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On The Science Of Dating

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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.

Melissa E. Malka is a dating coach and matchmaker in Chicago, IL. She’s been described as “a cross between Darwin and the Millionaire Matchmaker” and would love to hear from you here.
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6 Comments »

  • Melissa says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Sorry I took so long to reply — I completely forgot that there were comments enabled on JMag. For those of you interested, I’ve recently started blogging for JDate’s JBlog which you find here: http://www.jdate.com/blog/

    I’ll answer each of you individually too.

    Deb: The reason I recommend hugging on a first date is not to “lead anyone on” — remember, traditionally, hugging is not a romantic gesture, but one of friendship and comfort. If he misconstrued it to mean that you were interested in him after only one date, I’m fairly certain it’d be more because he really liked you and not that you did anything to lead him on. When he asked why you hugged him, a simple reply of “I prefer hugging to shaking hands” or “shaking hands feels too formal on a date” will suffice. No need to justify yourself.

    Denise: I’m sorry to hear that. Most of the time, the signs are clear that we are with someone who is not being faithful and we choose to ignore them because we “want to be happy” rather than starting over, alone. Now that you’re divorced, if you’re ready for some coaching, feel free to e-mail me at mel@jalbc.com

    Jerry: If you are interested in dating Jewish women, JDate is a great place to start. But, I advise that you clearly state that you are not Jewish and that you are open to conversion.

    Rawego and Mike: A hug shouldn’t be misleading! Its not the thing as a kiss! Its rather a simple way to establish a physical that shouldn’t be misconstrued as flirty! On the contrary, the small touches you mention in your comment would be considered flirty and if you weren’t into your date by the end of it, she might wonder why you had done that.

    Summary point: don’t think of a hug as a flirting tool, rather, just one to establish comfort and rapport.

    Would love to hear more from you guys! Send me an e-mail at mel@jalbc.com

    If you don’t follow the JDate blog, you can “LIKE” the company page on Facebook at:

    http://www.facebook.com/JALBC and you’ll see when updates are posted.

    xx,
    Mel

  • Mike says:

    Hey Ladies and Gentlemen,
    I have to respectfully disagree with Melissa, hugging the person when first meeting them does lead them to think there’s more going on than there really is. As a guy however, you really should form some sort of kinetics through out the date. Find a non-threatening way to touch her.. hold her hand, pinch her cheek, something fun and flirty. It will help ease the pressure off the good-bye kiss or hug.
    As far as women being attracted to Alpha’s, I agree.. it’s exactly the same as men being attracted to the seemingly most fertile female. I believe we are biologically programmed to think this way and we have no control over it. The best advice I can give is to roll with the punches and be aware of the signs early on.
    Jerry, hopefully you read this.. if you truly like the women and the religion, then go for it. Go and continue meeting jewish women, however I wouldn’t suggest converting until you meet the right one.
    I personally haven’t dated any Jewish girls until just recently, about 3yrs ago.
    Hey Melissa, can’t wait to read the next one.

    Mike

  • Rawego says:

    i’m not so sure about hugging when you first meet. as someone already stated, this tends to lead people on. i do agree that if your date went well you should hug when you part. on the bad boy syndrome, it’s all about the animal in you. naturally women are attracted to the alpha male since that is a dominant trait which is desirable in their future children. nothing wrong with that, just be ready to find out that you may not be the only female in your alpha male’s life, other women are just as attracted to him as you are, dear :)) rawego@hotmail.com

  • Jerry says:

    Hi Melissa or Debbie

    Don’t know who to talk to. I am a lost love to a beautiful Jewish girl that I know is over. My problem is I am Irish and have come o love Jewish woman. I don’t really know why. My ex lady took me to Temple and I was really impressed with the faith. I am older and she was much younger and I wish I were more prepared for all that was going on. I love the Jewish faith and I love the ladies. I want to pursue a Jewish lady and maybe convert. I am amazed at what I learned. Can any one help me talk to and perhaps meet some more amazingly beautiful Jewish ladies. I mean this sincerely. Can someone help me.

    Thank you. A older Irish Catholic that has a very open mind.

    Thank you

    Jerry D

    jerrydoh@gmail.com

  • Denise says:

    I met a “bad boy” who I was with for 10 years; 4 1/2 years married to him. He had a “secret life” which I never knew about. I have been divorced from him since 98. Now all of my friends are married and I am the only one that is single at 50, unable to find a date now for six years! Never had a problem before. I look younger that my age. Melissa, pls email me!

    Thanks.

  • Deb says:

    Interesting that you said to hug your first date. I’m new at this and had my very first date last week. When we met, i did exactly that. I hugged him. By Saturday, I had to call it off because he thought we had this amazing connection and wouldn’t stop texting and calling me. He scolded me for “leading him on” and asked why I hugged him if I wasn’t interested.

    Maybe he’s not typical. My instict was to hug him when we met but he thought it meant more than what it was, just a hug.

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