What’s love got to do with it?

The psychology of modern dating.

I was listening to a History podcast the other day and it had me thinking…

Why does dating seem so hard these days?

I mean, was finding a partner/dating truly better in the past, or is it that thing we tend to do of romanticising the past? Was it circumstantial? Are we now too woke, whatever that means?

What factors affect dating?

I came across the concept of the Big 5, a personality classification based on 5 major traits. These include conscientiousness (such as being goal-directed and thoughtful), neuroticism (such as emotional instability or resilience), openness (whether it's being open to new experiences or having an interesting imagination), extraversion and agreeableness.

You can try out the test here if you’re into that sort of thing. 

Although some studies show that certain traits (such as higher levels of extraversion and conscientiousness) are more desirous, there isn’t a consensus. I don’t believe in a blanket list of preferences as the human taste is diverse. Maybe what matters the most is similarity, or a lack thereof, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Another obvious predictive factor is physical attractiveness. This is particularly touchy because often, we don’t like to admit this one. It makes us feel superficial.

But looks matter. Always have, perhaps always will.

It plays closely with the psychology behind pretty privilege, a bias ingrained in us (although not impossible to overcome). 

Luckily, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. And this is heavily influenced by culture.

But what about the question that has plagued us for centuries? No, I don’t mean how can we achieve World Peace. When it comes to romantic relationships, what’s the truth here? Do birds of a feather flock together? Or do opposites attract? 

It turns out similarity has the bigger predictive score for a successful long-term relationship.

However, many other factors abound.

It’s funny because on the flip side, being seen as too perfect has a net negative effect…

In a social psychology experiment done, participants were made to listen to 4 tape recordings of a person answering questions in a quiz. Out of these, 2 were answered perfectly, 2 were not.

But there was a twist.

1 in each group “accidentally spilt coffee” on themselves.

Now known as the Pratfall Effect in social psychology, the result revealed that individuals who seem perfect but then commit a blunder are found to be even more attractive. But the caveat is that they were already seen as attractive.

This ability to make mistakes helped form a sense of relatability and attainability.

The irony, however, was that there was the opposite effect for the 1 already considered unattractive.

Yikes. Tough love.

The internet and modern dating

“We are in the process of redefining how humans communicate and potentially how we fall in love.” — Dr Venus Nicolino 

This begs the question.

In the pre-technology era, how did people find partners? Well, they mostly met through family (in arranged partnerships) or through friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of—you get the point. Whether it was through social events or an actual set-up, finding a partner was relatively “straightforward”.

Nowadays, things are more interesting.

Contrary to what we might think, technology-assisted dating has been around for a while. These date back to 1959 when a class project at Stanford University was used to match 49 men and women, using a questionnaire. However, in the early 1990s, dating sites shot into the dating scene.

By the 2000s, the rate of usage went up with the introduction of smartphones.

It seemed like all of a sudden, there were all these options within the dating pool and the ease of swiping.

These apps attempt to aggregate these psychological factors — personality, looks etc — by collecting data to match potential partners.

I once had a conversation where an argument was being made on the beauty of having so many choices in this digital age but is that an illusion? Does this do more harm than good? I mean…

When does an abundance of choice leave the realm of freedom to dangle on the edge of its form of imprisonment?

Because of the brain’s affinity for novelty (which releases feel-good chemicals such as dopamine), we can fall for the shiny object syndrome. This can have us in a never-ending loophole of seeking out “something/someone better”.

These apps have since evolved, with a focus on one's proximity. Some even attempt to match you based on the people you walked past during the day. Freaky.

It’s important to note that just like in face-to-face dating, there’s a percentage of people on these apps that aren’t looking for relationships. They’re either curious or see the experience as a video-game scenario; both of which supply dopamine-novelty hits.

Also, ghosting isn't easy to do when the other person isn’t another thousand miles away.


Why do we even feel the need to date, anyway?

In evolutionary psychology, social relationships were very important for human survival. They still are. But partnerships even more so. They ensured the continuity of the human race, strengthening ties across different families and sociocultural acceptance.

Dr Guy Winch, a psychologist who works with couples and families, has this advice to give:

“What's the thing that you’re passionate about? You might enjoy running or art or music. If you find a way to engage in that with other people, the people you’re likely to meet already have at least one thing in common with you. It’s a great way to meet somebody, at least in person.”

There’s no hard and fast rule to falling in love. It could happen at the grocery store, on the bus or even on social media. Some people also choose to live without romantic relationships and that’s fine.

One thing is for sure — relationships aren't easy, modern age or not.

Ultimately, humans are social beings — introvert, extrovert, somewhere in-between.

But the longest relationship you have is the one with yourself. Don't forget to nurture that too.

📠 Some exciting news…

Earlier this week, I got an email from the lovely staff over at Substack (the parent platform of these letters) about being featured on their Front Page. As the patient (because slow doesn’t sound too nice haha) thinker that I am, it took me about 3 days to fully process that exciting news.

My heart is so full.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to you, if you’ve been reading along for a while or you just joined.

🔌 Recommendation of the week!

This vlog-style documentary on what it’s like to live in the coldest city in the world (-71oC had me weak). It’s always refreshing to see other cultures.