In dating, we place a lot of emphasis on finding the right partner. Dr. Ty Tashiro takes this to a whole new level in his book, The Science of Happily Ever After. He argues that you can greatly improve the odds of finding lasting love by being choosier about whom you date. Scientific research shows that the strongest predictors of relationship success are not the couple’s communication skills or compatibility, it’s the characteristics of the people involved. So if your strategy is to wait around for your manic pixie dream girl to find you and sweep you away on a quirky adventure, you’re doing it wrong. You’re just as likely to be visited by the one and only flying spaghetti monster.
When it comes to the important business of choosing a partner, doesn’t it make sense to put a little thought into it? Not leave it to the whims of the vengeful gods? Dr. Tashiro suggests that you look for the following traits when selecting a mate:
- Agreeable guys and gals – their ability to empathize makes them good at intimacy both inside and outside the bedroom
- People with a secure attachment style – they’re capable of forming healthy emotional bonds and providing their partners with both support and space
And avoid these folks if you can:
- Novelty seekers – they’re exciting but they get bored easily and are prone to cheating and/or leaving
- Neurotic people – they’re hilarious but their emotional instability makes for a lot of drama
In reading this book, my first thought was, “Crap, am I undateable?” I’m a nice lady for the most part (+1), and the internet says I have a secure attachment style (+1). But nothing gets me more excited than new, shiny things (-1), and I’m generally anxious and fond of Woody Allen movies (-1). I’m a solid 50/50 bet.
My second thought was this: This dating strategy only makes sense if you are willing to settle for a loveless relationship. Sorry science, but love wants nothing to do with you and your lecturing. I do believe we can use science to understand why we feel and behave the way we do. I’m more skeptical of our ability to wield this knowledge to our advantage. How many of you would give your left kidney to be attracted to that nice, stable, cute (wo)man who asked you out? But alas, you fear that being with this person would doom you to a sexless, passion-free existence for all eternity. But that gypsy punk artist with the gambling problem and anger issues…bow chica bow wow…you’d tattoo his face on your boob if he asked you nicely.
The unfortunate fact is that we tend to be most attracted to those individuals who make us the most crazy. Opposites attract, right? But why? Why do many people date the same type of “wrong” person over and over again? And why do people find themselves having the same kinds of arguments in their relationships year after year?
One theory behind this phenomenon is Harville Hendrix’s Imago relationship model, which posits that we are attracted to people who embody both the best and worst characteristics of our parents. Why would we do such a horrifying thing? I’m paraphrasing, but Dr. Hendrix explains that it’s your subconscious brain messing with you. It’s trying to recreate the parent-child dynamic in an effort to right the wrongs done to you in childhood.
Your parents need not have been abusive, alcoholic monsters for this to apply to you. Have you been around a child lately? Their little hearts are black holes composed entirely of vulnerability and need…and love. No parent is capable of meeting a child’s mountain of needs all the time. Even if your father was Mister Rogers, he messed you up a little bit. Maybe you felt like he was paying too much attention to Henrietta Pussycat, and it hurt your feelings. Yes, we’re that fragile.
Let’s say you had a very controlling and anxious father who fretted over you all the time. You may grow up to be what Dr. Hendrix calls an “isolator,” someone who needs a lot of space and pushes people away. Your goal in a relationship is to make sure you maintain your independence. You’re a lone wolf on an island, doing it your way, taking less traveled roads, dancing by yourself, so on and so on.
On the other hand, maybe you had a neglectful mother who was always too busy for you. As a result, you may become a “fuser” with an insatiable need for closeness and affection. Your hidden relationship agenda is to receive constant reassurance that you’re worthy and loved.
The sad irony of the situation is that these two types tend to be magnetically drawn to one another. Nightmare ensues. I lie in the isolator camp, which means that if I sense that someone is trying to get too close to me too fast, I go straight to crazytown. It may look something like this:
|Out Loud||Inside Brain|
|Fuser Boy:||Hey Sarah, I haven’t heard from you, so I thought I’d stop by and surprise you with some flowers because I love you and you’re beautiful!||You’re so selfish. Why have you been ignoring me? It’s been 3 hours. Aren’t you still attracted to me? Where did the love go?|
|Isolator Sarah:||Oh hi. Flowers. Yeah, that’s so nice of you.||Do that again and so help me, I will tie those thorny stems together and strangle you with them. Sweet, sweet murder.|
|Fuser Boy:||I picked these out because of that one time you mentioned you like the color yellow. By the way, are you busy tomorrow?||And by tomorrow I mean the next 14 days straight so we can do nothing but cuddle and stare into each other’s eyeballs while talking about our childhoods.|
|Isolator Sarah:||Thank you. Oh gosh you’re the sweetest. I’m so busy right now. Work, it’s the worst. But I’ll see if I can wrestle in some free time.||Don’t you see, he’s trying to possess you in order to gain access to your spine because that’s where your soul lives. He wants it for his collection of lady souls that he hides inside a creepy shoebox. Launching Operation Sabotage Relationship in 3…2…1…|
Obviously, we do not intentionally seek out partners who are guaranteed to drive us crazypants. We think we’re simply seeking out individuals with good qualities such as intelligence, compassion, and a Beyonce butt. However, this just isn’t how we operate. We like what we like; it’s really hard to control.
So what to do? This blog is supposed to contain advice, I realize, so here we go. I suggest you do your best to follow Dr. Tashiro’s advice. Seek out nice, secure, and emotionally stable folks. If you can’t convince one of these rare unicorn people to date your dysfunctional ass, then you better get on with the business of figuring out what your mommy and daddy issues are. Recognizing your pattern is the first step to altering it. The one thing I’m absolutely convinced of at this point is that long-term relationships only succeed if you approach them consciously.
Being conscious in your relationship means you are vigilantly self-reflective. You constantly investigate your own motives, feelings, and actions, and you do so as honestly as possible. This means acknowledging some of the less than awesome parts of yourself, but hopefully in a forgiving, gentle way. You then learn how to catch yourself before you unthinkingly give into your negative patterns. You work to grow past these things and do better. Because at the end of the day, finding the right partner is not going to do it. You gotta learn how to be the right partner. Yes, your lover person is messed up and annoying and sort of stupid sometimes. So are you. But the difference is, you can’t change them, can you?
Footnotes: I feel like I’m picking on Dr. Tashiro, but I certainly don’t mean to. I greatly enjoyed his book, which is entertaining, well-researched, and well-written. His arguments are more nuanced than I make them seem here. If social science and relationships interest you, definitely give it a read.
Information about the Imago relationship model came from Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt.
Featured Image: By Neil Moralee; (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/) Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/neilmoralee/
Zooey Deschanel: By Cindy Maram/Dig In Magazine (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Flying Spaghetti Monster: By Gavin St. Ours from Baltimore, MD, USA (FSM in Charm City Uploaded by Trockennasenaffe) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Daryl Dixon: By AMC Network; Source: http://www.amctv.com/shows/the-walking-dead/cast/daryl-dixon