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Monday
Jun182012

The Consultant Returns: Are We Birds of a Feather?

The Consultant was back in town this week and invited me for dinner and a show. The last time I saw him was over two weeks ago for our first date, so I was excited.  He picked me up wearing a suit and carrying a bouquet of flowers. Very nice. My mother, who lives with me and was watching my children for the night, was impressed.

Over dinner I felt myself getting a little anxious. Dating is obviously a get-to-know-you exercise which involves a lot of self-disclosure, or sharing of personal information. Research has shown that such self-disclosure serves as a way to learn about the other person and develop intimacy.1 Sitting across the table from The Consultant over sushi and sake for an hour and half on our second date felt much different than our quick, happy hour first date beer. Time for more personal questions. “So, where did you grow up?” “How often to you go back to your home town?” “Do you have any siblings?” Gulp. Was I really ready for this?

Based on my past relationship experiences, I can honestly say that these initial feelings of trepidation are not new to me. I would characterize myself as being slightly avoidant of getting close to intimate partners due to some negative childhood experiences resulting from my parent’s divorce. While research has demonstrated that attachment styles, which are developed from our early parenting experiences, are quite stable over time, specific adult intimate relationships can alter the strength of one’s attachment style.2 In my case, my ex-husband was not mentally healthy; I consequently avoided dating for a good year and a half following our divorce. It is no wonder, then, that although I was enjoying talking to the Consultant, I had a strong desire to change each topic of conversation with him when I felt like it was getting a little too serious. 

After dinner, we saw a musical interpretation of the Irish crossing the Atlantic and settling in the U.S. I thoroughly enjoy the arts and theatre, but I was not overly optimistic about this production. Once the pony-tail wearing lead tenor burst into a serious and passionate rendition of U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For, I burst out laughing. The Consultant joined me. It took all the strength I could muster to suppress snickering and scoffing the rest of the show, and The Consultant’s Mystery Science Theatre type commentary was not helping. No one else apparently thought it was funny, which made us laugh even more.

Just then, I realized that the feelings I was experiencing earlier on in the date were gone. What was I feeling so avoidant about? We were just having fun!  I did not have to make it any more serious than I was comfortable or ready for.  A classic theory of attraction, the affect attraction model2 states that any positive feelings that come out of an interaction impact our evaluations of others. In other words, the positive feelings I experienced while laughing with the Consultant made me evaluate him more positively. His use of humor is also an effective mating strategy signaling intelligence and having good communication skills; humor is essentially something that women use to gauge mate “fitness.”4 He was fitting that bill. We were also quite similar in that we were finding the same thing humorous, and research has long demonstrated that similarity breeds liking (and attraction).5 We like people who are like us.  

I realized then and there that he was not someone I wanted to avoid. Therefore, the positive affect induced by our laughter, as well as the realization that we were similar in our enjoyment of mocking the corny musical production, led to me liking him more and more. I suspect I will go out with him again.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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1Laurenceau, J., Barrett, L. F., & Pietromonaco, P. R. (1998). Intimacy as an interpersonal process: The importance of self-disclosure, partner disclosure, and perceived partner responsiveness in interpersonal exchanges. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1238-1251

2Fraley, R. C., Vickary, A. M., Brumbaugh, C. C., & Roisman, R. I. (2011). Patterns of stability in adult attachment: An empirical test of two models of continuity and change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 974–992

3Byrne, D., & Clore, G.L. (1970). A reinforcement-affect model of evaluative responses. Personality: An International Journal, 1, 103-128.

4Wilbur, C. J., & Campbell, L. (2011). Humor in romantic contexts: Do men participate and women evaluate? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 918-929.

5McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 415-444.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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