Into Dating the Wrong Person:”
Emma, the novel’s heroine, has just heard that her friend Harriet has accepted a marriage proposal from a local farmer. In surprise, Emma says: “I had reason to believe her very lately more determined against him, much more than she was before.”
The stately and attractive Mr. Knightly, deliverer of this juicy news-morsel, retorts: “You ought to know your friend best, but I should say she was a good-tempered, soft-hearted girl, not likely to be very, very determined against any young man who told her he loved her.”
Ahh…how malleable we are.
I’ll leave you with Pascal:
I’ve been talking about dating lately, and about how good we are at ignoring our own best advice in the early stages. We might go thoughtfully out into the world of cute singles, intending to find someone warm and intelligent this time around, but can easily end up with someone attractive and materialistic instead.
I’ve been talking about research that looks at our perception of ideals in a romantic partner, and one thing is clear: we veer easily off-track if we like someone who doesn’t match up. So, what value do these ideals really have, if any? Should we just ignore them, since they falter as soon as we see a pretty face?
Dr. Eastwick’s study, which I’ve been reviewing in this series, suggests that ideal traits do have value—down the road. Once our new relationship lumbers over early hurdles and enters the realm of legit, long-term love, whatever artifice we constructed to get ourselves into that relationship begins to weaken. Groggily, we remember what we originally wanted…and see more clearly who we ended up with.
The researchers followed up with 500 speed-daters more than two years after they were recruited from speed-dating events. Surprisingly, participants chose current partner ideals (e.g. physically attractive, good earning prospects, warm, exciting, conservative) that matched what they had said they wanted twenty-four months prior. Even more interesting, for participants who had formed a committed relationship since Time 1, their partner’s ideal-trait- match strongly and positively predicted:
This “predictive” finding means that lots of people were in relationships (56%), but the people whose partners matched up well with their original ideals were in more passionate relationships, and were more likely to want their relationship to last.
Surprisingly, the following things didn’t predict the current outcome in participants’ love lives:
(I appreciated the irony of the last point. Basically, it meant that lots of people think of themselves as purposeful daters, but not everyone is).
The authors offer a poignant summary: “Particularly when initiating relationships, it seems that potential partners who happen to match our ideal partner preferences get no preferential treatment from our hearts. But once a relationship has been established, the match between a current partner’s traits and the pattern of our ideal partner preferences may ultimately affect relationship well-being.” In other words, our sense of what we want doesn’t really guide us into new relationships, but it probably impacts whether we break up with that person or continue dating them.
I must say that I was quite surprised by these findings. In my opinion, I don’t think our perception of others, or of ourselves, is precise enough for us to be able to say which 3 or 4 personality traits we really need in a lover. I suspect that we usually refer back to past relationships that didn’t work out, and think “he was so controlling and anxious. I don’t want someone like that again. I must need an easy-going man who is a good communicator…” Or, we look at people we like, and think about their dominant traits.
But, if people can look at a list of traits and pick the same ones out two years apart, maybe there is a permanence, and therefore a tangible importance, to these ideals after all. Kind of like personality–it might change a bit over time, but there is something steady about it.
So, since we’re pretty bad at knowing what will attract us in the short-term, but pretty good at remembering what we actually wanted in the long-term, should we get familiar with our ideals and stick to our guns? Or, are these willy-nilly, passion-driven beginnings valuable in their own way, and then we come back to our ideals to help us to weed out the keepers from the kickers?
Have you ever starting dating someone, even though you knew full well about some bad habit or character flaw that should have kept you away? Maybe you over-looked their lack of close friends, rampant bills and negligible account balances, or a history of getting fired not once but often…you name it, someone’s overlooked it. We’ve all heard that story: some people love dating people whose negative qualities are blatant, confirmed, and available for common review.
And most of us, especially psychologists and talk-show hosts, also love theorizing about why this oversight happens. I’ve read reams of well-meaning explanatory psycho-babble on the topic, I can assure you. Recently, though, a little gem was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology[i]: an actual experiment that tried to unravel the ‘how’ in all of this ‘why’.
An ambitious PhD student, Paul Eastwick, devoted his doctoral thesis to a series of experiments aimed to dissect part of this process. He was curious about people’s concept of their ideal romantic partner, but he also wondered about their perception of real people who were potential dates, and how this judgment process shifts during the initiation phase of romantic relationships.
In other words, what’s the magic ingredient in rose-colored glasses?
He didn’t unlock the secret of the universe by any means, but the research did highlight a very interesting pattern in perception under the influence of attraction. In the experiments, two undergraduate students (those perennial guinea pigs) at a time were made to linger momentarily in a small waiting room, in plain sight of one another, before being ushered into different rooms to start the experiment.
Weeks before, 106 student participants had indicated how well a list of 12 traits described their ideal partner, from +4 (highly characteristic), to -4 (highly uncharacteristic). The list[ii] contained typical character stuff, like proud, daring, perfectionistic, outspoken, undecided, and clownish. Now, weeks later, a researcher would take each student to a small meeting room, where they were told they were about to interact for 5 minutes with the opposite-sex person they just met in the waiting room. They were asked to imagine these 5 minutes were a mini-date, and they were informed that this other person was single (e.g. not dating anyone). The participant was encouraged to think about whether they might like this person as a romantic partner. Before the “date,” however, the researcher gave the participant the now-familiar list of 12 traits, but with three items circled. These three traits, they were told, were chosen by their “date” as most descriptive of him or herself.
Now, as in all classic experimenting, there were a few catches. First, this opposite-sex person in the waiting room wasn’t an unaware student like themselves, but an actor hired by the researchers. Secondly, the profiles were also fake. For half the group, 2 of the 3 traits were the ones they themselves had said were most ideal in a dating partner, while the others saw a circle around 2 of their least-preferred traits. Based on this profile, each participant indicated, before the mini-date, how much potential they thought this upcoming romantic candidate had.
As you might expect, the students who believed the person possessed their ideal traits were a little more interested (about 5.25 out of 10) than the students who were told the person possessed their least-preferred qualities (about 4.75 out of 10). Presumably, the person’s physical attractiveness was factored in to some extent as well, based on the brief “viewing” in the waiting room.
The weird part came next. After meeting the other person for 5 very bland minutes (in which both described pictures placed on the table by the researchers), the participants who “knew” the person had bad traits got more interested. In fact, after the date, they indicated they were just as interested as the people who “knew” the person had their most-valued traits. The difference between the two groups had vanished.
In case you’re thinking that the actors were more charming on some dates than they were on others, they weren’t. The researchers controlled for that problem by having the actors memorize natural-sounding descriptions. In effect, the actor said and did the same thing on every “date.” Plus, remember that the participants had already seen each other, albeit briefly, in the waiting room. So, what was going on? Why were people more interested in a bad match after such a tepid interaction?
Ponder and make your guesses. Next time, I’ll shed a little light on what the researchers found, and what it might mean for dating.
[i] Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). When and why do ideal partner preferences affect the process of initiating and maintaining romantic relationships? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024062
[ii] The list was borrowed from similar existing research on romantic relationships, and while the article did not comment on its test-retest reliability or other statistical merits of the trait list, at least it was not an original, untested list of traits.
Last time, I broke the shocking (to me) news that only 16% of America’s singles are actively looking for a romantic partner. In fact, if you recall, a full 55% of these disinterested reprobates (over 30 million people!) had NO current interest in finding a special someone. (Sigh…no wonder we can barely maintain a replacement birth rate in this country. But, I’ll wax profound on our social conundrums later),
As promised, I’m taking a look today at how my previous dating strategy (circulate, use lip gloss, sprinkle witty banter with vocabulary zingers, but let him make the first move) holds up in a scenario where only 16% of singles are on the prowl.
In short, it doesn’t hold up so well. It’s a bit of a sinking ship, really. Here’s why.
To start the analysis of my old dating strategy, let’s walk through the “market size.” Let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, that men and women are represented equally in this group of “active seekers.” Even though Hollywood would have you believe that every single woman is looking for love and every single man is playing PlayStation and scratching himself, it may not be true. Online dating sites, for example, skew about 60/40 men to women. As I’m not sure how the ratio breaks down in the off-line world, let’s assume that it’s about equal. In their Romance in America report, the Pew Research Center pegs the total singles pool at 62.5 million. As 16% of them were “actively” looking for a relationship, that leaves us with 5 million men and 5 million women who consistently put themselves out there.
Now, what about waiting for men to make the first move? I was waiting for a smaller crowd than I realized. It would have made perfect sense to wait for cute single guys to ask me out if most of them were looking for a relationship. My restraint was, I assumed, weeding out Nervous-Nellies, Commitment-Phobes, and those with Awkward Nasal Conditions. But, if only 5 million men IN AMERICA are paying lots of attention to the single ladies around them (which is barely half the island of Manhattan to go around), and 26 million aren’t, then clearly my strategy was a bit weak. Perfectly nice guys, who might well have warmed to a relationship if nudged, were just letting me walk by every day.
But how many, exactly? Well, we have to whittle our pool of 5 million men down rather considerably, to account for geographic proximity or having a mutual friend. If even 5% of interested single guys could have theoretically bumped into me, then I was waiting for a piddling 250,000 guys total who might have made a move. Sheesh. That’s less than 3% of Manhattan. Impressed with my strategy yet?
Obviously, someone who wasn’t looking for love could have run headlong into me, fallen desperately in love, and make a move. (Hey, it happens in Love and Other Drugs, Crazy, Stupid Love, most other things with Love in the title, and anything Natalie Portman seems to be in). So, I’m not saying that only 8% of men in America could possibly have asked me out. But, short of fairy-tale-like circumstances, only 8% of guys make a habit of looking around.
Okay, so maybe picking up local guys is an uphill battle. But what about online dating? (Which I tried several times, without much success) What were my chances there? Surely something purposeful like online dating attracts a greater percentage of men prepared to make a move? Yep–it does. Pew found that 37% of the people who had tried online dating were currently “actively looking,” or just about double the alertness levels in the general single population. The numbers work out to about 2-3 million guys who might be online right now. (We all know that some guys are online but not looking for a “relationship” per se…ick) Geographic inconvenience aside, let’s say all of these men are available for meeting. Pew reported that over 40% of people who try online dating score at least 1 date. Only 17% reap a long-term relationship or marriage out of the deal, though. In my online dating days, I was a bit picky; I wanted a man within 1,000 miles who had finished college and has all of his teeth. So, at best, let’s say I could have met 500,000 guys online. If I had a 17% chance of resurfacing with a significant other, then online dating was putting me in the queue for a piddling 85,000 guys. That’s barely enough people to fill two U2 concerts. (and good luck getting tickets to those!)
All in all, by favoring an indirect approach, by waiting for guys to come to me, it seems that I was ignoring 92% of available single men. Those 92% made me pretty frustrated sometimes. I lamented their spinelessness. I occasionally “broke down” and tried to jump-start a romance myself. It never occurred to me that it might not be personal. Lots of men simply aren’t looking for a relationship. They might have accepted a date, but they weren’t going to offer one. Who knew?
If you want a date, but you subscribes to my old strategy, just remember that the people you notice might not be doing any noticing themselves. I don’t know why, but it’s apparently a common ailment. If you’re a go-getter and you don’t mind taking some risks, maybe you should find a way to take a more active role. After all, if you don’t, who will?
Prior Posts in this Series: Post 1
Hey folks, did you know you can keep up with interesting relationship research that I don’t have time to blog about by following me on Twitter? Hop on @whereisthsgoing and I’ll follow you back!
Never fear, Mexico City has cooked up a possible way around this: marriages that simply…expire. Like a carton of milk.
A new bill, under consideration in the city council, would stipulate the attachment of an expiration date to every new marriage license. The couple could set any date they like, from a minimum of two years to a maximum of “til death do us part.” At the end of the quoted term, they can renew the license indefinitely. If they don’t renew, though, the marriage just…ceases. Poof. No divorce proceedings necessary. A handy pre-nup, all part of the package, settles property and children.
The Huffington Post, which offers one of the better summary articles here, quoted the bill’s co-author’s view that “Two years is the minimum amount of time it takes to know and appreciate what life is like as a couple.”
An intriguing hypothethis, but is she right? Implicit in the bill is the assumption that a couple can obtain an accurate picture of their future marriage only if they get to know each other well enough before they commit for life. It sounds oddly familiar, like a social convention we have in the US…whatchamacallit…oh right, dating.
I think the heart of the legislation seems closer to the increasing US trend of living together before marriage than it does to actual marriage, though. As such, the Mexican legislation (if approved) simply inserts a new layer into the dating process. A pre-defined period of marital purgatory, during which couples are still devoting energy to the decision to commit for a lifetime.
It makes me wonder though, can we really know enough about our marriage ahead of time to shelter ourselves from divorce? Or to at least improve our chances of making it for a lifetime? First off, we’d have to agree that the relationship now resembles the relationship “later.” Secondly, we’d have to know which relationship information really matters, and which can be ignored or overlooked. Thirdly, I’m curious about the role of commitment–and how it affects our ability to weather an unhappy season in the marriage, or a capricious change in our partner or ourself.
I think I smell a series…don’t you? I’m going to dig into the literature to see what researchers might already know about dating dynamics or personal philosophies that can predict outcomes later, like divorce or marital stability.
If it turns out there’s nothing we can do ahead of time to pick a good marriage, well then, the Mexicans might be onto something…
Are people turning you down because you’re out of their league?
This week, I introduced an interesting online dating experiment (check out that post). You might remember the set-up: US and Korean economists, an online dating party, five days, 600 people, and one unstinting algorithm predicting each person’s desirability. Participants could send at most 10 “ask-out” messages, 2 of which could arrive with a virtual rose to signal special preference, and could accept up to 10 dates. The sample was sliced up by desirability scores into the bottom and top 30% and the middle 40%.
While date requests and roses rained on the haves and the have-nots without particular pattern, the economists noticed an interesting trend. Senders of all stripes tended to propose “up”—preferring to ask for dates with people slightly (or a lot) more attractive than themselves. This trend was not flat across the sample: with increasing attractiveness went ballooning confidence. The more attractive the sender, the further out of their league they were willing to reach when asking someone out. (Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t evaluate the resulting success rate, which was an oversight in my opinion.)
Still, we see here the first of two out-of-my-league effects: the more desirable you are, the better a shot you’ll think you have with people who are, well, further out of your league.
The researchers went on to find, against initial logic, that recipients did not always accept date requests from people more attractive than themselves. That’s odd, right? If everyone tended to “ask up”, why weren’t they “accepting up” as well?
Probably because of the second out-of-my-league effect: when someone who is out of your league wants to pursue you, they may be more successful if they can prove that they’re serious.
Let me explain. Last time, I mentioned that, all things being equal, attaching a rose to a request for a date increased the acceptance rate by 20%. But what really drove that 20% impact? The roses that made a statistically significant impact (meaning that people were more likely to accept the date than they were in the same scenario without a rose) in four cases:
a rose sent to a middle recipient from a top sender
a rose sent to a bottom recipient from a top sender
a rose sent to a bottom recipient from a middle sender
a rose sent to a middle recipient from a bottom sender
You’ll notice that three of these four situations involved “asking down.” Roses appeared to pack the most punch when sent to the middle group, and especially when the sender was more attractive.
What was going on? Why were the recipients more likely to accept these seemingly better dates when a rose was attached? Why not just accept them all? Let’s assume that the receiver did actually think the sender was a bit more attractive than themselves. We can only guess that perhaps they also calculated how interested the sender would be in them. Perhaps they were most concerned about the chance for success in the long-run. Without a rose, maybe a date request from someone who was out of their league seemed insincere.
If the data is right, this second out-of-my-league effect suggests the interesting possibility that people might be turning you down not out of disinterest, but because they perceive a mismatch. People want to go on dates that will work out. Make sure you turn up the sincerity, even when you think you’re a shoe-in.