I’m a guy in my 30s. I thought I’d found the love of my life. We had an incredible first few dates. We were so in sync we didn’t even need words to communicate. However, as we’ve spent more time together, things about her are really starting to bother me — especially how she has no interest in the news or the world beyond herself and mostly wants to gossip about her friends and celebrities. How could I have been so wrong about her being The One?
There’s fairy tale romance, and then there’s fairy tale romance that’s gotten into a fender-bender with reality: “I will love you forever — uh, or until I learn your interest in international affairs is limited to the relationship status of the Queen’s beefcake great-nephew, aka ‘His Royal Handsome.'”
Contrary to that schmaltzo saying, “to know someone is to love them,” to know someone is to be increasingly annoyed by them. This is hard to imagine if we have an instant connection. Psychologist Michael I. Norton and his colleagues explain that when we like someone we’ve just met, we tend to notice all the ways they seem similar to us, which leads to our liking them more. We then assume getting to know them even better will keep our liking of them on the upswing — an assumption that plays an underrecognized role in the “disintegration of friendships, the demise of business relationships,” and divorce.
In fact, peeling the info onion generally leads to our liking a person a whole lot less, explain the researchers. We start to see evidence of “dissimilarity” — ways they aren’t like us — and it has a “cascading” effect. New information we discover about them “is more likely to be interpreted as further evidence of dissimilarity, leading to decreased liking.”
When you’re first dating someone, being mindful of how prone we are to leap to “you’re so amazeballs!” (“just like me!”) is the best defense against sliding from the initial seeing into believing. To speed your weeding-out process, you might come up with a mental list — your bottom-line must-haves in a partner. Use this to ask questions (and also observe) to see whether a woman’s ticking all the essential boxes: “You had me at knowing your Kim Jong-il from your Kim Kardashian.”
I had this amazing chemistry with a guy I met at a wedding. Then he casually dropped that he’s in a new relationship of about six months. A mutual friend told me the guy isn’t too happy with the woman and feels he’s “settling.” The guy’s been texting me in what seems to be a purely friendly way. Still, if I were his girlfriend, I’d be pretty upset.
—Confused About His Intentions
Say your car skids off the road in North Nowhere and you wake up trapped in the driver’s seat with zero bars on your phone. You’d probably trade your house, your car, and your favorite grandma for some emergency eats in the glove box — even the remains of a granola bar that looks to have been purchased just before the Lewis & Clark expedition.
Well, humans seem to have evolved to be romantic doomsday preppers: ready for any sudden famine in the partner department. At the moment, you seem to fall into the category of “backup mate” for this guy, though maybe just because he’s inconveniently still attached to somebody else.
Evolutionary psychologists Joshua Duntley and David Buss find that both men and women cultivate backup mates — “approximately three,” on average — whom we can use to rapidly replace our current long-term mate in case they die, dump us, or cheat, or their mate value takes a dive. Maintaining a romantic plan B cuts the time costs of having to start from scratch — which could be the difference between, say, a man passing on his genes and passing on what could’ve been into an old tube sock.
As disturbing (and, perhaps, dirtbaggy) as this partner reserve stock business might seem, Duntley and Buss report that even people in happy relationships seem motivated — often subconsciously — to maintain backup mates. (Not being quite aware of one’s own motives keeps away the guilt that would likely accompany consciously collecting potential relief pitchers.)
This guy you met might be figuring out whether to give notice in his current relationship, or, if that’ll be in the pipeline, figuring out how. Consider the potential risks of texting with him: getting emotionally entwined with someone who might remain unavailable and suggesting you need to take whatever romantic scraps you’re given. If you prefer to opt out of these risks, you could tell him you hope to hear from him again but that you’re a woman with standards: “Call me when you’ve lost weight — 125 pounds of excess girlfriend.”
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email [email protected] (www.advicegoddess.com). Follow her on Twitter @amyalkon. Order her latest “science-help” book, “Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence.”