Home‎ > ‎

Love and Romance

Some people just want casual sex. But what should you do if you’re looking for a long-term relationship? Finding your soul mate is like digging for buried treasure. Yes, some people get lucky and trip over a treasure chest as they’re walking down the beach. But your odds are much better if you have a map and a metal detector. It also helps if you have a strategy for sorting the trash from the treasure. The purpose of this article is to equip you with the tools and tactics you need to find true love.

The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
-Bertrand Russell

Love Funnel
Selling is very similar to dating. In both cases, you’re trying to find good customers for your product. To close more sales, salespeople use a technique known as a “sales funnel.” At the top of the funnel, you start with prospects. A prospect is someone who has the potential of becoming a customer. Prospects are generated by activities such as advertising, networking, and sales calls. If prospects show interest in your product, they are upgraded to the status of a qualified sales lead. You gain new customers when you convince leads to buy what you’re selling.

It takes a lot of prospects to generate a single customer. The reason is only a handful of prospects convert into leads, and only a handful of leads convert into customers. To improve your chances of finding a customer, you must either increase the number of prospects and leads, or increase the conversion rate of prospects into leads, and leads into customers.

For your love funnel, you’ll probably have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince or princess. Improve your odds by visiting ponds where higher-quality frogs are known to swim. When you meet a nice frog, determine quickly if it’s going to be a short-term or long-term relationship. The faster you get out of dead-end relationships, the more time you have for promising prospects.

Don’t waste the pretty.
-Greg Behrendt, He’s Just Not That Into You

In a survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, researchers asked singles seeking relationships how many dates they had in the past 3 months1.
  • 36 percent had 0 dates
  • 13 percent had 1 date
  • 22 percent had 2–4 dates
  • 25 percent had 5 or more dates
Almost 50 percent of people looking for love had less than one date in the past 3 months. That’s less than four dates a year. At that rate, it doesn’t take a love guru to tell you that the odds of finding true love are dismal. That’s why you need to build a love funnel: more prospects + more leads = more love.

Best Meeting Spots
Which ponds and lily pads are the most promising? As part of the American Life Project, researchers asked thousands of people in long-term relationships where they first met their partner.
  • 38 percent met at work or school
  • 34 percent met through family or friends
  • 13 percent met at a nightclub, bar, café, or other social gathering
  • 3 percent met through the Internet
  • 2 percent met at church
  • 1 percent met by chance
  • 1 percent met because they lived in the same neighborhood
  • 1 percent met at a recreational facility or gym
  • 1 percent met on a blind date or through a dating service
At work or school, you have more time to evaluate someone’s intelligence, personality, and values. It makes it easier to decide whether someone is worth a long-term relationship. Friends and family can be especially helpful if you tell them what sort of prospects you like. In contrast, it’s unlikely that you’ll meet someone special at the gym or through a dating service. Play the odds, and use your time wisely.

The Approach
How often do you pass someone attractive in the street? It takes courage to start up a conversation with a stranger. Here’s a routine to help you break the ice2:

You’re walking down the street and you see someone attractive. Approach him or her and start the following conversation:

You:         Excuse me, I noticed you walking by and I just want to tell you that I love your look!
                I have to run, but are you interested in meeting up for coffee sometime?

Scenario #1: person agrees to coffee

Person:    Sure, I’m up for a coffee.
You:         Great, what’s your number?

[The next day, send the person a text message and arrange a meeting. Texting is better than talking because you’re less likely to say something dumb. Plus, a brief message gives you an air of mystery.]

Scenario #2: person says they’re not sure, or not interested

You:     Yes, I know we’re total strangers. But maybe it’s fate that we’re meeting today.
            Sometimes, you just have to take a chance and see where it takes you. What do you think?

[Go to Scenario #1 if the person becomes interested. Otherwise, politely say goodbye.]

Online Dating
Only 3 percent of people met their long-term partner through the Internet. Still, you may want to give it a try because it’s a convenient way to find prospects for your love funnel. There are lots of people looking for love online. In the United States, 15 percent of Internet users visit an online dating site every month3. Popular subscription-based sites include Yahoo Personals and Match.com. But you can save your money by signing up for free sites such as PlentyOfFish.com.

How do you meet more people online? The two best ways of getting more first-contact e-mails are posting a photo, and describing yourself as physically attractive4. On average, women who post photos get twice as many e-mails, and men get 50 percent more. For physical attributes, men who describe themselves as 6’3–6’4 in height get 60 percent more e-mails than men who are 5’7–5’8. For women, the ideal height ranges from 5’3–5’8. A woman who is 6’3 should expect to receive 40 percent fewer e-mails than a woman who is 5’5.

For men, the most attractive Body Mass Index (BMI) is 27 kg/m2. An example would be 5’9 and 183 pounds. For women, the ideal BMI is 17 kg/m2. This would include someone who is 5’5 and 102 pounds. Doctors classify a BMI of 17 kg/m2 as anorexic, but women with this BMI receive 77 percent more first-contact e-mails than those with a healthy BMI of 25 kg/m2. For race, 38 percent of women and 18 percent of men prefer to meet someone of the same ethnic background.

In terms of income, men who earn more than $250,000 receive 156 percent more e-mails than men who earn less than $50,000. Educated men are also more attractive. A college degree generates 35 percent more e-mails than a high school diploma. For women, it doesn’t matter if they earn more or are better educated—most men don’t care. In the online world, it seems that beauty truly is skin deep.

Interracial Relationships
Online or in real life, the principle of homophily predicts that we will seek partners who remind us of ourselves. That’s why some people prefer to meet others of the same race. That being said, 50–60 percent of adults say they are open to interracial dating5. For teenagers, over 50 percent of Whites, African Americans, and Hispanics have dated someone of a different ethnic background.

Attitudes towards interracial dating have changed a lot in the past 40 years. In 1968, the first interracial kiss was shown on U.S. television when Lt. Uhura kissed Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek6. In 1970, only 1 out of 1,000 marriages was interracial, and Bob Jones University (BJU) in South Carolina prohibited interracial dating because “God intended segregation of the races and…the Scriptures forbid interracial marriage.” It wasn’t until 2000 that BJU canceled its interracial dating policy7. It was a sign of the times. By 2002, 30 out of every 1,000 marriages in the United States were interracial.

In studies of interracial relationships, researchers have found no difference in commitment or conflict patterns. Compared to same-race partners, interracial partners report the same or higher levels of relationship satisfaction. To paraphrase Woody Allen, you can double your chances of a date on a Saturday night if you’re open to kissing both green and brown frogs.

Have you noticed that couples often look like each other? You’re not imagining things. It’s another example of homophily in action. At Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela, researchers photographed couples and randomly shuffled the photos together8. Volunteers were asked to match up the photos of people they thought were together. Results showed that couples were matched up significantly more often than would be predicted by chance. Other studies have shown that people are more likely to choose partners whose eye, skin, and hair color are the same as their opposite-sex parent9. Do these findings apply to you? Stand in front of a mirror with your partner, and see for yourself.

As a general thing, people marry most happily with their own kind. The trouble lies in the fact that people usually marry at an age when they do not really know what their own kind is.
-Robertson Davies

Falling in Love
You know you’ve found a promising frog when you feel the rush of falling in love. Scientists have found that the experience of falling in love is common, and seems to strike men and women in much the same way10. Typical symptoms include increased energy; decreased interest in food and sleep; obsession and idealization; and intense longing for intimate physical contact. Love makes you do crazy things. It made Romeo risk everything to be with Juliet. Blame it on phenylethylamine. It’s a natural amphetamine with mild hallucinogenic effects that your body releases when you fall in love.

What influences people to fall in love? According to researchers from the University of British Columbia and Santa Clara University, the top two factors are discovering that someone likes you, and then noticing that the person has an attractive appearance and personality11. Less important factors are similarity and spending time together. Family approval is way down the list (just ask Romeo and Juliet). It seems that most people wander through life waiting for an attractive person to show interest in them.
The problem with this strategy is you might end up waiting a long time. It’s like a singles bar where everyone hopes that someone else will make the first move. Fortune favors the bold. If you see a frog you like, take a chance and do something about it. What’s the worst that can happen? If you get rejected, there will always be more frogs to kiss and more ponds to explore.

The blissful state of falling in love usually lasts a few months. In rare cases, it can extend to a few years. During this time, your brain is loaded with natural amphetamines that cloud your judgment and make things seem rosier than they are. These unrealistic expectations may explain why couples who are deeply in love before marriage tend to be less happy after marriage12. Falling in love is intoxicating. Sober up before flying to Las Vegas and getting married in a 24-hour chapel.

Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.
-Ambrose Bierce

Overcome Your Fear
In Paleolithic times, it was dangerous to be rejected. Since everyone knew everyone else, you might never get a date again. Even worse, the person’s relatives might take offence and try to kill you. No wonder it’s nerve-wracking to approach someone of the opposite sex. Practice the following exercise to overcome your approach anxiety:
  1. Approach a random member of the opposite sex.
  2. Ask his or her opinion on something.
  3. Carry on a conversation for at least 3 minutes before saying goodbye.
You:         Excuse me, can I get a quick opinion on something?
Person:    Sure, what is it?
You:         My friend just got a new cat and she wants to name him after a rock star. I think she should name him “Bono” after the singer in U2.
                What do you think?

Love at First Sight

Which is better: love at first sight or friends first? In a study from the University of Groningen, Dutch researchers interviewed married couples and asked them how their relationship started13. They also assessed the couples’ personality types, and the quality of their relationship. Results showed that relationship quality was similar between friends-first and lovers-at-first-sight, although friends-first lovers were more intimate and committed, whereas lovers-at-first-sight had more passionate relationships. In terms of personality, friends-first lovers tended to be more extroverted, independent, and emotionally stable. For lovers-at-first-sight, relationships were more loving when both partners shared the personality trait of conscientiousness. If you’re neat and clean, you’ll fight less if your partner is also neat and clean.
Whether your relationship starts off as friends-first or lovers-at-first-sight, you’ll probably end up as best friends. In a study from Texas Tech University, 44 percent of students said that their closest friend was also their romantic partner14.

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Don’t despair if you’re having a hard time finding someone. Most people do eventually get married. Over a lifetime, 88 percent of women and 82 percent of men get married at least once, with most getting married before the age of 4515. At any given time, 50 percent of women and 56 percent of men are married. The table below shows the status of relationships in the United States.

Married 56% 50% 53%
Cohabiting 2% 4% 3%
Never been married 25% 18% 21%
Divorced 11% 11% 11%
Widowed 3% 14% 9%
Separated 2% 3% 2%
Unknown 1% 1% 1%

Marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.
-Samuel Johnson

The Marrying Type
About half of women get married by 25, and about half of men get married by 27. The trend is marrying later in life. In 1970, only 6 percent of women and 9 percent of men weren’t married by the age of 30. By 1988, it was 16 percent of women and 25 percent of men. People are spending more time in school, and taking longer to build their careers.

From ages 19–25, women are more interested in marriage than men. This pattern reverses after the age of 26. As men get older, they discover that their emotional needs aren’t satisfied by spending time with their male friends16. Also, many men want a wife to take care of them and to do the housework. Once men do get married, 94 percent say they are happier than being single; 73 percent say their sex life is better; and 68 percent say that marriage has helped them become more financially stable.

Although most men want to get married, 22 percent say that “marriage is good for some people but personally it is not for you.” Compared to married men, these hardcore marriage avoiders are:
  • Less trusting of women to tell the truth about past relationships (60 percent versus 39 percent)
  • Less likely to want children (29 percent versus 6 percent)
  • Less likely to have a strong religious upbringing (25 percent versus 50 percent)
  • Less likely to have been raised in a traditional biological family (55 percent versus 63 percent)
  • More likely to say that single men have better sex lives than married men (52 versus 31 percent)
  • More likely to be concerned about losing their personal freedom (62 versus 30 percent)
Watch out for guys who don’t like kids and puppies—they might be hardcore marriage avoiders. Identify these noncommittal men quickly so you don’t waste your time. The biological clock is ticking away on your youthful good looks.

My advice to you is to get married. If you find a good wife, you'll be happy; if not, you’ll become a philosopher.

In the 1960s, only 11 percent of couples cohabited before marriage17. Now, over 50 percent live together before exchanging vows. For women between the ages of 25–39, about 25 percent are currently living with a partner, and another 25 percent have lived with a partner in the past. In terms of sex, living together is about the same as getting married—cohabiting couples have the same amount of sex as married couples. But your grandmother was right when she warned you about living in sin.
Researchers from Ohio State University found that married couples were less likely to hit and throw things when they fought. Also, married couples were more likely to be satisfied with their relationships; have higher commitment; higher self-esteem; and lower rates of depression than their cohabiting counterparts. Listen to your grandmother—don’t move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend until you’re married.

Happy marriages bring a lot of benefits, but unhappy marriages are downright miserable. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that people in unhappy marriages were less satisfied with life, had lower self-esteem, and poorer physical health18. In the United States, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation is almost 50 percent. However, the following factors significantly lower your risk of divorce15:
  • Earning over $50,000 versus less than $25,000 (30 percent lower risk)
  • Getting pregnant after marriage (24 percent lower risk)
  • Waiting after age 25 to get married versus before age 18 (24 percent lower risk)
  • Being religious (14 percent lower risk)
  • College degree (14 percent lower risk)
From 1986–2000, a study of white and black couples in Wayne County, Michigan found that 50 percent of black couples were divorced or separated by the end of the study, compared to 29 percent of white couples19. The odds of divorce were lower if women had more education. The odds were higher if couples fought frequently, or used negative behaviors such as name-calling, shouting, and insisting on having the last word.

Negativity, criticism, and disrespect are warning signs of break-up and divorce. In an Australian study, the happiest marriages were ones where spouses communicated openly about conflicts, and did not try to manipulate each other12. In the United States, National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) have found that the seven most common reasons for fighting are20:
  • Chores (13 percent)
  • Money (10 percent)
  • Children (9 percent)
  • In-laws (6 percent)
  • Religion (6 percent)
  • Leisure (6 percent)
  • Love (6 percent)
Even if you communicate well with your partner, think twice about getting married if you fight a lot. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that couples who fought a lot before marriage usually fought a lot after marriage21. Over time, fighting took its toll on the relationship. Women were more likely than men to fall out of love when there was frequent fighting.

Only two things are necessary to keep one’s wife happy. One is to let her think she is having her own way, the other, to let her have it.
-Lyndon B. Johnson

Happy Marriages
Washing dishes, taking out the garbage, doing the laundry—chores are the biggest cause of fights. The happiest couples make a point of sharing unpleasant tasks. In a study from Ohio State University, researchers found that couples who shared responsibilities were more committed to their relationship, and loved each other more22.
Similarly, researchers from the University of Hawaii found that newlywed couples who felt like equals in the relationship were happier and more satisfied with their partner, and perceived their marriage as being more stable and secure23. Other ways to strengthen a marriage include reassuring your partner about your commitment to the relationship, and being positive and cheerful even when you’re frustrated or stressed out.

In a 3-week study from North Carolina State University, couples kept a diary of their positive and negative interactions24. The two worst interactions were fighting about spending time together, and talking about past romantic relationships. The top three positive interactions were saying “I love you” and giving compliments; spending quality time together; and giving surprise gifts. When you receive an unexpected gift, your brain releases dopamine, a neurochemical that gives you a natural high25. There’s no dopamine rush if it’s expected.

Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.
-Robert Heinlein

Work and Family
In today’s hectic world, it’s challenging to spend enough quality time with your partner, especially with screaming kids to drive to soccer practice, and a Blackberry that keeps you tethered to the office. In the United States, men work an average of 43 hours a week, compared to 26 hours for women26. Lawyers work the hardest. They average 51 hours a week, followed by farmers and white-collar professionals at 47 hours. Less than 5 percent of men work more than 65 hours a week.

How much you work has a big influence on your relationship. In a 3-year survey of 20,000 American families, the probability of divorce was 2.9 percent when both spouses were working, compared to 1.2 percent when the husband was working and the wife was not. Long hours harmed women more than men. For people working more than 50 hours a week, 74 percent of men were married, compared to 54 percent of women. About 16 percent of women who worked long hours were divorced, versus 6 percent of men. For men, the consequences of working long hours were minimal if their wife didn’t work, and if there were no children in the relationship.

I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.
-Gloria Steinem

Timeless Love
Physical beauty fades with age. But it doesn’t matter if you’re happily married. In a study from Cornell University, married couples were asked to secretly rate the attractiveness of their spouses10. Eighty-five percent of husbands rated their wives as above-average in looks, compared to 25 percent of a panel of independent judges.
In a similar study, people in long-term relationships rated members of the opposite sex as less attractive than people who were single. The best defense against fading beauty is a strong and loving relationship.

The heart has its reasons that the reason knows not of.
-Blaise Pascal

  1. Madden M, Lenhart A. (2006). Online dating. Pew Internet & American Life Project.
  2. Janka PA. (2005). Getting laid in NYC: technology for the single man. http://www.puaratings.com/articles/janka-nyc
  3. Arrington M. (2006). Online dating 2.0: thirteen sites to find love. TechCrunch. July 23, 2006.
  4. Hitsch GJ, Hortacsu A, Ariely D. (2004). What makes you click: An empirical analysis of online dating. Published online October 2004.
  5. Troy AB, Lewis-Smith J, Laurenceau J. (2006). Interracial and intraracial romantic relationships: the search for differences in satisfaction, conflict, and attachment style. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 23(1):65–80.
  6. Wikipedia. Nichelle Nichols. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichelle_Nichols
  7. Wikipedia. Bob Jones University. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Jones_University
  8. Alvarez L, Jaffe K. (2004). Narcissism guides mate selection: humans mate assortatively, as revealed by facial resemblance, following an algorithm of “self seeking like.” Evolutionary Psychology. 2:177–194.
  9. Kirsta A. (2003). Genetic sexual attraction. Guardian. Saturday May 17, 2003.
  10. Hazan C, Diamond LM. (2000). The place of attachment in human mating. Review of General Psychology. 4(2):186–204.
  11. Aron A, et al. (1989). Experiences of falling in love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 6:243–257.
  12. Noller P, et al. (1994). A longitudinal study of conflict in early marriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 11:233–252.
  13. Barelds DPH, Barelds-Dijkstra P. (2007). Love at first sight or friends first? Ties among partner personality trait similarity, relationship onset, relationship quality, and love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 24(4):479–496.
  14. Hendrick SS, Hendrick C. (1993). Lovers as friends. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 10:459–466.
  15. The National Marriage Project. (2004). The state of our unions 2004: the social health of marriage in America. Rutgers.
  16. Frazier P et al. (1996). Desire for marriage and life satisfaction among unmarried heterosexual adults. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 13(2):225–239.
  17. Stafford L, Kline SL, Rankin CT. (2004). Married individuals, cohabiters, and cohabiters who marry: a longitudinal study of relational and individual well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 21(2):231–248.
  18. Hawkins DN, Booth A. (2005). Unhappily ever after: effects of long-term, low-quality marriages on well-being. Social Forces. 84(1):451–471.
  19. Orbuch TL, et al. (2002). Who will divorce: a 14-year longitudinal study of black couples and white couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 19(2):179–202.
  20. Zagorsky JL. (2003). Husbands’ and wives’ view of the family finances. Journal of Socio-Economics. 32:127–146.
  21. Kelly C, Huston TL, Cate RM. (1985). Premarital relationship correlates of the erosion of satisfaction in marriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2:167–78.
  22. Stafford L, Canary DJ. (1991). Maintenance strategies and romantic relationship type, gender and relational characteristics. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 8:217–242.
  23. Utne MK et al. (1984). Equity, marital satisfaction, and stability. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 1:323–332.
  24. Albada KF, Knapp ML, Theune KE. (2002). Interaction appearance theory: changing perceptions of physical attractiveness through social interaction. Communication Theory. 12(1):8–40.
  25. Schultz W et al. (1997). A neural substrate of prediction and reward. Science. 275:1593–1599.
  26. Johnson JH. (2004). Do long work hours contribute to divorce? Topics in Economic Analysis & Policy. 4(1):1–23.

Copyright © 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D.
Buy the book at www.MasterLifeFaster.com