The Science of Mating

Many people—though certainly not all—desire and seek out “mating” in some capacity. While the term ostensibly refers to sexual reproduction, in practice it can include anything from a one-night stand to the courtship of a spouse. Regardless of what an individual is looking for, the process of meeting a potential partner and forming a romantic or sexual connection can be a challenge, and while the rise of online dating has increased the quantity of potential mates, many wonder if it has had any measurable impact on the quality.

One enduring question of the mating game is whether or not “soul mates”—one person who is the only possible match for another—exist, or if they’re a romantic fantasy. Surveys have found that the majority of adults believe there is one, or a few, “perfect” matches for them in the world, but most psychological research is unable to find any existence for the phenomenon. To the contrary, there are decades of evidence that searching for a soul mate, or viewing a partner through a “soul mate lens," can lead to unhealthy relationship behaviors. People who believe in soul mates have been shown, for instance, to be more likely to have intense relationships that fizzle out quickly, to experience more anxiety in relationships, and to be more likely to “ghost” someone, or abandon the relationship at the first sign of conflict. The trope will likely remain standard fodder for films and novels, but in the real world, searching for a soul mate may prevent someone from finding any mate at all.

The Challenges of Dating and Mating

When someone is unsatisfied with their current relationship status, it can be challenging to figure out what they may be doing wrong. Some worry they’re aiming too high, and pursuing only those who are “out of their league.” Though the concept of “leagues” is debatable, this worry may be legitimate to some extent; research has shown that partners who “match” in attractiveness, intelligence, or other qualities are more likely to stay together long term. Others wonder if they’re aiming too low, putting themselves at risk for “settling” for someone that doesn’t meet their needs. Research does suggest that fear of being single may make someone more likely to “settle”—but researchers caution that “settling” shouldn’t be confused with learning to accept or adapt to a partner’s flaws.


Flirting, Relationships, Sex

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