“So I am a Libra. I enjoy science and blogging. I dislike dogs, people who talk in movies, and other people’s children. I am looking for a woman who breathes regularly and is at least partially heterosexual.” — so speaketh the Speed-dater. (Actually, I have never been speed dating, but I have been on an insane number of first dates.)
Speed dating — aside from being an absolutely ridiculous situation that you should laugh about with your friends when you get home — offers an interesting experimental model for why people are attracted to one another. Researchers at Northwestern have discovered that being selective (among other things) is attractive:
Speed daters who romantically desired most of their potential partners were rejected quickly and overwhelmingly, according to a new Northwestern University study.
Conventional wisdom has long taught that one of the best ways to get someone to like you is to make it clear that you like them. Now researchers have discovered that this law of reciprocity is in dire need of an asterisk in the domain of romantic attraction.
The more you tend to experience romantic desire for all the potential romantic partners you meet, the study shows, the less likely it is that they will desire you in return. (Think too desperate, too indiscriminate.)
In contrast, when you desire a potential partner above and beyond your other options, only then is your desire likely to be reciprocated. (Think hallelujah, finally, someone really gets me.)
In the past, social psychologists have had a difficult time observing initial romantic attraction in action, but the speed-dating methodology used in this study allowed the investigators to take a serious look at the chemistry that has been at the center of so much literature, art and imagination throughout the ages.
“Potential partners who seem undiscriminating are a definite turnoff, and those who evoke the magic of feeling special are a big draw,” said Paul W. Eastwick, the lead author of the study and a Northwestern graduate student in psychology. “The wild part is that our speed-daters were negotiating all of these subtleties with only four minutes for each date.”
“Selective vs. Unselective Romantic Desire: Not All Reciprocity is Created Equal,” by Eastwick and Northwestern’s Eli J. Finkel, assistant professor of psychology, will be published in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science. Also contributing to the report are Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This is total confirmation of conventional wisdom, but I still love it. Actually, the part about people making the decision very quickly also doesn’t surprise me. In my experience, you don’t know whether you will fit with a person in the first thirty seconds, but you definitely know if you don’t fit with that person.
I was just having a conversation with someone about one of the attractive things about a mate is when they are aloof. This desire for someone aloof I feel like has a similar flavor as someone who is selective. There are three reasons for this:
1) You know that they aren’t desperate. They aren’t going to turn out to be really needy.
2) You know that they have something interesting going on in their life. They could eventually include you in those interesting things.
3) The thrill of the chase. No one likes a easy bet. You want to work for it. It makes the story better.
My theory is that geeky types like scientists can use this desire for aloofness and selectivity to their advantage. “I’m sorry but I just have so much to do today, reading papers, doing experiments, saving the world, the usual. I could pencil you in in two weeks.” She swoons.
I recognize that this is entirely mercenary, but most things with dating are. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
I am curious to hear your opinions on this only moderately scientific issue.