On The Science Of Dating
I’m sitting on the phone, coffee cup in hand, listening to a client of mine rehash her most recent breakup. “I think my problem is that I keep dating the same man.” There’s a brief pause as I hear her take a bite out of whatever her lunch is that day. “He’s always tall and skinny, that’s what I like, but he’s also always a bad boy.”
I’ve heard that statement all too many times before, as I’m sure you have. Women love bad boys. In fact, entire movie plots have been built on this premise. But as D, my client, continues her story, I’m now thinking about why it is we women love the bad boys; the aggressive, dominant, sometimes over the top but often the alpha-male guys we just can’t seem to get enough of (blame the testosterone). I recall a research study I read once where women were asked to…
Wait a second…a research study? We are talking about falling in love here, right? Absolutely. But just as we are hopeless romantic, emotional human beings wanting to find Mr. or Mrs. Right, we are also the result of thousands of years of biology and evolution.
At its most basic level, the marriage of science and relationships has taught us that we find beauty in youthful traits (big eyes, shiny hair, lush lips); that bad boys are attractive because the same high testosterone levels that make them the alpha-male type also lends the promise of passing that on to their offspring and that men love curvy women because it shows higher levels of fertility.
Sure, there are exceptions to the rules, particularly when we allow our higher-level thought processes to overrule our basic animal instincts and choose “that nice guy who makes us laugh” instead. That’s a good thing, because not all men are Conans (the Barbarian, not O’Brien) and not all women have the perfect pout and knockout curves of Angelina Jolie.
At a deeper level, the intersection of science and romance can teach us a lot about why we make the decisions we make, or choose the partners we date, and give us a better understanding of our motivations as people. Somewhere in a neuroscience class some years ago I read that “the good feeling” we often get when meeting someone we decide we can trust possibly occurs because of the release of a hormone called oxytocin that floods our brain. If you’ve heard of oxytocin before, you’ve probably heard of it in relation to mothers or giving birth as it’s so-called “the cuddle hormone.” But this release, which happens in both men and women, is responsible for helping us pick who we’d trust our children with, why we feel comfortable with someone driving us home, or who we give our money to.
So fast-forward some years and several neuroscience and genetics courses later, I found myself newly single and reflecting on my past relationships. Could I have known he would cheat from the beginning? How do I pick a better partner? Are the red flags that obvious, but I didn’t know how to read them? How do I know whether I should quiet my gut reaction or follow my intuition? How can I make myself a more attractive partner? What immediate actions can I take that will allow my date to open up to me?
Science gave me some answers and experience provided another piece to the puzzle. When I started my dating coaching and matchmaking company, I enjoyed surprising clients of all ages and backgrounds with research that was relevant to their current situation, adding the human element that showed them, “hey, I really am listening to you!”
I’m looking forward to sprinkling the JDate blog with some neuro-nerdiness and getting to know this great community.
If there’s one piece of nuts and bolts advice I can give you, it’s this one: Hug your first date instead of shaking hands. There’s something about a hug that does more than elevate your level of comfort socially. Remember that “cuddle hormone” I mentioned earlier? Turns out a good hug can give us a little spike of oxytocin, too – a great feeling to start and end your first date with.