Would you like to be in a relationship right now? Turns out, contrary to the media frenzy on casual sex that suggests that people are only interested in casual sex….well, that’s just not the whole story.
Recently, researchers asked 706 undergraduates if they would prefer to be in a traditional romantic relationship or an uncommitted sexual relationship? Turns out, quite a few of those undergrads would choose a relationship over casual sex (63% of males and 83% of females, actually).
There’s lots of reasons why casual sex and hooking up is trending right now…things like more people going to college/university (or some type of post-secondary education) than ever, higher rates of sex before marriage, widespread use of contraceptives, higher rates of living together before marriage = a later age of first marriage and subsequently, more casual sex.
But not as much casual sex as you think. This study from 2003 asked participants about their comfort regarding hooking-up and how comfortable they thought their peers were about hooking up. Turns out people really overestimate how cool their peers are with hooking up which may result in people thinking they since all of their peers are cool with casual sex, they should be, too.
So let’s all relax. Not everyone is having casual sex. And for those who choose to engage in casual sex, well it seems to be a bit of a norm for young adults and that’s okay.
Well you probably shouldn’t hate the person, that’s a good place to start. You shouldn’t dread spending 2 hours with this person. You probably shouldn’t be thinking of all the other things that you were rather be doing. But heck, if you don’t want the date to end, then by golly, I think you might just be having a great date!
When I lecture about first dates, I love to ask the audience about the best type of activity for a first date. I give them options like going to a fun bar, going on a hike, having dinner at a nice restaurant, or doing to see a new movie.
Surprisingly I get people voting for the movie option. I think that’s the worst place if you really don’t know the person since in my opinion, first dates are really for Q&A and it’s hard to play Q&A in a silent movie theatre.
There are those that favour the night at a fun bar…I can live with that – assuming the people both enjoy being out in a loud, busy environment. Whatever floats your boat.
Dinner at a resto is a classic…maybe not a great idea for a first online date (because really we just need to make sure your pics check out and you’re not a troll and that you have some social skills, so I think coffee or drinks is better – in and out!) but dinner can be fine for a non-online first date.
But here is why the hike (or some other physical activity date) is the best idea…
In 1974, these researchers conducted the Capilano Suspension Bridge Study. And here’s how it went down…
2 different bridges are used for the study. One is the Capilano Suspension Bridge (unsteady bridge). The other is a bridge made of wood, not high, person can clearly see the ground beneath them (steady bridge).
A female researcher stands on the bridge and approaches males who pass by. She invites them to participate in a study on the effects of exposure to scenic attraction on creative expression. Men complete a short little survey package where they are asked to write a brief dramatic story based on a picture of a woman that they are given. Men complete the questionnaire and are told to call the female researcher if they would like more information about the study (she tears off a piece of paper and writes down her name and number).
They measure sexual content of the stories AND whether or not the men call her for more information.
And what happens? Well men who were on the unsteady bridge were more likely to write stories that included sexual content. They were also more likely to call the female researcher.
Why is this? Well the authors suggest that being on the bridge (being in an aroused state) resulted in the men writing more sexual stories and being more willing to call the researcher because they misattribute the adrenaline from the bridge as arousal/liking the researcher.
So moral of the story here, folks?
Do something exciting on a first date! You may not have the money for Bachelor/Bachelorette style crazy first dates, but let’s agree that no one should be sitting down and having coffee.
For a neat short video about the bridge experiment, check this video out.
Speed dating research is a bit of a hot topic in the relationship research literature these days. Why you ask? Well its kind-of a perfect blend of mimicking real-world situations where we make quick judgments potential dating partners. Researchers can re-create these situations and run multiple speed dating events. And bonus if you are a participant who leaves a research study with 8 phone numbers. Not bad, right?
What do we know about speed dating? Well we know it matters who sits and who moves seats – the person who moves seats takes on a more active role – even when they are women. We know that who else in the room matters – especially if you perceive your fellow same-sex speed daters as steep competition.
But what about the qualities of the actual speed daters themselves?
Well in this study 187 undergrads came in and took part in a speed dating event with 11-12 dates. Before the event, they filled out an online questionnaire assessing various personality measures such as religion, hobbies and interests, political background, how attractive someone would rate him/herself, etc.
So participants do the speed dating event and after each date, they take 2 min and fill out the same info about how they would rate their various dates, how similar they think they are to the partners, and how much they liked the partners.
And how does similarity measure up?
Well turns out….just thinking you are similar to your speed dating partner was a more legit predictor of participants matching (both partners listing each other at end of event) and partners reporting that they liked the other person.
So the people could actually be quite different (not share that much in common based on their separate questionnaire scores) but report that they think the person is similar and that they would like to meet the other person. Weird, right?
So…opposites don’t attract. Sharing interests matters. Buuuut…maybe that just matters to keep people together in the long-run. Appearing similar seems to get you into the first half of the game.
According to relationship research, there are two big types of turning points for relationships:
Reflective turning points – meeting partner’s family for the first time à sparks the discussion “Hey, what’s going on with us?”
Causal turning points – partner cheats on you and it sparks a different kind of discussion “Hey, we need to talk”
These are what I like to call a TSN Turning Point
According to relationship researchers, there are a number of stages to relationship development. Here is a hybrid version of the models:
Initiation (first impressions, light convo to see if person good fit for you)
Experimentation (partners try to find common interests/hobbies, most people never move beyond this stage because you might think “This person is boring, yo”)
Intensification (people ramp up disclosure to see what kind of impression they’re making once ‘dating’ has started happening, if the person introduces the other as their partner/boyfriend/girlfriend, does the other person lose their bananas? What happens when one of the partners goes away for the weekend? Do they stay in contact?)
“What’s going on between us?” (Often coincides with the condom conversation…hopefully!! If people were using them in the first place!!. So someone might say ““I’d really like to stop using condoms. Buuuuuut, that might mean we need to discuss where we are both at with things…are you seeing anyone else?”
And btw – the condo to go sans condom SHOULD be followed up with 2 other key questions: “When is the last time you were tested” and “How many sexual partners have you had since you were last tested?” = these are really really important questions!!!
Now, according to some relationship models, the sexual relationship would develop after the conversation about what is going on with us – but I think we all know that for many young adults that has changed and sex happens WAY before this convo. But back to the ‘model’….
Integration (two individuals start being known as a couple, do things together, only show up as a couple to social functions)
Bonding (people make a public commitment to other person – such as marriage or nowadays, a much more popular way to show you are legit in a relationship – being “in a relationship” with the person on Facebook). For more info on ‘becoming Facebook official, see this post by my colleague and BFF, Amy Muise
Bam! Another TSN Turning Point. But this one is not that great of a TSN Turning Point because shit really hits the fan here…
So things used to be great, but you’re having doubts. Enter the relationship dissolution phases. Let me walk you through the model…
Individualization (people talk about “me” instead of “we”, people resent being in a relationship and having to compromise for someone else)
Circumscribing (topics discussed become very superficial and shallow to avoid any potential fights)
De-intensification/avoidance (partners physically avoid each other, someone stops answering calls/texts, person is all the sudden busy all the time or out with friends)
Separation/Termination (relationship over, could re-start remains but difficult, partners start to untangle from one another’s lives ranging from divorce to packing someone’s stuff up in a box and the dreaded – untagging yourself from being in a relationship on Facebook – the horror)
Post-interaction effect (recalibrating to being single, RSVP’ing to events as only “1”)
Now the weird thing is, we don’t know much about break-ups. Turns out, us relationship and sex researchers are much more interested in the beginning and the middle part of relationships, than the unraveling of people’s lives as their relationships fall apart. Our bad.
But here is some cool research being done at the University of New Brunswick (that’s in Canada) on break-ups that was recently presented at the annual Canadian Sex Research Forum conference in Charlottetown, PEI.
276 adults between 18-25yrs (66% female) were recruited online (Facebook, Twitter) to fill out an online survey. They had all experienced a break-up in the past 12 months.
The researchers asked about “pursuit” behaviours – behaviours typically described as in-person stalking (showing up at someone’s house or work) or cyberstalking (harassing someone via email).
Turns out, most of us like to “pursue” our ex’s a little bit. 78% of this sample reported having engaged in some type of pursuit behaviours of an ex in the past year.
Most common pursuit behaviour? – we like to call our ex (47%) or ask around regarding what they are up to (40%).Some of us like to send our ex special messages of affection online like “I love you” (22%) or just email them to make sure they keep us in the loop on their new life that mostly doesn’t include us in it (40%).
The good news is that only a few of us say things to scare our ex’s or pretend to be someone else in order to get information from them. That’s nice of us, huh?
So moral of the story here…I don’t know….maybe don’t be an asshole to your ex and don’t stalk them. That sounds reasonable, right? And don’t be an asshole to someone you’re dating but about to break up with? Nobody likes assholes.
Does what you look for in a spouse or date differ? What about in a same-sex friend versus a cross-sex friend? This results from this study suggest, yes!
But how do we know this? 700 students (59% women, 41% men) were asked about their personal preferences for one of the following:
Casual sex partner
Then, participants were asked to rank their preferences of the following personality traits from 1 (not at all attractive) to 9 (extremely attractive):
Warmth and kindness
Money or earning potential
Expressiveness and openness
Sense of humor
Similar interests/leisure activities
Complementary personal characteristics
What should make us feel warm and gooey inside is that regardless of the type of relationship, people reported that they wanted the following: warmth, kindness, expressiveness, openness, and sense of humour.
But when we start to do some comparisons, this is where we see some cool differences:
Casual sex partner versus date/mate
– warmth, kindness, expressiveness, openness, sense of humour is desired for either. Why? People likely viewing casual sex partner as a potential long-term mate so they don’t differentiate too much.
– When it comes to a casual sex partner, participants reported a preference for the person to be physically attractive and sexually experienced vs date/spouse
– Here’s the bad news: it was less important for a casual sex partner to be intelligent or warm
– Moral of the story: people will settle when it comes to casual dates (a pattern not seen when examining potential dates or longer-term mates)
Romantic/sexual partner versus friend
– Compared to a friend, people wanted dates, spouses, casual sex partners to score high on extrinsic attributes – things like social status and physical appearance. Guess the people you date say something about yourself.
– People also desired that their romantic/sexual partners had humour, expressiveness, and warmth. Apparently, we care more about what our dating partners have vs our friends (which makes sense. Unless you’re sleeping with your friends).
Same-sex friend vs opposite sex friend
– When it comes to our opposite-sex friends, we desire higher levels of physical attractiveness, intrinsic characteristics (warmth, kindness), and social status.
– But why, you ask? People unconsciously (or consciously) recognize that reproduction is possible with a cross-sex friend so we still want our opposite-sex friends to have good mate traits. We likely view the friendship as stepping stone to romantic relationship.
So…when someone asks you to be their cross-sex friend, feel good about your physical attractiveness, warmth, kindness, and social status.
This semester marks the end of my official re-entry back into life as a professor. This is basically a perfect summary of what it was like.
But as I head into the holiday season, here are my personal 2013 professor lessons learned:
a) You can get people jazzed about learning when you actually give a shit about what you’re teaching. And these two things are absolutely intertwined.
b) My students listened to me (at least) some of the time – while they weren’t effing around on Facebook or online shopping (seriously, they didn’t even try to hide it from me when they knew I was standing at the back of the room and had a perfect line on their laptops….wtf?!). Most of the time I didn’t hear crickets when I asked questions. Probs cuz their participation was heavily weighted.
And they heard me – as the quotes below show. Now….the fact that they listened to me is both kinda crazy (I’m considered the ‘authority’ simply cuz I stand behind a podium) and horrifying (how I present at topic can legit effect what these students really think about some of this stuff).
Seriously? Who gave me this kind of power?
c) Challenging people to confront their values about sex, relationships, love, and life is a really f’ing sweet teaching gig. Let’s do it all over again in January, shall we?
Here are some of the more poignant responses from my students from my third year Interpersonal Relationships psychology course…
Question: How has this course made you think differently about interpersonal relationships?
(PS – this was the BEST question ever. What a great way to gauge what they actually “heard” in class, you know…in between the tweeting, texting, creeping, and other non-class related activities they were busy doing)
Personally, this course was a slap of reality to my life.
It makes me realize how crazy I am.
Casual sex is good and now is a good time for it because you will never be surrounded by so many people outside of university.
I now know that if I like someone and they are already with someone else, I have an 50% chance that I can successfully poach that person from their partner.
Love may not be all we think it is (totally understand this now).
Casual sex is okay!
I’m more cynical about relationships.
I have begun to understand that love is real, in that is has an evolutionary basis. Prior to this course, I had seen it as a bullshit hallmark invention. Demonstrating that love shows commitment which fosters relationships make it more relevant in my view.
Those GGG tips didn’t hurt either (FYI – GGG: Being good, giving, and game in the bedroom)
I hold more value to the evolutionary forces that drive us, such as who we find attractive for gene continuation and why certain things cause/cue arousal (pupil dilation)
I have a different perspective on love (in a good way!) and where our attraction and mating strategies originally came from…by looking at it in an evolutionary perspective.
According to the passionate love/companionate love theory, I feel like after the first 2yrs +/- 6 months a relationship sucks (lol) but the triangle theory of love keeps me hopeful.
And for the pièce de résistance…
Casual sex: I definitely mostly look at casual sex differently! I used to definitely think it was a bad thing because of the risk of STIs, it doesn’t serve a long-term purpose, and how media shows it as a bad thing for women. Now I consider – based on the professor’s research – the possible benefits and lack of disadvantages of casual sex because of the different types.
So this semester I had to give not one, but two, lectures on love. Like all good procrastinators, I avoided it as long as I could and then was left with no option but to sink my teeth into it. And it was actually pretty cool once I got into it.
Turns out…..we don’t know that much about love. Given the massive body of literature on relationships, you’d think we’d have tackled this and laid it to bed long ago.
So because I’ve got a serious hankering for anything evolutionary psych these days, obviously I totally dig Helen Fisher’s theory of love. She breaks it down like so. There are 3 brain systems that evolved for mating/love. If you have 18 minutes, watch this
1. Sex drive – this brain system provides the motivation to actually get out there and find a partner, typically motivated by sexual gratification
2. Romantic love – this brain system allows you to focus your attention on one person, typically feelings of elation (obsession develop shortly thereafter), which lead to feeling of commitment – important because…
3. Attachment – commitment needs to be engaged if you are going to settle down and have any chance in hell of raising children successfully
But what’s super cool about love from an evolutionary perspective is that it’s an “honest signal” – meaning, it’s pretty hard to legitimately fake being in love. Now the thinking here is that men should fall in love quicker to show women that they are in it for the long haul (or at least not just in it to hit it an’ quit it). And love is costly! I’m not talking about buying your lover a fancy dinner. I’m talking about essentially announcing to the world that you have committed to someone else (going Facebook official, anyone?) – this is reproductively costly shit, yo.
So these researchers set out to see how love is experienced by men and women. I shared the following study with my class cuz a) it’s evolutionary and b) had some cool findings re gender.
The researchers surveyed 375 community participants (159 women, 119 men) about their number of loves, if they had ever fallen in “love at first sight,” who fell in love with who (for their most recent love), and whether or not they had every loved someone who didn’t love them back.
So generally no difference in who is more likely to fall in love with the other person first – men 27%, women 32%. And men and women report having been in love an equal number of times – men 4.44, women 4.57.
But men were more likely to report having fallen in love at first sight (.67 times) vs women (.40). This was a significant difference until the researchers controlled for sex drive (do you think about sex a lot, do you masturbate frequently, etc) and then there was no gender difference in love at first sight.
Here’s the sad panda news – men are less likely to date their loves (69%) compared to women (80%).
So….we need to do some more work on love. Obviously.
In the meantime, if you have 20ish minutes, watch Helen Fisher’s talk on love.