When you consider the length of human history, it makes sense that the practice of dating for love is still a relatively new concept. Arranged marriages have only phased out of many cultures within the last century — which means that there are plenty of people in your parents’ or grandparents’ generations who likely married their spouse as a matter of practicality.
As people continue to normalize the practice of dating for love, experts are learning more and more about how people select their forever partners. According to Helen Fisher, contributing elements include timing, proximity, and familiarity, while John and Julia Gottman note the importance of vocal tone, body language, and physical appearance.
Of course, there is a lot to learn when it comes to attraction — which means that everything from pheromones, to personality types, to attachment styles can impact how you match up, and with whom. But for now, let’s take a look at the theories of both Fisher, and the Gottman’s.
As the old saying goes, timing is everything. Some experts believe that people are most likely to find a significant other during times of change, such as moving to a new city, entering high school or college, or transitioning to a new job — most often because in doing so, people tend to engage with a slew of new people and widen their social pools accordingly.
However, intimacy is also triggered by changing emotions. As Fisher explains, heightened emotions such as fear can increase our receptivity to romantic attraction. Both your response to fear and sexual arousal are located in your brain’s right amygdala, which means that feeling uncomfortable in new situations may elevate your positive feelings for someone. Not only is this a clue to when you might fall in love, but it can also be a useful date tip: To bond with someone, try riding a roller coaster, bungee jumping, or watching a horror movie together (2).
Researchers have found that people are more likely to rate those close in proximity as higher in qualities such as attractiveness and intelligence — which in turn raises your overall level of interest in the other person. However, don't let this worry you in terms of friendships: John Gottman found that friendships typically only slip into affairs when a person starts to complain about the let-downs of their current relationship with the friend (2).
While proximity is a bonus, certain levels of familiarity in childhood are actually a romantic relationship repellant (1). Researchers have found that too much familiarity between the ages of three and six years old – such as sharing a cradle together – makes people highly unlikely to marry (2).
Now let’s switch into the details of physical interactions:
There are many physical aspects that you may find attractive in another person, but I wanted to point out a couple of universal characteristics. For starters, when do you know if you are attracted to someone? First impressions are key: According to Fisher, people often decide if they have an interest in someone else within the first three minutes of meeting (1). What’s more, there is a method to the madness within those first interactions. Words make up 10 percent of our interactions, vocal tone makes up 35 percent, and body language makes up 55 percent (3).
You might think that what you say is of utmost importance, but how you say it is far more critical. Your tone relays messages about your emotional state, background, education, and even intentions (1). Even the pitch of your voice can impact whether someone is attracted to you or not. For men, a deeper voice is correlated with increased attraction as well as financial success. Studies have even shown that presidential candidates with deeper voices are typically favored in the popular vote (2). There are multiple reasons for this, including the fact that deeper voices can indicate higher levels of testosterone, which is something many women are naturally drawn to.
The most important factor in an initial interaction is body language. A lot of the key movements surround vulnerability, specifically in areas such as the neck, wrists, and chest. Here are a few specific gestures that are worth thinking about:
Open Posture: An unobstructed front is a sign of openness and willingness to engage in conversation.
Toes: Some experts claim a person’s toes are “the most honest part of the whole human body” (3). Because the way your feet point lead how your body moves, this area can be very indicative of how a person is feeling in a conversation.
Leaning: People naturally lean toward where they want to be, and away from that which they’d like to escape.
Thumbs: Thumbs can be very indicative of a person’s level of confidence. An insecure person will hide their thumbs, while a confident person typically leaves them visible (3).
A Note On Women
These ideas might be specifically important for American women to put into practice. According to expert Tonya Reiman, American women rank low on the scale of both physical openness and success in flirting; especially in comparison to women in countries such as Spain or Poland (3). “If you can’t remember the last time you’ve ever been hit on, there is a reason,” she posits (3).
When it comes to physical appearance, people tend to be drawn to bodily symmetry, as it is a universal sign of health. According to researchers, those with symmetry have been able to “avoid accidents and combat the bacteria and viruses that produce irregularities (1).” They have also been shown to have better immune systems than their peers (1). Symmetry is also indicated in the body by our movements, such as rhythm in dancing.
Finding 'The One'
When factors like these come together, you can start to see how you create connections — or at the very least, how and why you might find someone attractive enough to strike up a conversation. Whether that moment of flirtation leads to a relationship is up to you and the other person.
If you are a relationship skeptic, don’t let the downfalls of divorce scare you. Despite the rockiness of monogamy, the climbing divorce rates in the late 1900s have actually begun to decrease, rounding out at about 43 percent. Furthermore, the rise in divorces isn’t necessarily a bad thing given that people are able to establish their independence and maintain their satisfaction in relationships as a result. What’s more, women have become more financially stable on their own, making it less necessary to stay in a relationship that no longer works. In other words, despite the grim statistics, relationship satisfaction actually seems to be at an all-time high (2).
And if you are asking yourself, how many lasting connections are out there for each of us? According to scientists, there are upwards of 10,000 “perfect matches” for each person to have a healthy and long-lasting relationship with (2)!
- Fisher, Helen. Why Him? Why Her?: How to Find and Keep Lasting Love. Macmillan, 2009.
- Gottman, John, et al. The Man's Guide to Women: Scientifically Proven Secrets from the" Love Lab" about what Women Really Want. Rodale, 2016.
- Reiman, Tonya. The Body Language of Dating. Gallery Books, 2013.
- Via @lol_v_stein