On the cover of his recent book, Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari is pictured standing against a white background, with hearts over his eyes, looking down solemnly at his cell phone. The image evokes some confusion (he appears to be searching for something and doesn’t appear very happy). It seems Ansari has set out to clarify things; his book aims to tackle many important questions that young adults have in the dating world of 2015. What makes a person attractive? Can people really find love through a website or a phone app? Are people only interested in sex these days? How does dating in America compare to dating in Europe, Asia, or South America? And what’s the secret to a happy relationship? Ansari is attempting to capture the essence of close relationships in our era and to address the existential crises that many millennials feel as they try to navigate their lives and make the right decisions. Ansari is a powerful voice for my generation – one that speaks with confidence, clarity, and creativity. He is a comedian, a writer, and an actor – he’s starred in some very popular TV shows and movies, and is a prolific stand-up comic. But Ansari stands out from his colleagues in that his book strives for scientific accuracy. He’s not just looking to make people laugh, he’s looking to educate them and to shine a light on some mystifying social phenomena. In writing this book, Ansari teamed up with renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg and consulted with several high-profile psychologists including Barry Schwartz, Helen Fisher, Eli Finkel, Sheena Iyengar, and others.
Entries in uncertainty (16)
I have been dating a Filipino girl for about 7 months. It has been a very serious relationship at times, and I decided to give her a friendship ring. I am much older than her; she in her 30s and I'm in my mid-50s. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to walk with her, and I think she does, too, because of the age difference. Lately we have been arguing a lot about things related to jealously. She is a nanny at a huge home in the city. I see her only on weekends. She and I have discussed marriage and buying a house, but I get the feeling she is nervous as I am, too. The place where she lives is odd to me; maybe I am just ignorant, but it seems to me that she adores her employer, who can do nothing wrong; he is a really, really nice guy (so she says). She lights up when talking about him and looks for him when she goes there, and when he is not there she seems depressed. I wonder if there is anything there? He gives her gifts, which makes me feel uncomfortable. I worry if I am wasting my time. He has asked her if I have a house, and they just seem a little too close for my liking. In the summer he is with her all day, and I feel insecure. She tells me I am her man, but I've noticed a few looks here and there. I think his marriage is not the best; he is on the road all week and sees her only on weekends. Should I be concerned or am I just an idiot??!!! Is it possible that she developed an attachment to him when she first arrived from the Philippines? And she also has had a troubled relationship with her dad at home in the Philippines. I do love her very much and want to marry her some day. I think she does, too, but I have an odd feeling about it is all...
I think you answered your own question. You start by saying your relationship has been very serious “at times,” implying the seriousness fluctuates. You feel “embarrassed” to walk around with each other in public. There seems to be a lot of jealousy and arguing. You are both “nervous” about next steps (buying a house and getting married). Sounds to me like you may want to address these issues before considering taking the relationship to the next level.
Editors' note: Last week, Dr. Andy Merolla responded to a reader's question about distance in relationships; this week, he gives four tips for maintaining long-distance relationships.
What can you do to improve your long-distance relationship? Research on relational uncertainty, expectations, and long-distance relationships offers us the following ideas.
- Be direct. During periods of heightened uncertainty, it’s important to openly talk about your concerns with your partner.1 In light of your budget and time constraints, you and your partner need to have some frank discussions about the appropriate number and timing of visits in the coming months. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a “magic number,” so the two of you need to determine what makes sense for you. If you aren’t sure, that’s okay.
Q: A lot of research has been done on long distance relationships, and internet articles abound with advice for those couples. However, what about couples who aren't quite long distance, but certainly aren't geographically close? My partner of over a year and I are navigating this sort of relationship right now (as college students on a budget), where we either live 50 to 90 minutes apart by car, depending on whether school is in session or not. As committed as we are, and as excited as we are, it's not always easy to know how to handle this sort of "middle distance" relationship. Is there any research on this? Thanks!
A: As you might have read about in the research you’ve done, long-distance relationships are full of contradictions.1 For every drawback of long-distance relating—the boring commutes, lonely Friday nights, uncertainty about the timing of the next visit—there seems to be a silver lining. Take, for instance, research suggesting partners can learn to communicate better by seeing each other less.1 Or, consider recent research showing partners can benefit from missing one another.2
Q: I am 21 years old and my ex-boyfriend is 34. We had been together for 2 years on and off. We broke up two months ago but in the past two weeks he suddenly came into my work place and we spoke. This week we planned on Monday to hang out, but I canceled on him and rescheduled for Wednesday. We had a quick dinner; he kept updating me about his friends and what he has been up to, and asking how I have been. After dinner, he walked me home and brushed his hand against my back occasionally...but when we reached my place, we just hugged and parted. We didn't kiss or talk about where our relationship is going.
The next day he texted me telling me that it was nice to see me again...I replied "Likewise." Two days have passed now...and I haven't heard from him since.
I guess I'm just confused as to whether my ex-boyfriend still wants to get back with me...or is it time for me to let go and move on?
A: Thank you for your question. It does sound like you are getting some mixed signals, so it is natural to want some clarification about what is going on with your ex.
Remember that classic scene from Runaway Bride where Julia Roberts bolted from the altar and trotted across the horizon in a wedding dress? Or when Chandler in Friends left a note for Monica before he fled just hours before their nuptial? These storylines are common in TV and movies, but it can happen in real life too. Many people get cold feet before their big days; it is so common that friends and family usually tell the bride/groom-to-be to just brush it off as a little blip on the path to living happily-ever-after. Indeed, people often have more doubts about themselves, their partners, and their relationships when they face significant changes in their lives.1 But are we right to ignore these doubts? Not so, according to recent research.
How are adolescent boys learning about sex these days? By pointing, clicking, and streaming through a seemingly endless supply of Internet pornography. That’s right…online porn is now the default form of sex education for a growing number of young boys because they simply are not getting the information they need elsewhere. Personally, I find this prospect kind of scary. I mean, do you really want your son to learn everything he knows about sex from watching Ron Jeremy?
Is there any research that shows how or when to express your feelings (positive or negative) about a friend’s relationship?
Let’s back up and start with a more basic question: Does your opinion matter? Absolutely. Knowing what others think about our romances is a critical piece of information if those relationships are going to survive.
Breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You can't do it in one push. You gotta rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over.
-Jerry Seinfeld (to Elaine, regarding her relationship with Puddy)
Most research on relationship stability considers breakup to be a finite state or endpoint: a relationship is either over or it’s not; there is no middle ground. As you might have experienced, however, breakup can often be a process in which some couples get back together and then breakup again (press Alt+Ctl+Del to reboot and do it all again...and again).
Troops’ reunions with loved ones evoke iconic images and powerful emotions. A study examined how service members’ returns from deployment influence their relationships. Data from over 200 military personnel revealed that those with more depression reported lower relationship satisfaction. This link resulted from increased uncertainty about the relationship’s future and greater perceived partner interference of everyday plans or career goals. Interestingly, service members’ dissatisfaction was heightened when they had been home from deployment longer.
Knobloch, L. K., & Theiss, J. A. (2011). Depressive symptoms and mechanisms of relational turbulence as predictors of relationship satisfaction among returning service members. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(4), 470-478. doi:10.1037/a0024063
Evolutionary psychologists, including pioneers such as David Buss, have yet another perspective on this type of friendship. These researchers tend to view cross-sex friendship as an evolved reproductive tactic, or “sexual strategy.” In a nutshell, evolutionary processes have created differences between men and women with regards to sex. Thus, men and women may have different motivations for becoming friends with the opposite sex.
This is a question I get asked a lot by my friends and students. The answer is yes, heterosexual men and women are perfectly capable of remaining platonic friends without dating or hooking up (labeled as “cross-sex friendship” or “opposite-sex friendship” in the scientific world),1,2 and nearly all men and women have had such a friendship at some point in their lives.3 However, there are unique aspects of cross-sex friendships that can be potentially problematic or rewarding depending on your perspective.
Cornina asked: "Is it realistic to believe that a man and a woman can move past the awkward barrier of good friends into passionate, romantic love?"
The answer is yes, friends can (and often do) become lovers, although as your question implies, the transition can be somewhat awkward.
In our first post about LDRs, we noted that LDRs are fairly common and similar to geographically close relationships (GCRs) in terms of markers of relationship quality, such as closeness, affection, and likelihood of the relationship ending. If this is the case, how do people in long-distance relationships make them work? What are some challenges that are specific to LDRs and how can they be managed?
Are you more likely to be attracted to someone who is into you? Or do you like those that don’t reciprocate your interest? This is one of those cases where your intuitions might be wrong. You need to be cool and downplay your interest in someone to get them to like you, right? Nope; it turns out that there’s a lot of research showing that we tend to like those people who like us right back.
That’s all well and good, but in the real world sometimes it’s not clear how someone feels about you. Maybe they are sending mixed signals or you’re getting conflicting information about their interest from your mutual friends. Or you might not have any idea how they feels about you because you’re too scared to even talk to them. Essentially, what happens when you are uncertain about their feelings about you? Do you like them less or more?