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Toxic Love

Three reasons you are single (or not)

Take this quiz to find out what type of partner you are in relationships.

Three misconceptions explain the irrationally high number of single people in the world – if you think about it, there are roughly as many single women as men, so this doesn’t make sense. The first is that we should only commit to relationships if we are “romantically” attracted to someone – call it chemistry, sex appeal, or whatever you like. The second is that a wider range of available candidates will improve our choice – rather, there is well-established evidence for the fact that wider choices = harder (and worse) decisions. And the third is that there is just one perfect match for each person… or that we need to wait for someone who is 100% compatible with us. So, if you are NOT single, that is probably because you didn’t spend too much time scrutinizing all possible choices, you did not decide just on chemistry, and you did not wait for the perfect candidate to arrive – instead, you transformed an acceptable or adequate choice into a meaningful or even perfect relationship.

So why do so many people embrace these three toxic and self-destructive approaches to relationships?

The notion of romantic love as both a fundamental precursor to, and a reinforcing element of long-term relationships has been particularly prominent in the 20th and 21st centuries. This has been explained within the context of an increasingly commodified society. Dr Eva Ilouz talks about a “dual process” whereby romance itself has become commodified, but romance also becomes the vector that enables us to engage with a whole range of commodifed goods and services (Ilouz, 2012). Accordingly, love exists in a marketplace, which is subject to similar economic forces on, and inequalities in deriving utility from, other commodities. This creates problems: we seem to have access to an ever-growing pool of potential partners yet love itself becomes more and more elusive.

People also erroneously anticipate the amount of satisfaction that more choice of potential partners will bring (Lenton, Fasolo & Todd, 2010). In fact, too much choice can actually hinder romance: from a cognitive perspective, it leads us to make judgments based on visual cues that are quickest to appraise e.g. height, weight etc. Too much choice is confusing. Unsurprisingly, the advent of online dating sites (there are over 1,500 in the US alone) has not reduced the number of singletons in the world, which explains the number of sites is still growing, and most of them retain their clientele until they give up (rather than find someone suitable). Yet, the popularity of such sites is consistent with our need to constantly check out other options – FoMo (fear of missing out) is especially intense when it comes to online daters.

In some cultures (but rarely in the Western world) love is seen as something that grows and develops after marriage. While apparently contrary to the current rhetoric about what it means to fall in love, if you’re less bothered about choosing The One, you may well be more likely to enjoy a better relationship in the long run. In fact, research suggests that over-reliance on the assumptions that underpin the idea of romantic love can actually contribute to relationship breakdown (Lewis, 2003).

Want to find out how what type of partner you are in relationships? Take this quiz to find out.

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Ilouz, E. (2012). Why love hurts. Cambridge: Polity Press

Lenton, A, Fasolo, B & Todd, PM (2010). Who’s in your shopping cart? Expected and experienced effects of choice abundance in the online dating context.'. N Kock (ed.), in: Evolutionary Psychology and Information Systems Research: A New Approach to Studying the Effects of Modern Technologies on Human Behavior .1st ed, Sprinter, New York, pp. 149-167.

Lenton, AP & Francesconi, M (2010). How humans cognitively manage an abundance of mate options' Psychological Science, 21, 528-533

Lewis, J. (2003). Should we worry about family change? Canada: University of Toronto Press.

[Thanks to Beth Emma Anderson for her contributions to this blog].

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