Romance be damned -- the book that spills the beans on the dating game
Chrissie Russell on an 'anti-dating manual' that uncovers exactly why we choose who we do
Love is patient, love is kind and love is a multibillion-euro industry for the millions of singles desperate to find it. We have movies preaching the message of star-crossed lovers and shelves stacked with mind-bending handbooks on how to snare the perfect mate -- our dating world is obsessed with the quest for The One.
But what if a book was to tell you that The One concept was a load of tosh? What if an author confessed that the romantic storyline was a myth and we're better off aiming for Mr Top 10 Percent over Mr Perfect?
Taking just such a dispassionate look at dating is Andrew Trees, the writer behind Decoding Love. "I think of it as an anti-dating book," says Andrew. "It doesn't have a magic answer to finding a perfect match because all the ideas we've picked up from the movies about relationships don't hold up when you look at the science behind attraction."
Instead of offering 'do and don't' tips for hopeful readers, Trees' book concentrates on the scientific facts behind attraction. Methodical trials and investigations explore the many reasons why men and women find different characteristics preferable in a mate; how evolution has shaped our desire for a partner; and the fact that being cautious in choosing a significant other doesn't always make the best match.
Andrew, who lives in New York with his wife and son, says he was spurred on by a love of economics and evolutionary psychology and a loathing of dating books already on the market.
"There was no real information in them and it got me to thinking: would it be possible to write a relationship book based on science?" The result is a fascinating read which, while it doesn't provide a definitive answer on how to track down a partner, gives eye-opening insight into the factors that control behaviour.
LESSONS IN LOVE
1. We're all animals.
That's not to say that we're all at the mercy of our most animalistic urges and free to indulge them but the evidence shows that we're all operating on reaction to smells and a desire to procreate.
Andrew says: "When a woman is attracted to a man's smell it's a powerful sign that they are compatible and has good repercussions for reproduction."
Without even knowing it, we're all sending out mating signals. An intriguing study on lap dancers revealed men tipped the dancers around twice as much when they were at their most fertile peak in their menstrual cycle.
2. Trust your gut
Given that the research discussed in the book backs the notion that most attraction is subliminal, we can run into trouble when we try and give reasons for why someone might be the object of our affections. Andrew's advice is to trust your first instincts.
He says: "It's fascinating how when it comes to trying to explain your tastes to someone else, our conscious analysis can lead us astray. Women who pick apart their partners with their female friends can find it will betray and mislead them -- don't analyse to death."
3. Beware of comparison shopping
We live in an era of multiple choice. But Andrew warns that too much choice can be a bad thing. Essentially, our idea of dating, aided by the boom of internet dating and dating agencies, is based on the premise that we'll weed out quality by shopping around. But whether it's a pair of trousers or a husband, Andrew suggests guarding against the tyranny of choice. He says: "Eventually you're more likely to end up much less satisfied with what you choose because, after comparing it with all other discarded choices, you'll be more aware of what it doesn't have."
4. Accept that the dating game is not fairly weighted
Men tend to marry women who are younger, more attractive, lower on the corporate ladder, less educated and lower earning.
"It's really disheartening and I wish there was a better answer but culture changes more quickly than evolution and it's much healthier to be aware of this," says Andrew.
"Women often don't get to have it all; if you choose to pursue your career, there may be romantic costs -- and if you choose a partner when you're younger, there may be more choice."
5. Know your market value and stick to your own league
Dating does act as a market place and it pays to know what you're worth and be realistic about your expectations.
Andrew explains: "Couples well matched stand a better chance of survival. The sad fact is that in unevenly matched relationships the person thinking they can do better will go off and try to."
6. Have reasonable expectations and play the numbers game
Andrew says: "Our levels of expectation are impossible and often counter-productive when it comes to finding love."
He urges the 'try a dozen rule'. "For it, you have to give up the idea of finding The One," he explains. "It's a purely mathematical numbers game which suggests that, after dating 12 people, the best one you date after that will be someone in the top 10pc of the dating pool."
7. Know when to walk away
Ever waited for a bus for so long purely because you've wasted so much time waiting that you can't drag yourself away? This is what's known as a dollar auction and it's rife in the dating world. The principle is a situation where the resources, be it emotional energy, time or money, that are invested are far above and beyond its worth.
Andrew says: "The problem is knowing when you're in a dollar auction. When you're attracted to someone, logic might be screaming 'walk away' but you're too emotionally involved to do it."
8. Maximise your potential
While Decoding Love isn't about a magic maxim in how to find The One, there are a number of helpful pointers included to help hopefuls. Wearing lipstick, forgetting about diets and sending out clear 'interested' signals while not jumping into bed too fast can all help single girls.
Men do well listening to rock, eating candy and wearing stacked shoes. And everyone can benefit from more eye contact and hanging out with good-looking friends. It's not just about understanding the science behind attraction -- it's about making it work to your advantage.
9. It's worth it
Marriage -- that is, a happy marriage -- is good for your health. Andrew says: "Not getting married is worse for a man than heart disease. Heart disease will shorten a man's life by a little under six years; not being married will shorten it by almost a decade. Women also have a lower rate of mortality."
10. Don't give up on love
"The research doesn't provide us with one specific answer as to why we fall in love with someone," says Andrew. "But on some level I'm quite glad about that. I wouldn't want it fully explained. For all the heartache involved, it would be quite sad if love could all be boiled down to one mathematical equation."
Decoding Love by Andrew Trees is out now in bookstores, €9.99