The Curse of High Expectations in Dating

love-part-3There’s a lot of mythology in our culture about the right way to fall in love. We have an all or nothing mentality. Both men and women expect that when it happens, they’ll be hit by a lightning bolt, knocked off their feet, left dizzy and breathless. Popular stories through history cement this notion, although there are also many stories of would-be lovers at cross purposes and love at first sight between disastrously matched pairs. Overall, we have dangerously high expectations in dating.

Both sexes want chemistry, more commonly referred to as “sparks,” and that’s fair enough. The trouble is, sparks aren’t always kindled right away. Research shows that familiarity breeds attraction, and consequential strangers may become part of our lives over time. The Exposure Effect can also be powerful:

The exposure effect is “a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them…In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likable that person appears to be.”

One study found that attraction grew as people interacted more. This is so common that one researcher quipped, “Familiarity breeds attempt.”

In addition, both sexes tend to project their own sexuality when evaluating the opposite sex.

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Men Get Baby Fever Too

I was tempted to save this video for Father’s Day, but I just couldn’t wait.

One common trope in discussions about mating is the affliction known as “baby fever.” This allegedly affects women aged 30 and older, who becoming increasingly desperate to find a mate as they come face to face with an expiration date on their fertility. However, new research shows that both men and women are susceptible to the “visceral, emotional desire” to have a child.

A recent survey shows that men are nearly as likely to want children as women are, and actually become more distraught when they don’t have them. Robin Hadley of Keele University in England sums up his findings:

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Push-Pull is Flirting for Sociopaths


Source: Indexed, Jessica Hagy

One of the most insidious results of hookup culture is the retreat to the Principle of Least Interest – which says that the person who cares the least in a relationship is the one with the most power. 

Although research shows that most college students would prefer a relationship over casual sex, it’s become uncool to feel that way. It’s most prevalent among guys, but girls also fake indifference about relationships. They go for the casual hookup hoping it will turn into something more. 

Back in the days when traditional dating was the norm, playing hard-to-get was a viable strategy for women.

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Book Review: Skin In the Game

skinI first encountered Neely Steinberg in 2010 when she wrote a piece for the Boston Globe entitled Dating Like an Entrepreneur. As someone who frequently thinks of dating in behavioral economic terms, I was drawn to the pragmatic and sensible model she described. Shortly thereafter, she invited me onto her local call-in radio show to talk about dating and hookup culture. We’ve remained in touch since then, and it’s been a pleasure to see her develop a successful career as a dating coach for women.

Now Neely has written Skin In the Game: Unleashing Your Inner Entrepreneur to Find Love

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Divorce in America: Who Really Wants Out and Why

frivolityUntil now, there has been a dearth of information about divorce in America. We have census information about the number of divorces, and we also have a sense of divorce according to socioeconomic status. However, since the advent of no-fault divorce we no longer know why people divorce (not that the old classifications of “irreconcilable differences” or “cruelty” told us much). 

Historically, women have initiated about two-thirds of divorces, and that remains true today:




1867 62%
1880 67%
1922 68%
1931 73%
1960 70%
Today 66%

Source: Brinig and Allen, 2000

Men’s rights activists routinely describe female-initiated divorce as a frivolity, lacking seriousness and sense.

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