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Can Science Help You Find Love?

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Change is in the air, and perhaps while we are busy reinventing our politics, we should also spare a few moments to reinvent our love lives. With a divorce rate stuck near 50%, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that our current romantic situation is just as dysfunctional as our political one. And I have a radical solution to propose -- we need to start relying less on romance and more on science. I know that this will not immediately strike most people as an appealing change, but the simple truth is that while we have continued to bumble along romantically in much the same fashion as always, science has made great strides in understanding the secret springs of attraction.

Once you open yourself to the possibility of science as your guide, you will quickly find that there are a slew of studies that can help you in a variety of unexpected ways. Let me give you a few examples. During my interviews, I found that many people found the modern world of dating so bewildering that they no longer even had a clear sense of what they should be looking for in a partner. If you yourself have ever experienced this feeling, there is a quick and easy way to cut through the clutter: we most value those qualities about our partners that we value about ourselves, according to research. So, all you really need to figure out is what you like about yourself. If your favorite personal quality is kindness, then that is what you should seek in another (in fact, according to one study, we want a partner who is better than we are, so ideally you would find someone who is even more kind than you are).

Science also offers answers to far more prosaic questions. What if you are a woman who wants to get a man to approach you in a bar? It turns out that scientists have studied this exact problem and found that a woman must make eye contact and smile multiple times at a man before he will approach. In other words, science directly contradicts one of our many romantic shibboleths: that women should play a passive role and wait for the man to approach, which helps explain why women end up going home alone and mistakenly thinking that they are not attractive enough. In fact, if a woman is worried that she isn't attractive enough, the news gets even better. According to the study, you don't have to be a knockout to pursue this strategy. The researchers found that women who sent out the most signals were approached the most often, regardless of whether or not they were attractive.

Researchers can even provide some help with perennial difficulties like what to do on a date. To make a great impression, all you need to do is follow something called the "peak-end" rule. Studies have shown that we tend to remember two things about any experience -- the most intense moment and the last moment. If you plan a date that has one great moment and that ends on a high note, you can virtually guarantee that the date will be remembered as a success.

I should add one warning: the type of pseudo-science that many Internet dating sites promise when they tout their match-making formula is not much different than the snake oil salesman of the nineteenth century who offered secret love elixirs to a credulous public. All of them have failed to publish anything to validate their claims. In addition, consumer research has discovered that too much choice immobilizes us and makes us less satisfied with whatever choice we eventually make. And what is Internet dating but the celebration of nearly endless choice?

I am not suggesting that science has all the answers. The sources of romance and love are elusive, complex, and mysterious, which is why finding love is such a precious gift. Ironically, though, a little less romance and a little more science might lead to a lot more love -- something to keep in mind with Valentine's Day just around the corner.