Tag Archives: relationships

Top Three Predictors of Successful Relationships: PI.C.L.

I love making up a good acronym as much as the next relationship researcher, and today I’ve invented one about the top three predictors of a successful relationship:  PICL*.

PI=Positive Illusions


L=Love Continue reading

Chocolate And Online Dating: Do We Get Overwhelmed with Choice?


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

A Pithy Thought From Jane

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:

Is Playing It Cool Putting Your Love Life on Ice?

Playing it cool.  Maybe you’ve tried it.  You ask someone out (or worse, to “hang out”), but you act like if they say no, it won’t be any big deal.  You keep it casual.  It’s all business as usual.

While surely this is a solid strategy for avoiding embarrassment and keeping yourself safe, if you’re not a Lothario-level ladies man or a recent Siren-inductee, you might want to rethink this approach.  Recent research suggests that signaling your special preference for someone might actually be a better way to score more first dates.

Economists from Stanford and the University of Maryland recently teamed up with the Korean Marriage Culture Institute to run a good old-fashioned dating experiment[i].  They recruited 613 college-educated, never-married Koreans in their 20s and 30s to participate in a five-day “browsing party” hosted by a large online dating service.  During the event, participants could check out as many profiles as they wished, but could message at most 10 people to request a first date.  In an added twist, most participants received a virtual rose they could attach to two of these requests.  After the party, everyone eagerly opened their inbox to see if they had any messages, and any roses, but could accept 10 dates at most.  If you stretch back to Econ 101, you can see what’s going on here:  date requests seemed valuable because of their limited supply, and attaching a rose upped the ante all the more.

Here’s how things panned out.  Only 31% of the ladies received any request messages at all—choosy men!—but nearly 40% of the messages came with a rose.  The ladies were more forgiving, sending offers to half of the men, but they graced only 28% of their date proposals with a rose.

To account for attractiveness and desirability, in addition to roses, the researchers borrowed the host site’s secret “desirability algorithm.”  This algorithm crunches data like age, employment status, income, educational attainment, weight, looks, and appearance, to score a participant’s attractiveness to the opposite sex as a future spouse.  Based on their scores, the sample was split into 3 “desirability groups”: the bottom and top 30% and the middle 40%.  People in all 3 groups received date requests and roses. Men said yes to 29% of their dates, while women said yes to 38%.

Now for the interesting part.  All things being equal, the effect of simply attaching a rose increased the chances of getting a yes by 20%!  That’s a powerful signal.  The effect of the rose was only slightly smaller, in fact, than the effect of actually being in the middle group instead of the bottom group.  This means that clearly indicating a special preference for a date has just as much impact as actually being a more desirable date yourself!  As you might expect, roses packed a little more punch for the middle and bottom groups than they did for top-level hotties.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you need to make every date feel special–sometimes it is just casual, after all.  But you might want to send a signal when you are excited about a person with a lot of potential.  These are off-the-cuff, but try something like:  “it isn’t every day that I mean a cute girl who also likes Spanish guitar bands.”  Or, “I rarely ask guys out, but I like what you said about altruism and I think I could beat you at bowling.”  You can keep it light-hearted but still build anticipation before the date by signaling that something about the person feels special.

You do run the risk of looking foolish, I suppose.  But, if playing it cool means you’re getting turned down by some people who would have said yes if you tipped your hand, isn’t that worse?

From the comment-whisperer:  What works for you?  Playing it cool or making someone feel special?  Tell me what you think…just a teensy comment…you know you want to!

[i] Soohyung Lee, Muriel Niederle, Hye-Rim Kim and Woo-Keum Kim (2011).  “Propose With A Rose? Signaling In Internet Dating Markets.” NBER Working Paper 17340: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17340. Here’s a free PDF download of an earlier version of the paper:   http://hit.wharton.upenn.edu/awfe2010confpapers/LeeNiederle_23sep2010.pdf

The Infatuation Theory: Is Choice An Illusion?

“Love is like a fever that comes and goes quite independently of the will.”  -Stendhal, 19th Century French Author

We’re finally here–the culminating theory of how mate selection works!   (According to the research I’ve been reviewing in this series)

As we’ve discussed, lots of research, including this study, has demonstrated that most of our choices, from vacations to friends to decor, follow a lawful genetic pattern to some degree.  Picking a spouse, however, sticks out like a sore thumb. An important choice for which there is no pattern.

The researchers offer an intriguing explanation for this blip:  they argue that picking a partner is not really a “choice.”   We are looking at it all backwards, they say.  Instead of approaching this logically, people are mysteriously drawn to certain people, but not to others.  It starts with “I kinda like him or her,” and while we may subsequently decide against some of these people in a logical manner (e.g. alcoholic, serving jail time, no thanks), the “liking” part is not a choice.

The researchers’ theory is this:  the juicy force prompting these not-exactly-choices is infatuation, it has evolved into a specific mechanism for finding a partner.  Infatuation, they believe, occurs by chance, rather than according to a lawful, genetic pattern.  Sort of like being thirsty or wanting to succeed.  Instead of choosing a partner, they theorize, infatuation goes off like a homing beacon and then…well, you just want that person.

If they are right, and infatuation’s purpose really is to flag potential partners for us, does that mean we should go with the flow?  Not exactly.  Arguably, my body wants me to  produce symmetrical, healthy babies, but might not be thinking about my desire for stimulating weekend conversation.  Lots of dating advice books will tell you to ignore this homing beacon.  Don’t pay too much attention to chemistry, they say,  attraction can develop over time if you have a good foundation.

While I agree this is true, I suspect that one partner usually has the infatuation-homing-beacon thing going on, and then works to win the affection and attention of the other, who might feel a glimmer, or nothing at all.  “Love at first sight,” by contrast, probably happens in those rare circumstances when you both have the homing beacon experience at the same time.  I do think we can say that if neither of you are googley-eyed after a while, then you’re making a logical decision instead of one inspired by chemistry.  We don’t have the data to argue that a logical relationship is a bad approach, but I’ve always been a fan of chemistry, and I think the work of Lykkegen and Tellegen would suggest that a different partner very well could bring out the spark that you’re missing.

At the time (1993), this infatuation theory was just a logical hunch.  The authors did not conduct an experiment to test the role of infatuation; they simply proposed the theory when the other logical possibilities–our genes and our environment–had been ruled out.  Many, many smart people have since run with this theory, and have learned all kinds of good stuff about how infatuation works.  One day, I’ll come back to this topic, but if you can’t wait, check out Helen Fisher’s book Why We Love for a great introduction.

We finished a series!

Very soon, I’ll be talking about sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships.  Stick around–you know you’re curious.

Missed the series?: Post 8; Post 7; Post 6; Post 5; Post 4; Post 3; Post 2; Post 1

[i] Pew Internet and American Life Project, a 2005 survey of internet users.  An additional 55% of singles reported no active interest in seeking a romantic partner!  I think I smell an upcoming post series…