If you really love, like, and/or are hot for your girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, domestic partner, FWB, F-buddy, or that person you have a secret crush on, why not give him or her the gift of a relationship science this Valentine's Day? There's nothing like a little knowledge to keep your relationship going (or to start up a new relationship). Fforget the box of chocolates; the ScienceOfRelationships.com book is just the thing to give this year!
Editor's note: We are privileged to be able to share an excerpt from Dr. Bella DePaulo's book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. Ten of the chapters in Singled Out debunk myths about single people. This send-up of Valentine’s Day advice is from Chapter 5, which mocks the myth of “the dark aura of singlehood,” which dopily proclaims that if you are single, “you are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.”
If you want to see fools rush in to provide well-meaning advice to hapless single people, buy a ticket for Valentine’s Day. One of my favorite examples appeared in USA Weekend in 2003, under the title How to survive Valentine’s Day without a sweetie. Here’s what it said...
Valentine’s Day is what it is. At its best, Valentine’s Day is a day where you can be a little extra romantic and take the opportunity to celebrate your relationship. At its worst, it is an overly commercialized “Hallmark holiday” with too much of an emphasis on chocolates, flowers, and pushy jewelry advertisements. Think what you want, but if you’re in a relationship, you should probably be thinking about what to get your partner.
You need a gift. You can read here about what to get or here to read about bad gifts to avoid. But how do you figure out how much you should spend on that gift? You could take a guess, ask a few friends, or you could do what we did and survey over 1000 people in the United States. (Click here for more details about our survey) Here’s what we found out...
Valentine’s Day typically serves as a time to show appreciation for that special someone in our lives or as an opportunity to take a relationship to the next level. It’s a time to celebrate love in all of its forms. But can it be a dangerous time for the health of your relationship?
Holidays can be stressful, but your relationship probably made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, and New Year’s in one piece. Congratulations! Valentine’s Day should be a piece of cake, right? Not so fast…
Wanna talk about your love life? People in China do. For the past year, I’ve been living in Shenzhen and working on a collection of true stories about love and marriage experiences since the rise of Communist China. Far from being viewed positively, romantic love often generates suspicion among the older generations and confusion among the young. This brief Valentine’s Day story, told to me by a charming twenty-two year old Buddhist woman, illuminates the clash of old and new ideas about love:
“The first time a boy kissed me, I was fifteen, and it was Valentine’s Day. He pretended to have a school question to ask, but instead he declared that he liked me. He pressed a rose into my hand, which I tried to refuse, stammering that I didn’t like him at all. I turned to go, but he pulled me close and kissed me! I wrestled my arm away and raced into my house, very flustered. After that, I hated him, thinking he was a morally rotten boy. I had never seen anybody kiss or hug in my hometown, not even married people, and nobody said, “I love you” either. I just wanted to cultivate friendships and avoid loving anyone, so I never talked to that boy again. If people in my hometown ever kissed like young lovers do in the cities, everyone would think they were degenerates, even today.”
There is a lot of pressure to impress your romantic partner with a fabulous Valentine’s Day date (I should know – Valentine’s Day is also my wife’s birthday!). If you decide to go to a fancy restaurant, how do you know which cuisine to choose? Should you go with spicy Thai or cold sushi? If you’re going to buy your partner a gift, do you choose something practical and imminently useful but unromantic (the Science of Relationships book?) or should you instead go with something useless but romantic (a stuffed teddy bear holding a satin pillow shaped like a heart with “Valentine’s Without You Would be Un-Bear-able” written on it?). Or, if you’re going to get your sweetie something, well, sweet, should you choose the heart-shaped box of chocolates that is the candy equivalent of Russian Roulette or should you buy some specialty hot cocoa?
*Wikipedia defines “middle age” as 41 – 60, so it must be true.
Everyone in a long-term romantic relationship has a story. Each of our stories is unique. Our story begins when we were 21 (Charlotte) and 25 (Patrick). We were both coming off other long-term, serious (or so we thought) relationships, and we really didn’t know what we wanted out of a relationship or what we could offer a partner. Now, 17 years and 2 kids later, we both feel pretty lucky that things have worked out as well as they have. Back then, we had no idea what challenges we would face or how we would help each other maneuver through them. We were young and optimistic, but there was so much we didn’t know.
Due to practice and a bit of research (it doesn’t hurt that we are both researchers who study romantic relationships!), we know a little more about relationships now. However, we are still never sure what to do each Valentine’s Day (see past reflections on this matter here and here). It seems like a holiday for “new lovers,” and we’ve known each other too long to feel “new” to each other. What are those of us approaching middle age and in long-term relationships supposed to do on this holiday?
Being the nerds that we are, we decided to review some relevant research to help answer this question, and we offer a few tips in case you find yourself in a similar predicament.
In my previous relationships, more than one partner on more than one occasion spat out the following emotional expletive at me:
“Your feminism has ruined you!”
I have explicitly self-identified as a feminist since my undergraduate days and enacted this feminism in my social and personal relationships. My strong feminist identification led me to to political activism and vocal critiques of women’s place in society.1 This created some tense situations in my twenties when I took pleasure in loud arguments about women’s issues and the importance of being a self-professed feminist. My close college friends and I named ourselves feminists, cursed loudly in public, flirted with insults instead of hair flips, gave one another dead roses for Valentine’s Day, and even penned a poster for our apartment that read “The Hairy-Leg Café” to play with the negative stereotypes of feminists we knew some of our peers held.2 For me, using the F-word as a proud marker of my belief in equality means that I hear subtle and not so subtle put-downs when I’m critical of sexual double standards, traditional heterosexual marriage, differences in pay and prestige, and who cleans the bathroom. I’ve been called a feminazi, dyke, man-hater, and ugly bitch by students, random men at bars, and peers when I’ve voiced my views. Fortunately, it seems that self-ascribing oneself as a feminist is not as argument-provoking or unfashionable as in the past. In fact, popular women’s magazines such as Glamour and websites like Jezebel.com claim that calling oneself a feminist is “The New Do.”3
Last month we put out a call to students attending the annual SPSP conference in Austin, Texas, saying that we'd pay the conference registration for the student who wrote the best "Quickie" for the site. After a blind review process of the many entries, we are excited to announce that we have selected a winner: Allison Farrell, a doctoral candidate from the University of Minnesota. Congratulations!
You can read Allie's winning write-up below:
Everyone knows relationship lows are hard, but could highs be bad too? Individuals in newly formed romantic couples rated their relationship satisfaction every week for 10 weeks, and then reported whether they were still in the relationship 4 months later. Lower satisfaction overall and declines over time predicted breakups, but so did fluctuations in satisfaction. Individuals whose satisfaction ratings increased and decreased wildly from week to week, even if they were generally highly satisfied, were more likely to see their relationships end than those with more stable satisfaction levels. Katy Perry was right: hot and cold relationships are tough!
Arriaga, X.B. (2001). The ups and downs of dating: Fluctuations in satisfaction in newly formed romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 754-765.
As far as mainstream holidays go, Valentine’s Day is perhaps the most heteronormative of all. From greeting cards and gifts, to television shows and movies, society inundates us with messages that Valentine’s Day is an occasion to celebrate monogamous, heterosexual relationships. It’s a day when men buy flowers, chocolates, and (for the more adventuresome) frilly panties for their ladies before having a candlelight dinner punctuated by kisses and declarations of love and fidelity. So on a day when almost everything seems to be about “devoted husbands” and their “beloved wives,” what are gays and lesbians supposed to do?
Researchers examined whether subtle reminders of love increase men’s willingness to help. Men who had been approached by a woman asking for directions to Valentine Street were willing to help a different woman retrieve her cell phone from “thieves”, helping her almost 37% of the time. Men asked for directions to Martin Street only helped 20% of the time. The simple mention of “Valentine” unconsciously motivated men to behave in a more chivalrous manner.
Lamy, L., Fischer-Lokou, J., & Guéguen, N. (2010). Valentine Street promotes chivalrous helping. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 69, 169-172.
Now that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, you may be worried about picking out the perfect gift for your partner. Is it something he will like? Will she be disappointed by your efforts? And how is a partner’s response to your Valentine's Day gift related to thoughts about the future of your relationship?
It is customary to do something special with your partner on Valentine’s Day to celebrate your relationship. Have you planned what you are going to do? You can go with the standard commercialized gifts like chocolates, lingerie, or overpriced roses. Or, perhaps you plan on simply spending some time with each other. If you go that route, rather than the trite dinner and a movie, you may want to consider doing something together that will actually make you and your relationship better.
In conjunction with “Relationship Science Month”, we surveyed over 1,000 adults in the United States, representing 49 states (Alaska, step it up next time!), to learn more about what people really think about Valentine’s Day. Over the coming week, we’ll be sharing our results with you, our readers, including answers to the following questions:
- Do people love, hate, or view Valentine’s Day as “just another day”?
- Would people prefer to spend Valentine’s Day alone, in a bad relationship, or on a bad first date?
- Is it okay to go on a first date on Valentine’s Day? Is it okay to pop the question on Valentine’s day?
- Who should be responsible for planning Valentine’s Day festivities?
- Do people prefer to receive Valentine’s Day gifts publically (e.g., at work) or privately?
- What are the top ranked gifts for men and women on Valentine’s Day?
- What are the most preferred types of flowers to receive on Valentine’s Day? The least preferred?
- Do people expect sex on Valentine’s Day?
- What’s an acceptable amount to spend on Valentine’s Day gifts?
We’ll start rolling out the results very soon. In the meantime, we have provided a description of our study sample below so that we can focus on results in upcoming posts.
“True intimacy with others is one of the highest values of human existence; there may be nothing more important for the well-being and optimal functioning of human beings than intimate relationships” (p. 42).1
Why Relationships Are Important
Take a moment to think about the most meaningful events in your life-- the experiences that have brought you the greatest joy and perhaps the greatest pain. Your close and intimate relationships are likely central to each of these experiences and help make you the person you are today. Put simply, forming lasting intimate relationships is a defining feature of the human experience.2 Years of research, and volumes of data, make it very clear that we each have a fundamental need to connect with others,3 and if we are unable to fulfill that need, there are serious negative consequences. Consider, for example, that those who are socially isolated experience more disease4 and that divorce is a risk factor for early death.5 On the positive side, high quality intimate relationships reduce risk for negative mental health (e.g., clinical depression),5 and frequency of sexual activity predicts overall life happiness even more so than making more money.6 If our relationships suffer, we lose a part of what it means to be a human. But when our relationships thrive, we are able to fulfill our true potential.
Why Science is Important for Relationships
At ScienceOfRelationship.com we understand the importance of relationships and know that increasing knowledge is a key way to help people improve their relationships and their lives. But all information isn’t created equal. The important things in life deserve data, and nothing is more important than relationships. As scientists and educators we believe that if you really want to know the truth about something, you need research. When we say "research" we simply mean that the best information comes from careful observations and measurements, systematic collection of information from lots of people, and carefully drawn conclusions based on the available evidence. It’s a labor-intensive process, but relationships are too important to take shortcuts; we don't make statements about how relationships work based on conjecture, hunches, folklore, or idiosyncratic personal experiences.
At ScienceOfRelationships.com we base every article in the ever-growing scientific literature on relationships. There's so much bad information out there, and the key is getting high quality information out to the broadest possible audience in an interesting and useful way so that people start to ignore and/or question the bad information that is out there. Our #1 goal when we started this site was to do just that: communicate scientific information in a way that can help readers make informed decisions about the most important parts of their life. After 3 years, and over 2.5 million page views later, we’re very proud to say that we’re on our way to doing just that.
Have you ever seen something bad happen to someone and felt just a little bit happy about it? Or even laughed a little (think Tosh.0 or America’s Funniest Home Videos submissions)? Click here to watch an example from the Simpsons. That’s called schadenfreude, which occurs when you experience happiness because of the misfortune of others. Seems kind of mean, doesn’t it? So, why do we experience schadenfreude, and what purpose might it serve in relationships?