Category Archives: Love 2.0

Move Over Cupid, Proximity is the New Matchmaker

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When I’m not near the one I love, I love the one I’m near.

—E. Y. Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow

Proximity and Repeated Exposure

We never really think about it, but is it really surprising that students who take the same courses, sit next to each other in class, or live side by side in dorm rooms tend to develop closer friendships than those who don’t? Sales people in large department stores form closer friendships and ties with those who work alongside them in the same department than with people who work just several yards away in another area.

Are humans just natural love-magnets that attract people who are physically close to us? Or, is there some other explanation for the strong positive effect of proximity? One of the most interesting explanations was offered by researcher Robert Zajonc, who viewed the positive effect of physical proximity as the result of “repeated exposure.” Repeated exposure, it turns out, increases our liking for practically everything, from the routine features of our lives to clothing choices, foods, music, and people.

People Don’t Like What’s Not Familiar to Them

Humans have an inborn discomfort to people and environments that are not familiar to them. On top this, we are socialized from a very young age to avoid unfamiliar things and people. Do you recall your mom telling you, “don’t touch that, you don’t know where its been” or “don’t talk to strangers”? And even as adults, it’s very unlikely that we would respond positively to a stranger, even though this fear is completely irrational. How would you feel if a guy randomly approached you on the street and told you that he would like to get acquainted with you? Most of us are likely to assume that the stranger is crazy, drunk, trying to sell us something, convince us of something, or even hurt us.

…But They Like What’s Familiar To Them

But what if we have seen this same stranger every time you went shopping at the supermarket or on the bus on your way to school – would you react differently? More likely than not, you would. Repeated exposure tells us that the person, or thing, is not dangerous, and it puts us at ease. This occurs even when we are not consciously aware that we were exposed to a particular person. In a study that demonstrated this, subjects were asked to talk about some neutral topic with two people who were confederates of the experimenter. Before the conversation, a photograph of one of the confederates was flashed on a screen so quickly that the subjects were unaware of it. Despite their lack of awareness of this subliminal exposure, the subjects still responded more favorably toward the familiar person than they did toward the person whose photograph was not flashed.

In another experiment, men and women who did not know each other were asked to look in each other’s eyes for 2 minutes (a long time when you look into the eyes of someone you do not know). The result was that both the men and the women reported an increase in their romantic attraction to the person with whom they locked eyes. Of course, this is not practical in a real life situation. Saying to someone, “let’s look into each other’s eyes for two minutes” would likely be perceived as bizarre rather than romantic.

Repeated Exposure Intensifies All Feelings, Positive and Negative

So let’s say there’s a guy at work you don’t like or you don’t get along with. Should you spend more time with him or ask him to lock eyes with you for two minutes? NOOOOO.

When someone annoys us, repeated exposure, rather than making us like that person more, will intensify our negative feelings. This explains why police records show that most acts of violence do not happen between strangers, but between people who are close, such as husband and wife, family members, friends, and neighbors. In other words, repeated exposure intensifies the dominant emotion in the relationship. When the dominant emotion is anger, repeated exposure enhances the anger.

Suggestions for People Seeking Love

Try to arrange your life in a way that allows you to have many opportunities to meet people you want to engage in a friendship or relationship with regularly through your workplace, residence, or recreational activity. An opportunity to meet and get acquainted is almost a prerequisite for the development of a romantic relationship. But, meeting once is not enough. Don’t count on “love at first sight” because that rarely happens. Repeated exposure is much more powerful and reliable than waiting for someone to pop up out of the blue and confess their love to you.

But keep in mind, meeting repeatedly does not guarantee love. Just as much as repeated exposure can increase positive feelings of you in someone, a negative impression can be exacerbated by repeated exposure as well. If the first impression is negative, it is best to cut contact, let the first impression dissipate, and then give the relationship another chance. In such a case, repeated exposure will not change the initial dislike or disdain into love but will most likely increase them.

Sources:

Kellerman, J., Lewis, J., & Lard, J. D. (1989). Looking and loving: The effects of mutual gaze on feelings of romantic love. Journal of Research in Personality.

White, G. L. & Shapiro, D. (1989). Don’t I know you? Antecedents and social consequences of perceived similarity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Bornstein, R. F., Leone, D. R., & Galley, D. J. (1987). The generalizability of subliminal mere exposure effects: Influence of stimuli perceived without awareness on social behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Pierce, C. A., Byrne, D., & Aguinis, H. (1996). Attraction in organizations: A model of workplace romance. Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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Love is a Mental Illness – Part 3: Why Love is Necessary For Human Survival

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Left To Their Own Accord, The Human Race Would Cease To Exist

When humans gained their prefrontal cortex, it was a tremendous boon for the human species. The ability to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, future consequences of current activities, working towards a defined goal, predicting outcomes, and the ability to control urges, are all moderated by the amazing prefrontal cortex.

But this was a problem for nature and the future of the human species. If humans were always in a rational state of mind and had the ability to easily overcome emotions or urges, no one would want to have babies. Think about it: Raising children is a huge drain on our individual resources. Not just time and money, but our mental and emotional resources too. Not only do we have to feed this baby, clothe it, and provide shelter for it, when it reaches the age of twelve, they start hating you for no apparent reason. They start demanding that you buy them clothes with esoteric logos that makes them “unique.” They think they know everything and can live independently on their own. They talk, yell, and scream back at you. And when they’re finally 18, you have to refinance your mortgage because your kid is compelled to go to this place called college, which is essentially a 4-year-long party for most kids who attend. Who, in their rational mind, would want to put up with that?

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If we could take the essence of nature, or evolution – I’m using both terms synonymously – and give it a voice we could understand, we would probably hear it saying “OH F*CK” when it realized people wouldn’t want to procreate anymore after doing a rational cost-benefit analysis. What essentially gave humans the ultimate edge in the world would simultaneously lead to their demise if nothing was done about it.

A serious problem, if evolution’s goal was to have organisms procreate into perpetuity successfully. They needed to break the humans’ rationality; not disassemble it completely, because that would be a waste of many millions of years of evolutionary work, but just enough so the species can reproduce without thinking so much about the burden of parenthood. What nature ingeniously came up with was temporary insanity, or what we would nowadays call it: Love.

Once someone becomes enraptured by love, they are no longer the calculating, rational being we once were. They are overcome by madness, thinking about this one person day and night; when they wake up in the morning, as they brush their teeth, as they work, as they eat dinner, as they fall asleep. They shower this one person with gifts. Even the most linguistically and culturally challenged person is able to sudden gain the ability to sing and write poems for this person. In the throes of love and passion, they dismiss the use of contraception even after years of being taught about its importance. Love is an obsession. Love is expensive. Love is time-consuming. Love is wasteful. Love is irrational. But love is necessary.

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Love is nature’s way getting what it wants: progeny. It inflicts us with temporary insanity, not enough to incapacitate us completely, but just enough to have us mate, procreate, and continue the human race. The conflict between intellect and evolutionary objectives does not arise in animals because they simply follow instinct. When it comes to sexual reproduction, they become automata – females go into heat, they release pheromones, the males go crazy for them, they mate, and the species continues. And to a large extent, this is what happens to us too. But the fact that we can self-reflect and rebel has necessitated the evolution of a safety mechanism. This safety mechanism throws reason and rationality out the window and enslaves us, albeit temporarily, to our primitive mating instincts. This is love. It is a drive created by evolution to ensure the continuation of our species. 

Love is not merely an unstable state of mind, it is a drive – perhaps even more powerful than the sex drive. If you ask someone to go to bed with you, and they say “no thank you,” you certainly don’t kill yourself or slip into a clinical depression. But around the world, people who are rejected in love will kill for it. People live for love, they kill for love, and they certainly die for love.

Sources:

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love

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Love is Priceless, But It’s Not Cheap, Either

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Pick Up Your Kids on Time, Please

Let’s say you run a daycare center and you wanted to reduce the amount of parents who pick up their children late. What would you do? Credit card companies impose late fees when we don’t pay by a certain due date, libraries impose fines on overdue books, so would imposing a fine on parents picking up their children late be an effective deterrent? Sounds reasonable right?

Wrong. In fact, there was a daycare that actually implemented this and it had long-term negative consequences.

Why? That’s because we live simultaneously in two different worlds— one where social norms prevail, and the other where market norms dictate the rules. Social norms are those friendly requests that people make to one another. You ask your neighbor: Would you mind walking my dog next weekend while I’m on my business trip? Or you ask a friend who lives nearby: Can you help me change my flat tire? For things like these, instant payback is not necessary but keeps a door open for future reciprocity.

On the other hand, we also have a world governed by market norms, which is very different. These are things like wages, prices, rents, interest, and costs-and-benefits. When you are in the domain of market norms, you get what you pay for—nothing more, nothing less.

Before the fine was introduced, the teachers and parents had a social contract, with social norms about being late. Thus, if parents were late, they felt guilty about it—and their guilt compelled them to be more prompt in picking up their kids in the future.

But once the fine was imposed, the daycare center had inadvertently replaced the social norms with market norms. Now that the parents were paying for their tardiness, they interpreted the situation in terms of market norms. In other words, since they were being fined, they could decide for themselves whether to be late or not, and they frequently chose to be late. Needless to say, this was not what the daycare center intended.

A few weeks later after realizing that the fine didn’t work in reducing tardy parents, the daycare removed the fine. What do you think happened to the behavior of those parents? Did they go back to social norms as well and start feeling guilty? Nope. Even though the fine was removed, the behavior of the parents didn’t change and continued to pick up their kids late. In fact, there was an increase in the number of tardy pickups since now both the social norms and the fine had been removed.

The Cost of Sex and Love

When we keep social norms and market norms on their separate paths, life runs pretty smoothly. Let’s take sex, for instance. We can have it for free in the social context, where it is warm and emotionally nourishing. But there’s also a market for sex, sex that is on demand and that costs money. As long as we keep these two realms separate, there shouldn’t be any problems. We shouldn’t expect to charge a boyfriend or girlfriend $50 each time they want sex, nor should we expect prostitutes to provide us with everlasting love. Makes sense. But when social and market norms collide, all hell breaks loose.

Let’s say a guy takes a girl out for dinner and a movie, and he pays for everything. They go out again, and he pays the bills once more. They go out a third time, and he’s still springing for the meal and the entertainment. At this point, he’s hoping for at least a passionate kiss at the front door. His wallet is getting perilously thin, but worse is what’s going on in his head: he’s having trouble reconciling the social norm (courtship) with the market norm (money for sex). On the fourth date he casually mentions how much this “romance” is costing him. Bzzzzzzt! Now he’s crossed the line. She calls him cheap and storms off. He should have known that one can’t mix social and market norms—especially in this case—without implying that the she is a tramp. (This is just one hypothetical scenario, though. I would never condone dating someone who doesn’t at least offer to pay their share after the second date.) 

The point is that introducing market norms into social exchanges, violates the social norms (whatever they may be) and hurts the relationships. Once this type of mistake has been committed, recovering a social relationship is close to impossible. If you’ve ever offered a potential romantic partner the chance to cut to the chase, split the cost of the courting process, and simply go to bed, the odds are that you will have wrecked the romance forever.  

What Should I Do When Social Norms Aren’t Clear?

If you’ve learned anything from the past two examples, you know that the last thing you want to do is make your date into a market transaction. But what about in situations like gay dating when social norms aren’t clear? Who pays for dinner? The entertainment? There are, in fact, many norms to choose from: Should you follow the old-fashioned way of courtship and have the more masculine guy pay for both people? (WTF, are you serious?) Should the guy who asks the other to go out treat him? Should one guy pay more often if he is making more money? Should they split the bill equally each time? What do you choose? 

My advice: go read Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions if you’re still unsure.

Sources:

Predictably Irrational

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Love is a Mental Illness: Part 2 – An Evolutionary Adaptation

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What is Love? vs. What is Love for?

Let’s take a brief look at Darwin’s theory of evolution. His theory suggests that traits and characteristics that arise from random genetic mutations are passed on from one generation to the next if these traits are advantageous to the survival of the species. In competitive environments, those who are better equipped to survive are more likely to produce offspring. Thus, beneficial traits will gradually appear with greater frequency, while useless or redundant traits will gradually diminish and eventually disappear. Memory, language, emotion and consciousness all serve some sort of function, resulting from the many millions of years of natural selection. All of these traits had to have some sort of beneficial advantage over those who did not possess these abilities or traits. The psychological state of mind that we call love should also, therefore, serve some kind of function to make us more adaptive.

Men and women are fundamentally different from one another. But please, before you whip out that feminist cudgel and start beating me with it, keep in mind that I’m speaking strictly in the sense of biological reproduction, not social roles in society. The optimal strategy for reproductive success is not the same for men as it is for women and so, some conflict of interest is inevitable. A male can increase his chances of reproductive success by simply having more sex and impregnating more women. A women’s reproductive success, on the other hand, is severely limited by biological factors. She has a very limited number of eggs compared to the amount of sperm men produce, and she cannot carry more than one fetus in the womb at a time (usually). In a hunter-gatherer society that humans lived in for most of their existence, resources were ridiculously scarce. Since women were going to be nearly incapacitated when she is carrying for a child, both in the womb and several years afterwards, she needed to be picky and choose that one mate that would give her the best odds of delivering and nurturing a healthy offspring.

Although, it may seem like men are less inclined to be faithful than females, the human race has evolved such that both males and females have to expend a great deal of energy on their young in order for them to survive. A pattern of promiscuous couplings and swift departures would have translated into less reproductive success for human males. Genes that produced promiscuous behavior would be strongly associated with infant mortality, which would translate into fewer offspring, and effectively diminishing them from the gene pool. In contrast, monogamous pairs that direct and expend their energy into one mate and one offspring have a higher likelihood of raising their vulnerable offspring into sexual maturity. Thus, natural selection has shaped us into a predominately monogamous species.

Love Helps Our Species Survive

Love organizes our behavior in such a way that compliments monogamous pairings, which, as mentioned before, increases the likelihood of reproductive success. One of the most prominent symptoms of people who are in love is obsession. The most obvious similarity between someone with OCD and people who have fallen in love is their inability to govern the contents of their own mind. Thoughts and images of loved ones enter our awareness and cannot be dismissed. Lovers ruminate, worrying excessively about the relationship not ‘working out,‘ or read into every little detail of their partner for hints of infidelity to the point of paranoia. But how is this adaptive?

We tend to view obsession in modern times as problematic and disruptive, it is actually an evolutionary advantage. Obsession works so that we do not easily forget our mate and makes us focus our energy and resources on that one person. Resource allocation is vital to both parties and if the male cannot remember which woman is carrying their progeny, well, he has other problems. But the bottom line is that if he cannot focus his energy on one mate and spreads his resources thin, the chances of him having a successful offspring are greatly reduced.

Sources:

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

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How Can You Be More Attractive Without Actually Doing Anything?

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Have A Decoy.

Whether it be digital cameras, puppies, restaurant entrees, cosmetics or love, we all view things relative to the things around it. Take the image above for example; this graphic depicts the illusion of relativity. Although the circles in the middle are the same size, (you can measure them if you don’t believe me) when placed within the smaller circles on the left the circle seems bigger than when it is placed within the larger circles on the right.

Dan Ariely explains relativity from Predictably Irrational:

When Williams-Sonoma first introduced a home “bread bakery” machine (for $275), most consumers were not interested. What was a home bread-making machine, anyway? Was it good or bad? Did one really need home-baked bread? Why not just buy a fancy coffeemaker sitting nearby instead? Flustered by poor sales, the manufacturer of the bread machine brought in a marketing research firm, which suggested a fix: introduce an additional model of the bread maker, one that was not only larger but priced about 50 percent higher than the initial machine. Now sales began to rise (along with many loaves of bread), though it was not the large bread maker that was being sold. Why? Simply because consumers now had two models of bread makers to choose from. Since one was clearly larger and much more expensive than the other, people didn’t have to make their decision in a vacuum. They could say: “Well, I don’t know much about bread makers, but I do know that if I were to buy one, I’d rather have the smaller one for less money.” And that’s when bread makers began to fly off the shelves.

But enough with bread makers. Let’s now take a look at relativity and how a decoy would work in a completely different situation.

What if you are single, and want to appeal to as many attractive potential dating partners as possible? Simple: Bring a friend who has your basic physical characteristics but is slightly less attractive than you. People tend to compare things with one another but they also tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable – and avoid comparing things that are dissimilar. So if you’re Asian, 5’8”, slim build, and upscale-casually dressed, bring along another friend who is also Asian, around 5’8”, has a similar body-type, and slightly less well-dressed. If your best friend happens to be Caucasian, 6’2”, muscular, and wearing a sports jersey, he’ll do you no good. Why? Because the folks you want to attract will have a hard time evaluating you with no comparables around. However, if you are compared with a “you (-1),” the decoy friend will do a lot to make you look better, not just in comparison with the decoy but also in general, and in comparison with all the other people around.

There. Look awesome with no extra effort on your part.

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And now that you know this secret, be careful: when a similar but better-looking friend of the same sex asks you to accompany him or her for a night out, you might wonder whether you have been invited along for your company or merely as a decoy.  –Dan Ariely

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Where’s A Great Place to Find A Date?

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The Gym. Seriously. 

Why? Here’s some background:

The technical term is “misattribution of arousal.” In one study, heterosexual men walked across either a very high and unstable suspension bridge (an anxiety-inducing experience) or a bridge that was closer to the ground and wasn’t scary at all. In the middle of the bridge, each man was approached by an attractive female research assistant, who gave them a survey to fill out. Upon completing the questionnaire, she provided the man with her phone number and asked him to give her a call later that night if he had any questions about the study. It turned out that the men who walked across the shaky bridge were much more likely to call the woman than the men who walked across the stable bridge.

What’s happening? When the men who crossed the safe bridge saw the research assistant, most of them looked at her and saw just that, a studious research assistant. But for the men who crossed rickety, unstable bridge, anxiety and adrenaline translated into a heightened romantic interest in the assistant. 

In a more related study, male participants were asked to run on a treadmill for either a few minutes or a few seconds. Afterward, they rated their degree of sexual and romantic attraction toward a female college student they observed in a video. Results indicated that the men who exercised longer were more attracted to the woman than the men who did not get their blood pumping as much. That is, when there are competing explanations for the arousal (you aren’t sure if your heart is pounding because you just exercised or because you just met someone really hot), people seem to err on the side of attributing it to the new person. Wonderful.

So get out there, work up a sweat, and approach that hot guy or girl who is equally working hard. You’re more likely to make a stronger first impression than somewhere more sedated and they might even make the mistake of attributing some of the arousal from the workout to you! Plus, going to the gym is like killing two birds with one stone. You get in better shape, which increases your overall physical attractiveness and there’s the added bonus of potentially finding a date. Just go already! 

To learn more about how (irrationally) our minds work and how to take advantage of them, I recommend these two great books: Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home.

Sources:

Dutton, Donald G.; Aron, Arthur P. “Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (1974)
White, G. L., & Kight, T. D. “Misattribution of arousal and attraction: Effects of salience of explanations for arousal.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, (1984)
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Do You Really Know What You Desire In A Romantic Partner?

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No, not really.  

Saying things like “looks don’t really matter to me” or “it’s his character and personality that really counts” has become  commonplace nowadays. But what people say they want and what they actually want are often two very different things when it comes to romantic attraction. We tell our friends and family and even to ourselves what we value in a romantic partner but study after study show that those preferences don’t accurately predict who or what they are actually attracted to.

To investigate this further, researchers from Northwestern University and Texas A&M University measured whether people’s implicit preferences for physical attraction matched what they consciously stated or thought. The test they used was similar to the one developed at Harvard called the IAT, or the Implicit Association Test. These tests try to examine thoughts and feelings that exist either outside of our conscious awareness or outside of conscious control through quick, reflex-type inputs.

To describe the task briefly, a word would pop-up on the screen and the participant’s task was to categorize that word into one of two categories, things they thought was important or things they thought was unimportant at a lightning pace so that their conscious mind would have little time to affect their answers. So synonyms of “physical attractiveness” (like chiseled abs or broad shoulders) with other words that they happen to like, such as Britney Spears, or fried chicken, or romance novels would come up on the screen and they would use two keys on the keyboard to quickly sort through the list of words as quickly as possible.* The people who performed well on this task have a strong implicit preference for physical attractiveness, and it just so happens that most people do have a moderate to strong preference for physical attractiveness.

In most cases, people’s consciously stated attitudes and preferences predict their corresponding behavior quite well. But when it comes to attraction, people’s implicit and unconscious preferences seem to do a better job. So I guess it’s possible to delude ourselves to a certain extent, but our unconscious side is not swayed that easily. 

Bottom line: Most people still want sexy partners, despite what we might say. 

*If you had a hard time understanding my explanation, just go take one of the tests yourself. It’s pretty straightforward. And the results might be quite interesting.

Source:

Eastwick, Paul., et. al. “Implicit and Explicit Preferences for Physical Attractiveness in a Romantic Partner: A Double Dissociation in Predictive Validity.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (2011)

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Is Having Sex Early In The Relationship Harmful in the Long Run?

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Keep reading below.

A new study published in The Journal of Sex Research concludes that the sooner a couple starts having sex, the lower the quality of their relationship. And not surprisingly, media outlets are quick to pick up these findings and publish headlines along the lines of “First-Date Sex May Harm Couples. or “How Leaping into Bed Harms Relationships

This study, conducted by researchers at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University (your BS meter should be on high alert at this point)* asked participants in an online survey about when they started having sex with their partner and completed several measures of relationship functioning (e.g., satisfaction, communication). Participants were then lumped into one of four groups based upon timing of first sex: Predating Sex (hooking-up before becoming a couple; 9.9%), Early Sex (sex on the first date or two; 35.5%), Delayed Sex (sex after a few weeks; 47.9%), and No Sex (couples who were still abstaining; 6.6%). Results revealed that people who waited longer to have sex scored the highest on all measures of relationship quality. Based upon these findings, the authors concluded that dating couples who have sex therefore have “poorer” outcomes than couples who abstain and that timing of sex represents an important “turning point” in the relationship.

But is this really the case? 

What every single media failed to report was that the average levels of satisfaction, communication, and commitment were high for both men and women no matter when they started having sex. For instance, looking at relationship satisfaction, which was rated on a scale ranging from 0 to 12 in this study, the midpoint for this scale was 6, which means that anything above that represents satisfaction and anything below that represents dissatisfaction. For women, those who had sex in the first month had a satisfaction score of 7.9, while those who waited six or more months had a score of 8.5. For men, the numbers were 8.2 and 8.5, respectively. Thus, average levels of satisfaction were high for all groups. 

So where is the “harm” and all of the “unhappy” couples? There aren’t any, at least in this study. Indeed, the people in the survey who delayed sex in their relationship were happier, but that does not mean people who had sex sooner were unhappy. This study simply does not provide any evidence that abstaining from sex is a better recipe for success than having sex whenever you and your partner feel most comfortable.

Will jumping into bed sooner truly hurt your chances at a lifetime of happiness? No. Just do it when you’re both comfortable.

*If you didn’t already know, Brigham Young University is a Mormon-controlled university. Mormons aren’t allowed to have sex before marriage so it’s no surprise that studies like this support their irrational doctrine through more legitimate and scientifically accepted methods. Unfortunately for them, I could sense their bias from a mile away.

Sources:

Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. Differing relationship outcomes when sex happens before, on, or after first dates. The Journal of Sex Research (2012)

Sassler, S., Addo, F. R., & Lichter, D. T. “The tempo of sexual activity and later relationship quality,” Journal of Marriage and Family (2012)

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Is Love a Mental Illness?

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Falling In Love

The expression “falling in love” is ubiquitous in our culture. People say it all the time – I find it somewhat annoying. As a society, we seem to relish the experience of falling in love and I have no doubt that if you were to ask a tween or teenage girl if she wants to fall in love, they would unanimously say “yes.” It seems like a happy, romantic thing, but if you think about it, the phrase actually maintains a negative connotation. People usually “fall in” a hole, a rut, a trap, or a pile of poop. No one ever says I “fell in” a job, a friendship, a goal, or a pile of money. You are hired for a job. You build a friendship. You attain a goal. You dance in a pile of money. This suggests, quite accurately, that we fall in love like we fall over, by accident rather than by design.

So, logically, shouldn’t we try to avoid falling in love like trying to avoid driving into a pothole? Why would anyone welcome the agony and misery that love usually accompanies?  Are all humans either hopeless romantics or closet masochists?

Love vs. Limerence?

If love and limerence were twins, love would be the caring, loving and loyal twin, while limerence would be its unwanted doppelganger, anxious, obsessive, and irrational. It’s not unusual for love to start off as limerence but it would be wise to understand the subtle differences between them and act accordingly. Limerence is a similar state of mind like love, which comes from a romantic attraction to another person but he or she is preoccupied by an overwhelming obsessive need to have their feelings reciprocated. There is no established precondition for limerence, but research suggests that there is a high rate of coincidence between limerence, and dysfunctional attachment environments in childhood. What this means is that individuals who had parents that neglected or abused them would have a higher chance of experiencing limerence.

The symptoms of limerence are also very similar to drug addiction, probably because they both involve the same dopamine-using pleasure circuit of the brain. When you first start dating, you feel great pleasure being with your potential lover; similar to the first few times you use cocaine or heroin. However, you soon realize that you don’t feel the same high you once did when you first started the relationship. As the addiction to your partner progresses, tolerance, dependence, and cravings emerge, and the euphoria that was once felt gradually diminishes. It’s a double whammy. You need more and more attention from your partner to feel good but you derive less and less pleasure from it. Eventually, being together no longer produces much pleasure and the liking for your partner becomes a need for you to function normally. If you are a coffee addict like me, you know what I’m talking about. Days when I don’t drink coffee is almost always unproductive and I am much more irritable and tired.

Love As Humanity’s Greatest Illusion

The intense, euphoric pleasure that comes with falling in love is simultaneously accompanied by several distortions in the brain brain. When in love, there is heavy deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, the judgment center of the brain, as well as deactivation at the temporal poles and parietotemporal junction, regions that are involved in social cognition. These patterns of activation and deactivation in the brain resemble those who are diagnosed with, unsurprisingly, obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why Do We Love?

Like everything else, attraction, arousal, and love, are the products of millions of years of finely tuned biological engineering. And there’s really only one goal behind the engineering—to get you to have sex.

Falling and staying in love—the pair bonding that keeps a couple together long enough to have, raise, and care for children—almost certainly involves chemical processes that are a product of millions of years of evolution.

Across most animal species, male reproductive success hinges on mass distribution, and female reproductive success depends on careful selection and conservation. Sperm are small and continually replenished. Eggs, on the other hand, are large and precious. To put it more bluntly, sperm are cheap and eggs are expensive. Therefore, from an evolutionary standpoint, the best way for a male to increase his odds of passing his genes on is to distribute his sperm as widely as possible among fertile females. Females, on the other hand, have an interest in seeking partners who will give her the healthiest offspring so that the huge investment her body makes in pregnancy and child-rearing is worth it.

That’s the way it is in most species; they’re polygamous. But it would be foolish to believe in such genetic determinism. Knowing our biological weaknesses can help us overcome them and have fulfilling and long-lasting monogamous relationships. You could say, “Oh, it is just my DNA, and I am going to ignore it.” We all heard that line before and it’s a pathetic excuse. Biology is not destiny.

Genetic tendencies can influence our behavior, but we have the capacity to exercise control over our impulses. Similarly, you can choose to be a vegetarian for moral and ethical reasons but that smell of crispy bacon wafting in the air will still make you salivate just the same.

Conclusion

You want to know what the magic ingredient to a good relationship? Understanding. Realize that it may not be possible to completely escape evolution’s grasp. So what can we do? Be open and adapt. Understand what you like, and why you like it. Learning about the influences that millions of years of trial and error have played in our evolution as a species can bring us closer to breaking free from instincts and make informed choices. The more we understand how love works, the greater the opportunity we have to enjoy one of evolution’s greatest gifts.

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What Determines Who You Date?

-Eunhyuk-Donghae-2012-Wall-Calendar-super-junior-27731401-960-1014

Proximity!

We all have a list of qualities we want in a perfect mate. For me, I want someone who is Japanese-American, can speak Japanese well, graduated from an Ivy League university, around my height, around my age, kind, independent, has a slim but not skinny physique, and loves to eat unhealthy food. Will my next date encompass all those traits? Probably not.

A recent research study looked at speed dating and concluded that while individual preferences influence who we date, it’s actually the opportunities that have more sway on who we date. That makes sense, since we can only date and fall in love with people who are around us. Online dating can increase the pool from which we can choose, but we can’t date someone who is halfway across the country or fall in love with them (usually).

“We find that both women and men equally value physical attributes, such as age and weight, and that there is positive sorting along age, height, and education. The role of individual preferences, however, is outplayed by that of opportunities. Along some attributes (such as occupation, height and smoking) opportunities explain almost all the variation in demand. “

According to the book The Logic of Life it’s a staggering 98%! Ninety-eight percent of who we date depends on “market conditions.” Dating someone tall, short, fat, thin, professional, clerical, educated, or uneducated are all more than nine-tenths governed by what’s offered that night. In the battle between the cynics and the romantics, the cynics win hands down.

Who you propose a date to depends mostly on who happens to be sitting in front of you.

Source: “Can Anyone Be “The” One? Evidence on Mate Selection from Speed Dating” from IZA Discussion Papers

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