Below is an excerpt from Ty Tashiro's amazing new book The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love
By the time I entered graduate school during the late 1990s, relationship science, the field devoted to the scientific study of relationships, was burgeoning after decades of researchers struggling against critics who argued that love was too complex to study or that love was an frivolous topic for scientific investigation. The University of Minnesota housed some of the best relationship researchers in the world, and under their guidance, I began to learn about the science of falling in love, staying in love and losing love.
My early research was focused on the endings of relationships— specifically, whether relationship breakups or divorce could lead to personal growth that might improve future relationships. In one of our first studies, Patricia Frazier and I asked ninety-two undergraduates experiencing a recent breakup to “describe what positive life changes, if any, have happened as a result of your breakup that might serve to improve your future romantic relationships.” We found that the average participant reported five positive life changes, which included improved friendships, feeling more self-confident and learning how to better communicate. To our surprise, “will choose a better partner in the future” was one of the least cited types of growth.
Although supportive friends, self-confidence and communication skills contribute to healthy romantic relationships, a much stronger predictor of romantic success is the type of partner you choose in the first place. The traits that a partner possesses before you ever start dating, such as his or her personality and values, are among the strongest indicators of whether a romantic relationship will be happy and stable many years later. However, for people who say they will choose a better partner for the next relationship, the intention to choose a better partner does not guarantee that they will end up making better choices. How many times have you witnessed friends who are smart and effective people in most aspects of their lives repeatedly choose the same dysfunctional partners and then appear surprised when the relationship is a disaster a few months later?
Even if people do want to choose better partners, there is little sound guidance for this endeavor readily available from experts. For example, if I asked what you should do if you catch on fire or see a thief in your home, your response would be instantaneous. You would “stop, drop, and roll” to solve the first problem, and you would “call 9-1-1” to solve the second problem. Both responses are automatic and effective. Luckily, the chances of catching on fire are only .002 percent, and of encountering a robber just .004 percent. By comparison, the chances of divorcing in your lifetime (50 percent) are roughly twenty-five thousand times higher than the chances of catching on fire. So, it is unfortunate that there are few sound strategies readily available to singles who want to make wise decisions when it comes to choosing a partner.
This lack of a clear and effective strategy for choosing romantic partners was made apparent to me by Meagan, a precocious sophomore in my Interpersonal Relationships course at the University of Maryland. She wanted me to distill the vast academic research on mate selection into some practical advice that she could use in her love life. Her whimsical framing belied the incisive nature of the question. “Let’s imagine you are single and looking for Mr. Right when a fairy godmother appears and grants one wish for your love life,” she said to me. “What would be the best way to spend that wish so that you live happily ever after?”
Admittedly, my response sounded remarkably unscientific. “The best thing to wish for,” I said, “would be a crystal ball.”
I was perplexed by the mystical nature of my response, but upon more reflection later that day, on my metro ride home, I realized that the concept of a crystal ball is exactly what singles need before embarking on the long journey to happily ever after. Imagine how much heartache could be averted if you could look into a crystal ball after every first date. Instead of having to go through months of painful trial and error in the middle of the process, while trying to find out whether a partner would provide misery or happiness, with a crystal ball you would know from the beginning whether a partner was good for you or not.
Fortunately, advances in relationship science can make this wish for a crystal ball come true. Researchers are discovering how to predict what a relationship will be like years into the future by assessing the traits of the partners, such as personality, values and interests. Furthermore, these traits can be decoded in the early stages of dating, which can permit singles to predict with more accuracy which relationships will end up happily ever after.
However, the materials needed to construct this crystal ball are dispersed in a sea of thousands of scientific papers spanning a range of academic disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, demography and medical science. In the chapters to come, I will distill this massive research literature into a manageable framework for choosing better partners and will put you on the path to a lifetime of love.
This is not a prescriptive self-help book promising a soul mate in three easy steps. Love is too complex and too personal for a stranger to tell a unique individual like you precisely what to do with your love life. Instead, my goal is to help you clarify your version of “happily ever after” and then to provide you with the information needed to make wise decisions when choosing a partner. To achieve this, we will answer the following questions in the chapters to come:
• What does “happily ever after” really mean, and why do only three in ten people find it?
• Why do we get only three wishes for an ideal partner, and why do most people wish for the wrong things?
• What three traits should you look for in a partner if you want to improve significantly the odds of finding enduring love?
The Science of Happily Ever After is about making smarter choices. It’s about learning to weed out the undesirable traits and rethinking our views about what really matters in a romantic partner. First, we need to take a closer look at the ultimate goal and determine what it really means to be happily in love and why being in love can become so complicated.
You can buy Ty's book on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble or at your local bookstore.