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Mating Matters “The Slower Road to Love”

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In this episode of Mating Matters Dr. Wendy Walsh discusses the pace and order of courtship. Love relationships may involve sex, affection, emotional intimacy, commitment, public displays of love or private trysts, but the order of those stages is changing. If you’re over 40, fasten your seat belts folks, because Millennials and Gen-Z are showing us how our anthropological ancestors sampled from the smorgasbord of human relationships, all in the name of good reproductive choices.

Episode: The Slower Road To Love

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The Slower Road to Love

Speaker: Dr. Wendy Walsh

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Love and attachment may come in stages, phases and flavors. Love relationships may involve sex, affection, emotional intimacy, commitment, public displays of love or private Tris. But the order of these stages is changing. If you’re over 40, fasten your seatbelts because millennials are showing us how our anthropological ancestors sampled from the smorgasbord of human relationships, all in the name of good reproductive choices.

Welcome to Mating Matters, the podcast that looks at human behavior through a lens of evolutionary psychology and mating strategies. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh, with producer Brooke Peterson. On this episode, we talk to renowned biological anthropologists from the Kinsey Institute, Dr. Helen Fisher, about a mating trend that she calls slow love, which sometimes looks a lot like very fast love.

As I began to think about this episode, I noticed old children’s rhymes dancing in my head. Remember this one?

“Johnny and Susie sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby, and the baby carriage.”

And that order of events has been drilled into our heads as human beings ever since the evolution of farming, back when our workplaces shrunk to one plot of land, gender roles became narrow and well, patriarchy took over. You know the rest, you’re living in it.

So for a couple centuries, the order of love was clear. In fact, back in 1955, when Frank Sinatra recorded the hit Love and Marriage for Capitol Records, he was reciting the socially conditioned sex rules of the era.

[Love and Marriage Song Playing 00:02:14]

They were in place then, but not anymore.

Female: I never gave him like a boyfriend title, it was more like we were attracted each other and like one day we just like hooked up and it started there – was to the point that I didn’t really even have his number.

Male: I think millennials are just really more so casual about the dating atmosphere. It’s more like, “Hey, let’s see who this person is. I might hang out with this person this week, this person that week, this person the next weekend. And maybe if one of them sticks, we’ll keep hanging out with them. If not, next month, you rotate the roster.”

Female: With a year of just friends with benefits, like, I honestly don’t even know his middle name. I don’t know his mom’s name. I literally don’t even know what car he drives.

Female: I didn’t like anybody else and like we were committed to each other. I just wasn’t ready for him to like hang out with my friends or meet like my friends. Like I didn’t bring him around.

Male: Like, “Hey, what’s going on? What are you doing today? You free tonight? Like come over, I want to hang out.” She usually knows what the deal is. I’ll say, “Come over.” And she’ll say, “Yeah,” and it’ll be an implied like booty call.

Female: “What’s my last name?” And he was like, “Ah …” And I said, “What’s my last name?” He literally had this blank stare and I was just like, “Oh, okay.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Okay, lest you think the experiences of these millennials signal the end of the world and collapse of the family in our species evolution, I’d like to introduce you to an optimistic anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher.

If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, a member of The Center for Evolutionary Studies at the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University, and author of six books on evolution, biology and the science of human sexuality. Oh, and she’s chief science officer for match.com.

You say that humans are built to love, explain that.

Dr. Helen Fisher: Well, I’ve come to believe and also prove that we’ve evolved three distinctly different brain systems from mating and reproduction. One is the sex drive. The second is feelings of intense romantic love, and the third is feelings of deep attachment. And all three of these brain systems lie way below the cortex where you do your thinking, way below limbic regions in the middle of the head that orchestrate the emotions. They lie way at the base of the brain linked with drive.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Dr. Fisher calls love a survival mechanism, a primitive, ancient primordial drive.

Dr. Helen Fisher: As a matter of fact, the little factory that pumps out dopamine that gives you that feeling of intense romantic love, that little factory, it lies right next to the factory that orchestrates thirst and hunger. Thirst and hunger keep you alive today, romantic love pushes you to form a pair and send your DNA into tomorrow.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Love is also a kind of drug on our brains. It’s designed to make us go goo-goo eyes over somebody who might not be so perfect so we can get together and reproduce. And like most drugs, love can create some pretty illogical thinking. Love’s effect is called a positive bias or positive illusion. Crazy in love isn’t just a saying, it’s real.

In 2003, Beyoncé and Jay Z, the hit song, Crazy in Love for Columbia Records and Music World Entertainment. The mega hit explained the science perfectly.

[Crazy in Love Song Playing 00:06:06]

Dr. Helen Fisher: Chaucer was correct – love is blind. Brain regions linked with decision making, shutdown. Brain region linked with a negativity bias shutdown or decrease a good deal. And so you can overlook all kinds of things. And I think some people would call that a bit of madness.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And this bit of madness can work for us or against us. Love can be tricky. We could end up attaching to and reproducing with the wrong person. On the other hand, if we do choose well, those crazy feelings of love can keep us attached until the kids are raised and beyond.

Dr. Fisher’s lifelong work, searching for the biological underpinnings of love, found her observing live human brains in MRI machines; brains of people in all stages of love, newly in love, people experiencing breakups, and even people in long-term relationships, when one would think that love would wane.

But she says there’s a kind of madness about love for some people that grows with time. And get this, there may not be a specific order to the stages of love. In fact, she’s identified a modern stage of love that she calls the pre-commitment stage.

You talk about lust, romantic attraction and attachment, and today, it seems like young people are doing these things in a very different order. Many hooking up before dating, many living together before marriage. And you say this is far from reckless. Talk about this pre-commitment stage that you’re observing.

Dr. Helen Fisher: I call it slow love, and thank you for bringing it up. My data comes from an annual study that I do with match.com called Singles in America. We do not poll the match members. This is a national representative sample based on the US census, so it’s real science. And I do it with Justin Garcia and we now have data on 45,000 Americans, probably the biggest study in America, and probably the world.

Anyway, the bottom line is every single year I find that over 50% of singles of every age group actually; age 18 to 71 plus, over 50% have had a one nightstand, over 50% have had a friends with benefits, over 50% they’re with somebody long term. Not necessarily this past year, but over the course of their lives. And everybody in America seems to think that this is reckless. That these people have run mad.

And I began to realize this is not reckless, this is caution. And I realized it when I read an academic article that said that 67% of singles today who are living with somebody are terrified of the fallout of divorce. And it began to occur to me, what we’re really seeing is an extension of the pre-commitment stage.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Have you ever had a kind of relationship that started with sex before dating?

Male: I mean, I’ve had, yeah, I would say where maybe we’ve hooked up and then talked later and things have kind of progressed a little bit. Where I didn’t know it might’ve just been a hook up, but it actually turned into us being friends, and then kind of becoming a little bit more. But more, I would say it leaned into that kind of casual space.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: There’s no doubt about it, millennials are delaying marriage longer than any generation before. But don’t dismay, there’s some promising evidence that seems to show that most millennials do intend to marry at some point.

For example, a 2013 Gallup poll found that 86% of single never married Americans aged 18 to 34, said they wanted to get married, someday.

Dr. Helen Fisher: Today, singles want to know every single thing about a partner before they tie the knot. So they’re going into it very slowly. They’re starting out as just friends. “Oh, we’re just friends, we’re just friends.” Then they slowly move into friends with benefits. You learn a lot between the sheets, not just how somebody makes love, but are they patient, are they kind, can they listen, do they have a sense of humor? And then after the friends with benefits, they slowly move out and tell friends and family, and then they have the official first date.

You know, in my day, the official first date started before you barely knew somebody. What we’re really seeing is a very cautious generation.

Female: Started dating this guy, we slept together probably maybe like the third or fourth date. He was very sweet, he gave me a lot of gifts, which I had never really experienced before. Like literally, would just come over and give me things if I was sad, if I like just like had a bad day at work, would give me things.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: He was trying.

Female: He was trying. And so obviously, I loved getting things and I liked him. He made me laugh, he was cool – just wasn’t for me. Just kind of bugged me – he wasn’t the one. But I continued seeing him because I was trying to make it work. Because on paper, he was wonderful.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Have you ever had a friend with benefits that lasted a really long time and didn’t turn into a relationship?

Female: Yes, I think in this generation, I think that’s all we are. Like I think I’m young, I’m free that this is a new era, I could do whatever I want as a woman. Like nobody’s going to tell me like, “Oh, you can’t have sex with somebody because you’re a girl.” Like, my mom is 50-years-old and she tells me that, I’m like, “No, I could do that.” And I’ve had that. I’ve had like over a year of just having friends with benefits and I have never fallen in love with that person.

Female: Yeah, we just started hanging out a lot and just kind of like see each other. We never really went like on real dates. It was just a lot of hanging out and spending time with each other.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And when a friend with benefits doesn’t pass snuff as boyfriend or girlfriend material, with such loose definitions of a relationship, they’re pretty easy to get rid of.

Female: I just kind of like cut it off, I guess. It was just more of like I just felt like I wasn’t being treated a certain way. And for me, for it to develop into more of like him being my boyfriend or like you said, a public boyfriend, I felt like we weren’t developing there.

Male: I have had that happen where things were good, but life changes and heartbreaks happen.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Let’s return to this idea of fear of divorce. Dr. Fisher says this slow love, the kind that has one dipping their toes into multiple relationships, free from cultural restraints and moral codes about sex and marriage, is partly designed to prevent divorce. After all, this is the generation that saw their parents divorce in packs.

Female: I kid you not, I can’t name one person, one couple that have stayed together. Either cheats, they divorce, they leave each other, they end up hating each other at the end and it’s just like, why want that? For a long time, I was very cautious and I was like, “I don’t want to be in love and I don’t want that because it scares me. It’s scary to think like you put so much time and effort into somebody and then boom, you’re done.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Were your parents divorced? Is this something that’s in your head?

Female: My parents are not divorced but they did split up for three years. So it definitely like is something that is in the back of my head, and it’s something that I do not want to rush into. And it’s still why I’m single and I’m kind of being selfish and wanting to live my life before I jump into something where I commit myself to somebody. Or somebody in return isn’t ready to commit and could lead to rushing into things and then to divorce.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Do you worry about divorce?

Male: How can you not? Right? I mean it’s definitely a real thing and the statistics really back it up. Yeah, you want to make sure that you have picked the right one. Divorce I think will always be in the back of your mind, like as something that is a possibility and that’s something that you want to try and avoid.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Millennials are also very serious about education and career building, so when they do finally settle down, they’ll have the financial wherewithal to provide for their offspring. This focus on work also has a reproductive advantage.

Dr. Helen Fisher: I’m very impressed with millennials. They are very ambitious. They want to get their own finances in order before they settle down. They will have their one nightstands, but they will get rid of somebody very rapidly if they don’t think it can go anywhere. And once they begin to have that official first day and live together, they spend a long time getting to know somebody before they walk down that aisle.

Male: I feel like for us as millennials, we just really like to focus on ourselves and not in a selfish way. We just want to progress. And we feel like if somebody understands what we’re going through or we can understand what they’re going through, then we can grow together. But if it’s like, “Hey, you know that I’m working but you keep trying to hang out with me and you keep texting me and you know that our schedules don’t align,” and it’s like, well, you’re forcing something that isn’t able to happen right now.

Male: College, gosh, was a great time to really be dating. And now with work kind of flooding and piling on, then that’s harder. It’s harder because of having to work and having to have all these other commitments, and you want to give time to that significant other if you are going to date.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: But there is a downside to slow love. Remember the hormones and neurotransmitters that create the positivity bias in love, crazy in love, drunk in love? Well, that neurochemistry is partly created through great sex. Millennials know this, and even have coined a term for it – “Don’t catch feelings,” they say. But love is a biological event and it’s not under your control.

Dr. Fisher says that according to her research, about one third of people when asked, “Have you ever fallen in love through a hookup?” Say, “Yes. I went into it for a frolic and came out in love.”

Dr. Helen Fisher: You can go into sex just thinking it’s a one nightstand, and then fall madly in love with somebody who can trigger that brain circuitry for romantic love very rapidly through sex.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And that can create plenty of misunderstandings. Sex can even sometimes ruin a perfectly good friendship. I mean, a real friendship, not a friends with benefits, a real friendship.

Female: I was so confused because we had been friends for so long and then all of a sudden, we crossed that boundary that we never thought either of us would. And then I couldn’t see him as just a friend, and I totally had feelings for him. And then he ended up getting back with his ex-girlfriend. It was one textbook, just sad, sad girl.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Do you think the feelings you had for him came because of the sex?

Female: Absolutely. I mean definitely as a friend was attracted to him, but just in like, yeah, he’s a cute guy. But as soon as we had sex, it was literally one time, one night, drunk, and immediate feelings.

Female: I literally met him at a club and I was like, “I just want to hook up with you. I just want to have fun, nothing serious.” And all of a sudden, it’s three months later and I’m over here crying, like being so in love over somebody, I have no idea why.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Here’s one reason why, besides the hormones associated with sex, emotional disclosures can also cause feelings of love. And emotional disclosures most often take place on the pillow.

Female: We would see each other every day, and it wasn’t just sex, it was like expressing ourselves and expressing our feelings and telling him like how I felt and about my family and all this stuff. And it was vice versa. And I think when it comes to like friends with benefits, you just go in and get out, you’re done. But when you want a relationship, it’s like, okay, you expressing yourself and that’s what you shouldn’t do.

Male: I would say I’ve had a girl that thought we were more, and I didn’t realize that she thought that we were more.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And what happened?

Male: I had to break it off, because I’m not the type of person to lead someone on. It was a friends with benefits and I thought it was just a friends with benefits and it was casual. But then, he started to ask some questions and I was like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that you saw this going a different way.”

Dr. Helen Fisher: Unless you’re so drunk you can’t remember it, casual sex is not casual. It triggers 5 of the 12 cranial nerves in the brain. You really see somebody, smell somebody, hear somebody, taste somebody, feel somebody very dramatically. And of course, you’re driving up the dopamine and the oxytocin system, you’re also triggering the testosterone system.

So the body is doing a whole lot of things that can drive you to fall madly in love with somebody. So bottom line is if you don’t want to fall in love with somebody, I would suggest you don’t have sex with them.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: But all of this is nothing new in the evolution of love. Our anthropological ancestors went through the same struggles with finding and keeping mates.

So how does this compare to our anthropological past? Because I often say that in some ways, as women now can more fairly extract resources from the environment, that we’re returning to something that existed before patriarchy?

Dr. Helen Fisher: Right, I’ve been saying that for I think 25 years and I’m just so glad that you brought it up. Because everybody’s scared that technology is changing love. It’s not changing love. You cannot change this brain system – it’s changing how we court. But, technology is a tiny little factor compared to the real modern trend, which is, as you say, women piling into the job market and cultures around the world. And in fact, I’ve long maintained that we are moving forward to the kinds of women and the kinds of partnerships that we had a million years ago.

Now on the grasslands of Africa 500,000 years ago, a hundred thousand ago, probably 2 million years ago, women commuted together their fruits and vegetables. They came home with over 50% of the evening meal. The double income was the rule and women in almost in all hunting and gathering societies are regarded as just as sexual, just as economically powerful, and just as socially powerful as men.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Then farming became the big downfall for women. They lost their roles as gatherers because they couldn’t leave the farm. Farming gave way to industry and an economy of money rather than food.

Dr. Helen Fisher: Along with that change to the farming tradition, we see the rise of a whole lot of new ideas. Virginity at marriage for a woman, a woman’s place is in the home. Man is the head of the household until death do us part, etc. All of that Wendy is disappearing before our eyes. In this generation, in this particular time in human evolution, we’re seeing very few people being virgins at marriage except those who are very religious. A great many women work in the workforce. We’re seeing the rise of the double income family, and we’re seeing women returning to their ancestral roles, as being just as sexual and just as economically and socially powerful as men.

Now different cultures are going to court in different ways at different times. In evolution, we have different courtship practices and around the world – some people send letters and some people send emails with emojis.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: For those who worry that all this hooking up and heartbreak spells the demise of old fashioned marriage, Fisher thinks the opposite. That this may create better marriages with fewer divorces. Demographically, the big wave of divorce is behind us. Those who stay together chose well and are pretty happy with their choices. Dr. Fisher says this bodes well for the future of families.

Dr. Helen Fisher: I did a study of almost 1,100 married people and I asked them a lot of questions. But one of the questions was, would you remarry the person you’re currently married to? And 81% said, yes. So we may be walking toward, going towards relative family stability.

You know, I’ve studied marriage in 80 cultures through the demographic yearbooks of the United Nations, and it’s very clear that the later you marry, the more likely you are to remain married. And that’s what these millennials are doing. Not only that, but compared to people who marry in less than a year of knowing each other – those people who marry after one or two years of courtship are 20% less likely to divorce. And those who court for three or years before they wed, are 39% less likely to divorce.

So there’s a great many cultural trends here. The later marriage, the long period of pre-commitment, getting to know somebody carefully before you wed, having lots of sexual experience and romantic experience before they wed, and marrying after a long courtship, that all speaks for relative stability and marriage in years to come.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And that’s what millennials are doing, practicing slow love.

Female: He was my like work crush, and then I actually quit that job. And the next week we went out on a date, and we had sex the first night. But I was like so enamored with him right away. So enamored, like I was ready to be exclusive, ready to be all in on him right away, but I had to kind of pump the brakes because I didn’t want to come on too strong. I know he was enjoying our time together, but I think he was thinking of it way more casually than I was.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: In this case, the man took time to assess his female partner. Three months later, they had the conversation and decided to publicly become boyfriend and girlfriend. And then?

Female: We were together for about a year and a half before he moved in. Or I actually just moved into his place.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Are you still assessing him to be a possible husband?

Female: Actually, funny enough, I was talking with a friend, she was asking if we would get married soon. And I said, “No way. I’m in no rush. I love him, he loves me, we live together, we’re happy. Why do I need a marriage to change that?”

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Millennials may profess to not want marriage, at least not now, but remember, 86% say they will eventually marry someday.

Female: Down the road, I of course want to be married, have kids, want the white picket fence life, definitely. But right now, I’m young, I don’t know where this life’s going to take me. I hope it’s with him, but for now, don’t need a ring.

Male: Maybe in the future, but it’s not something that’s like at the forefront of my thoughts that, “Oh, I’m looking for a girl to get married with.” It’s okay if I find a girl and we have one of these kinds of relationships that you’re talking about and it progresses, and then it could lead up to that.

Female: As I get older, like I’m in my mid-twenties. As I get older, I think, “No, I want to settle down. Like I want a family, I want kids and I want somebody to come home to and not like worry about.”

Male: It’s going to happen when it happens kind of thing. But I do want to get married at a relatively young age. I don’t want to wait till I’m maybe past 40 or anything like that. But I think it’ll happen in time.

Female: As of right now, I don’t want kids, the two of us don’t have enough money for it to even really matter to combine our finances. So until I have enough money to have a wedding with an open bar, I’m not getting married. That’s my plan.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: For sure, love and marriage are complicated topics. And long-term love isn’t all about hormones and biology. You know, there’s an age old question here. Is love nature or nurture? Do people stay in love and have positive illusions about a romantic partner because they’re genetically wired for this? Or have they learned to have positive thinking and practice behaviors that help them stay in love?

Dr. Helen Fisher: I think it’s both. And one of the things that I – just what we know about the brain, to remain in love, certainly cultivates feelings of empathy. Certainly control your own stress and your own emotions, and certainly overlook what you don’t like (positive illusions). But I would also really try and keep all three of these basic drives alive. Keep the sex drive alive by having sex.

Sex can be extremely good for you. I mean it triggers all kinds of good chemicals. It boosts the immune system, it’s very good for cardiovascular health. It brings oxygen to the brain, it promotes sleep. Sex is good for you with the right person.

I would certainly also do novel things together. Novelty drives up the dopamine system in the brain and can push you over the threshold or sustain feelings of romantic love. So novelty, novelty. Have sex regularly, do novel things together, and certainly to sustain feelings of deep attachment, stay in touch. Hold hands when you’re walking down the street, walk arm in arm, get rid of the two armed chairs and sit together on the couch when you’re watching television at night.

Kiss – kissing drives up the oxytocin system. Any kind of stroking, touching, massaging, kissing can sustain feelings of deep attachment to the person. So certainly laughter is also very important. You should cultivate good, hilarious times together.

And last but not least, we’ve now begun to realize that when you say affectionate things to your partner, it not only reduces cortisol, that’s the stress hormone in them, and also reduces cholesterol and helps with blood pressure and boost the immune system in your partner, but when you say nice things to your partner, it also does all that to you, too.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Love and marriage may not go together like a horse and carriage. And for some, sex can certainly come before dating. Friendships can have benefits, and a pre-commitment phase can last a really long time.

But the key to navigating the no rules relationship revolution is to be hyper self-aware of what you desire and what you’re experiencing emotionally. And then, communicating those wishes and feelings to your partner. And that’s where relationships become far more about skill than luck. In the end, love, real committed long-term love, is a choice, not a supernatural experience.

I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. Thanks for listening to this episode of Mating Matters.

Mating Matters is produced in partnership with iHeartMedia. It is researched, interviewed, and written by me, Dr. Wendy Walsh, and it is edited and produced by Brooke Peterson.

People don’t learn about podcasts usually by just searching around. They learn about a podcast because somebody who loved that podcast told them about it. So please subscribe, write a review, and more than anything, hit that share button now. Thanks for listening, I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh.

If you’d like to call the Mating Matters message line, you certainly can. The number is (323) 207-8277. If you’ve got a question, we want to hear it. Or maybe you have a comment, either way, we love to hear from you, our listener.

 

Mating Matters ” The New Double Standard”

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In this episode Dr. Wendy discusses the double standard between men and women when it comes to sex. Why is it that women traditionally have gotten shamed for sexual experience, and men get applauded? And, are things changing as we witness the economic rise of women? There’s an evolutionary answer to it all. Listen to Find out!

EPISODE: The New Double Standard

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Welcome to Mating Matters, I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh, with producer Brooke Peterson. Okay, this week I just want to talk about something that happened to me. I was on Facebook and there was actually something I’d posted all the way back in 2013. I think it was a blog I wrote or something about nude pictures, women posting nude pictures. And I asked the question, is it a sign of female empowerment? And there was a bunch of back and forth from people.

But then somebody now, however many years later, suddenly post something and I get a notification. It was a man, and here’s what he wrote:

It’s interesting, I would think that as women become more financially independent, they would actually start holding men to a higher standard, because they have their own money and they don’t have to rely on a man. They could easily decide to leave him if he doesn’t treat her right. Instead, it seems to have led women to becoming more promiscuous and easy.

Ooh, it got to me. But you know, I’m a scientist, so I have to think about it, really what was happening there. And I came up with this idea to take this apart, to talk about the sexual double standard. I know, the hair curls up on my spine when I hear, “Ooh, she’s promiscuous, she’s easy.” And really ask the question, are women supposed to be more moral? Do we judge women more if they are so called less moral?

Well, what I want everyone to know is that our sexual behavior has evolved based on reproductive costs. So historically, reproduction was very, very, very costly to human females. Think about it, a huge percentage of us died in childbirth. Too many children could make a woman fall deep into poverty. The 18 years of burden of raising kids made it very, very risky for her to have sex.

And so out of that evolved group norms, morals, customs, anything in our culture to help support the fact that sex was a really high risk hobby for women. As a result, women were very, very choosy with who they mated with. Because there wasn’t birth control and while many women practiced infanticide in private, there wasn’t abortion. So if you ended up becoming pregnant by the wrong guy, the guy who wasn’t going to stay around and help, you were looking at a hard life in the future.

But what we’re really seeing today is the cost of reproduction has been going down, the risks of reproduction. Women have access to birth control. Women are able to make their own money – maybe not quite as much as men. As far as childcare is concerned, we’re seeing more and more affordable available childcare to women so that she can keep working while she has kids. Women can even extend their fertility window while they’re busy stockpiling money by freezing their eggs. So the costs of reproduction have slowly been going down for women.

So let’s go back to the question, are women supposed to be more moral? The gentleman in the comment on Facebook was basically saying, “Wouldn’t you think women would be more picky about who they mated with?” Well, actually no. They’re going to be less picky because the risks are less.

What used to happen in the past is women would make men sacrifice. The more they sacrificed, either by delaying the onset of the sexual relationship, or by wastefully showing a lot of resources; paying for expensive dinners, gifts, diamonds – the more it proved to her that he was going to stay around and he was going to be a great dad, and he would have extra resources. If he was wasting them on things like diamond rings (that’s a huge waste of money), it basically says, “Baby, don’t worry. There’s more where that came from, or I know how to make more. So I’ll be able to feed that baby.”

But today, we don’t need to hold men to a super high standard. We don’t need to make them sacrifice. Women can have all kinds of relationships. They can have short term relationships, they can have long-term relationships. They can have relationships that involve reproduction. They can have relationships that are deeply emotionally intimate and connected. Or they can have relationships that are light and fun.

The problem is, like the man who wrote in the comment on Facebook, men are still carrying around an old fashioned sexual double standard in their head. Now, remember the sexual double standard? It’s the one that gives men points for sexual experience and awards women demerit points for the same sexual experience.

The sexual double standard was invented by men. It was invented so they could control women’s sexuality. Why? Because we have hidden eggs, we have concealed fertility. There are only three days in any given month where a woman can become pregnant. So his best way to make sure that he has paternity certainty, to make sure that any babies that come out of her are his, is to keep other men away. And one of the best psychological tricks that men use to keep other men away is to say, “Hmm, you’re not a good girl if you have sex with other men.” They beat up women’s self-esteem with this idea.

But there’s something else I want to ask: why do we expect women to be more moral? Yeah, partly it’s that old fashioned double standard still being drug around from our past. But remember, women were part of a village. Women needed other women almost more than men, to raise kids. And when a woman violates one of the codes of the village, when she lies, cheats, steals, breaks a rule – we get particularly upset when women do that. We do think women should be more moral because when everybody follows the rules of the village, then more babies get to survive.

Speaking about that baby surviving and what traits women look for in men, recently somebody asked me who my big celebrity crushes were. And I had to stop and think about it because I really like, I don’t have a purely visual fantasy of having sex with some celebrity.

So I thought for a moment and I said, “Well, it used to be Tiger Woods until he brought the germs of 13 mistresses into the home of a breastfeeding mother.” And the person who asked me said, “Oh well when you put it that way …” You see there are only four bodily fluids that carry the HIV virus – a little health psychology for you. They are blood, semen, vaginal secretions and yes, breast milk – not saliva, not sweat, not earwax, not boogers, none of that, okay? Just a little health lesson for you.

And so the thought that there was a breastfeeding mother in the house actively breastfeeding her kids and he’s bringing in potential germs from other partners, that turned me off him. And then I said, “Well there’s always Harry Connick Jr.” And my friend said, “Well, he’s good looking.” Oh I go, “I know, but he’s been married to that cute supermodel for 25 years. They’ve raised three daughters, they’re still together.”

And he’s like, “Wait, so your fantasy of having sex with a celebrity is based on if they’re a good person.” I’m like, “Hell yeah, because I’m a woman and this is how we choose. This is actually in our DNA. To not just look at physical characteristics, unless of course, we want a really short relationship.

So don’t think that women are always moral or that we are supposed to be the ones holding men to a higher moral standard. One treacherous female mating strategy is to extract genes from one mate and resources from another. Yeah, that’s the wealthy housewife having sex with the pool boy or the massage therapist or the trainer. Yeah, I know, it’s not pretty, but we do it.

I think what we really are seeing here is the genders becoming a little bit closer; closer in sexual behavior, closer in sexual freedom. Not close all the way, let’s not mince words here. Motherhood is still an enormous burden, and until we have the entire village coming together to find ways to support mothers – that would be enacting public policy that gives free childcare in every workplace, gives women and men longer parental leaves.

Until we have those supports in place, we’ll never really be even. Because even though you hear, “Oh well, women are making 77 cents on a man’s dollar,” not if she’s a mother. If she’s a mother, she has to tear that 77 cents in half and give half of it to another woman to take care of her kids while she’s at work.

So the real question is why aren’t women being more choosy about mates? I think they are. I think women use different mating strategies depending on what kind of relationship they’re looking for in a man. If they’re looking for a short term fun hookup, they make sure that their birth control is intact and they just have fun.

If they want a long-term relationship, maybe they’re near the end of their fertility window in their thirties, and they really want to make sure they have a guy who’s going to stay around a lot, they’re going to use old fashioned mating strategies. They’re going to make them sacrifice. They’re going to make him pay for a few things. They’re going to see what he can provide to her to demonstrate that he’ll be there in the long run, that he’ll be there to help take care of his offspring. So I think we all need to check ourselves when it comes to using the double standard as a way to shame women or men for that matter.

The research shows that men can fall in love just as easily as women, that men can become as attached as women can through sex. I mean, they often have a blunting of the oxytocin effect – that cuddle hormone, the bonding hormone that helps people fall in love. They often have a blunting of it by a big charge of testosterone. So yeah, there are some big bald, high testosterone men who do not fall in love through sex. But plenty of other men do and can, and may not even feel safe expressing their feelings about it.

So I will say that women should not forget those days when they were played by a playboy and how much it hurt. So if you are having a short term relationship with a man, it is nice to take the high road and explain to him that that’s what this is.

There was research done by Dr. Sandra Metts at the School of Communication at Illinois State University. Her study was called The Passion Turning Point Study. And she looked at onset of first sex in a new couple. And what she found is that that first sex could be a positive or negative turning point in a relationship, depending on one conversation that happened beforehand. And the conversation was simply, “What is this? What are we? What do we expect from this sexual encounter?”

Believe it or not, most new couples don’t have that conversation until after. And sometimes, one person thinks it’s a stepping stone to a real relationship and another person thinks it’s a hookup. And that’s when it becomes a negative passion turning point.

So, having good communication about sex, not judging anybody of any gender for their sexual behavior, always using good protection and loving your partner enough to make sure that you protect them as well – then I say go for it. There are no rules. I think we’ve passed the no rules relationship revolution, and we can enjoy the pleasures of our bodies, both to connect with others and to show our love and connection, or to get a little high from the dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine or to create a long lasting bond, one where you may raise children or simply support each other for years. All relationships are possible by human beings.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh, with producer Brooke Peterson. Next week – Slow love. It’s not what you think.

Mating Matters is produced in partnership with iHeartMedia. It is researched, interviewed, and written by me, Dr. Wendy Walsh. And it is edited and produced by Brooke Peterson.

People don’t learn about podcasts usually by just searching around. They learn about a podcast because somebody who loved that podcast told them about it. So please subscribe, write a review. And more than anything, hit that share button now. Thanks for listening, I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh.

If you’d like to call the Mating Matters message line, you certainly can. The number is (323) 207-8277. That’s (323) 207-8277. If you’ve got a question, we want to hear it. Or maybe you have a comment, either way, we love to hear from you, our listener.

Corona-Coping: Coping with the Coronavirus Quarantine

In this time of global quarantine, with anxiety high and social support, well,  distant, I’ve got a few strategies  for coping with the coronavirus quarantine that I’d like to share. I want to remind you that humanity is a wonderful thing. We, homo sapiens, took over the planet because we are the only animal with brains that could so easily problem solve and quickly adapt to new environments and conditions. Take solace in the fact that your veins course with the blood of your ancestors, the ones who traversed unknown terrain, crossed oceans, and survived during harsh harvests. You are here today because you carry the genes of some serious survivors. Take a deep breath folks. It’s time to activate those magical brains.

First, let’s Talk About Stress.

When we experience stress and the anxiety that comes with it, we often experience physical reactions. Our heart rate and blood pressure may increase. Our breathing may become quicker. Out cortisol levels rise. This is our body priming us for survival, and how we think about stress can impact how we manage our stress response. Stress can hurt your health but it can also make you more powerful. Watch one of my favorite Ted Talks by Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal called: How to Make Stress Your Friend, and you’ll feel much better about your physiological reactions to this current health crisis.

Next, we need to Reframe Things.

While some people buckle under the weight of anxiety’s symptoms, others seem to rise to the occasion and go into happy problem solving mode. True, some of the lines of hoarders at grocery stores are coping with the coronavirus quarantine by imagining the end if the world, and that can actually increase stress because it exposes them to people who carry something far more contagious than Covid19 is — fear! I want you to do something different. Imagine that you are simply being given the gift of time. The world has stopped. You’re not missing anything. You can now find the time to get to all those projects you’ve been wanting to do. And best of all, you have the people you love the most around you to do it with. So instead of worrying, teach your children your grandmother’s favorite recipe, do a DIY project in the garage, complete a family jigsaw puzzle, stage a family movie night complete with popcorn and movie tickets. Heck, while you’re at it, clean out closets, re-arrange the furniture, and plant some garden pots on your deck. This time is a total windfall. Use it productively. You’ll never get this time back.

About Your Breath

When we experience stress, we often fail to breath deeply and allow the relaxation response activated by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve on the body and and it connects your brain with your muscles, heart and lungs. There’s a quick way to activate the relaxation response of the vagus nerve and it’s practiced by many pro-athletes right before a stressful competition. Take three super deep breaths in, all the way to your belly. Each time hold the breath for three seconds and then exhale even slower than you inhaled. A good count might be, inhale for five seconds, hold for three seconds, and exhale for seven seconds. And, most important, make a big sound as the air rushes out of your lungs. AHWWWW. Nice. Do this three times whenever you feel anxiety get the best of you and you’ll find some instant relief. Here’s a great article by Jordan Fallis at the University of Ottawa called How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health.

The recipe for coping with the coronavirus quarantine is a a little mind over matter, with a dose of homebound industriousness, topped off with a sprinkle of patience. Remember, this too will pass. And some people will wish they had appreciated this time more.

 

Mating Matters ” Is Monogamy Natural”

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In this episode Dr. Wendy Walsh discusses perhaps the greatest debate of all time: Is monogamy natural? Some people believe we’re torturing ourselves needlessly and pairing up with just one person is a social construct that’s been forced upon us. But science says something different. Listen to this episode and find out more.

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: Welcome to Mating Matters, I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh with producer, Brooke Peterson. This is a special – I call it facts flash episode. A quickie, just go over some facts, to remind people how we evolved to be who we are. There’s a common question, it comes up all the time, usually from men. The question is – is monogamy normal? Is monogamy natural? Can’t possibly be. Or they’ll say, “Men are wired to spread their seed. It’s not natural and normal for them to be in one domestic domicile.”

Well, the truth is, we have the widest range of sexual behaviors of any primate species. Remember, there are 7 billion of us on the planet. So to say that humans are all one thing would be kind of nutty anyway.

However, most human cultures around the world endorse and enforce monogamy. They use laws, they use moral codes. They use religion to make people stay together and mate as a couple. So, why did monogamy not evolve out of us if we became this free super species?

Well, let’s go to the very beginning and talk about the theories of monogamy. First of all, many evolutionary psychologists believe that it was men – you dudes, aha, who invented monogamy in the first place. It was a response to the fact that we evolved to have concealed fertility, which means that there are only about three days in a given month where a woman is fertile enough to become pregnant. The rest of the time, you can copulate with her all day long and she’s not going to have reproductive success for you and your genes.

So, remember, if the name of the game is to reproduce, that’s why we’re on the planet. Then what men had to figure out is when those three days are. Men do have some techniques and strategies that they’ve evolved to have to help them figure out when women are fertile.

One of them is monogamy. Because, if they could stay close to that hot gatherers butt as she moved around, roaming in the field with her sisters, aunties, cousins, brothers, kids, etc, and not allowed any other man to gain access to her eggs, then tada, tada, those magical three days would come up and he’d happen to be there. So that would mean reproductive success for him.

Now, another very obvious fact and has been supported by lots of research, is that monogamy actually reduces crime and infanticide, and makes communities much more peaceful. Remember, we are cooperative breeders. We are a highly social species. And I want you to imagine that all the men only behave as seed spreaders. They’re out there, being commitment-phobic, not wanting to move in and focus on one woman.

So who’s going to get most of the women? Ah, the alpha dudes. Yeah, and so the alpha males would get most of the women because they would want many, many mates because they could, right? And women want less sex than men. I know it’s politically incorrect. And you can give me an anecdotal example of some relationship you were in where she wanted it all day long and he didn’t. That’s an anecdote.

The truth is, in general, women want sex less because the results of picking the wrong partner in our anthropological past, being a single mother, just like today was risky – is a more risky life. So she doesn’t have a super high sex drive to copulate. She’s more about assessing guys to see if they’re going to be good for her.

Now, how does monogamy reduce crime and infanticide? Remember all those guys who aren’t the alpha guys? Imagine if you had a society where the alphas were getting most of the women and a bunch of guys lower on the mating status ladder, shorter, less funny, less smart, I don’t know – whatever you think is less attractive in a guy, I don’t know. Those guys would be pretty darn frustrated, and they’d be pretty darn angry.

So when you have a system where a small group of alphas get most of the women and you get a lot of leftover men who can’t get access to women, this is when you see violence in a culture. Now, this is my favorite little bit of research on whether it’s better to be a seed spreader or a monogamous male.

So looking at the stats, remember, women can only get pregnant three days out of the month. So here’s our player and he’s out there trying to nail everything he possibly can, right? But it’s just like spraying seeds randomly. He’s not calculating which day of the month it might be for her.

Well, if you crunch the numbers, if a man is monogamous and he has sex with the same woman twice a week, he will have a baby once a year. That’s because women can only give birth about once a year. You can keep having sex with the same woman, but if she’s pregnant, she’s not going to get pregnant again.

Now, our seed spreader, player, alpha male, he’s taken his Superbowl ring out to the parties and he is trying to have sex with as many women as possible. He doesn’t know if they’re operating or not. So guess, how many women does he have to copulate with during the course of one year to match the mating success, the reproductive success of a monogamous male? You think it’s 5, 10, 20, maybe 30?

Sit down, it’s 33. Oh yeah, he’s got to be good at his game. And that takes a lot of work. It takes money, it takes the social skills, emotional skills, it takes time. I mean, what are dates? Dates are interviews for sex. Aren’t they? At the beginning, of course they are. So players and seed spreaders have to work a lot harder for reproduction than monogamous men.

So, if most cultures endorse and enforce monogamy, what do we really have most often as a human species? We have a few things. We have mostly serial monogamy, which means different bouts of one on one relationships in a series. In other words, the first person you fall in love with and have sex with the first time in your life, unless you’re enforced by your religion to marry them and stay together until death do you part (and you manage that somehow), most people have divorces and they have multiple relationships over the course of their lifespan.

We also have what’s called perceived monogamy or sometimes called social monogamy, where people realize that for their kids, for their families, for socializing as a couple, to build businesses, to build capital and equity and the house they own together, etc, they stay together. But they have extra pair bonds on the side.

And then there is a very small portion of our population who openly practice some form of polygamy, maybe conscious non-monogamy or swingers or falling in love with one or two people, being in a relationship with a couple. And this works for only a very, very small portion of our population because we have also evolved to have sexual jealousy. You’re going to have to listen to our episode called Poly Wanna Cracker for more on that.

So the answer, is monogamy natural. Yes. Human pair bonds where fathers and mothers invest in offspring that come out of their union, is the best deal we have for our evolution, for our reproductive success.

Oh, and gentlemen, if you’re asking yourselves, “Well, wait a sec, every time I have sex is not like I want to actually have a baby. In fact, I want to make sure I use a condom. I don’t even want to reproduce and have more kids. It’s really about the sex.” I just want to remind you that I do a bad – Brooke, don’t I do a bad guy imitation?

Brooke Peterson: It’s one of my favorite things ever.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: So anyway, if you’re thinking like that, remember that you didn’t evolve to consciously want children. The mechanism that Mother Nature gave you is you evolved to simply want to copulate. That’s it. You’re not thinking past the outcome. Alright, just want to throw that in.

Is monogamy natural? Absolutely. Is it for everybody? Yes, if they want to reproduce. Is it forever? No, we mostly practice serial monogamy. So I’m also here to pull you off the guilt train if you’ve gone through a divorce or two. Yeah, it’s normal.

But, if you’re finding long-term monogamy, uh, a little challenging, there are some tips and tricks that have been proven by science to help keep you together, help keep you excited about each other. The first is you need to learn how to manage your own stress. The problem is, if you don’t have an ability to regulate your own emotions, to have ways to self-console, whether it’s just going out for a run when you’re feeling stressed or finding other people to vent to – if you don’t, you’re going to end up taking it out on the people you love the most.

Along the same lines, you have to practice some self-management when it comes to your own life and your own goals. Yes, as a couple, you need to get together and figure out what your goals are and it might be good to revisit that every single year and say, “What would we like to accomplish as a couple every year?” But also ask the question what you’d like to accomplish as an individual.

Remember, somebody else is not responsible for your happiness or your meaning in life. You have to own your own happiness, make yourself happy first so that you can bring that happiness into a relationship.

Also, there are a couple of physiological things that you can do; touch often. If you’re sitting in two arm chairs watching television, you need to be snuggling on the couch. If you’re sleeping in a bed together at night, but keeping over to your side, at least touch toes. Your body releases so much dopamine just from physical touch.

Also, there’s research to show that a hug that lasts at least 20 seconds releases the most amount of dopamine. So no quick peck on the cheek and run out the door, honey – come on back here, let me give you a smooch and a nice long hug. And while you’re at it, how about a deep wet kiss?

Yes, we exchange information through our saliva. It’s one of the reasons why women like to kiss more than men, because we’re picking up all kinds of information about somebody’s mate status. But it’s also a way to increase bonding. So if you’ve been in a long-term relationship and it’s gotten a little brother – sisterly, you need to get it back to erotic.

You know what happens with people who have been having sex with each other for a really long time? They do the same positions, they do it in the same room, in the same bed, at the same time, etc. Whereas, we are actually wired to respond to novelty. So you’ve got to change it up a little bit. Change rooms, change time, change wardrobe. And gentlemen, if you’re wanting a woman, your woman to get into it, again, it has to change inside her head.

Sometimes if you just do some housework and keep the house a little cleaner for her, she has time to take her bubble bath and put on her new underwear. But for her, foreplay might start days before the sex, as she’s getting in the mood, as she’s thinking about it. So don’t dismiss the idea of candles, champagne, and new lingerie. They can really make a difference. Novelty is everything.

And when in doubt, don’t be embarrassed. Go see a licensed sex therapist. It can really bring your sex life back. I think long-term monogamy can work, but it does take some work and some optimism.

Alright, thanks for listening to this episode of Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh here with producer, Brooke Peterson.

I’d like to do a call out for a specific kind of guest. We’re going to talk about sexual fetishes because they’re interesting, and aren’t humans fabulous? Wacky and wonderful, we are.

So if you have a particular sexual fetish and you’d like to anonymously call us, please do. The line is (323) 207-8277. That’s (323) 207-8277. We can alter your voice, you don’t have to give us your name. But we’re really fascinated to hear your story of what kinds of things cause arousal in you.

Thanks for listening to Mating Matters, we’ll see you next time.

Mating Matters is produced in partnership with iHeartMedia. It is researched, interviewed and written by me, Dr. Wendy Walsh. And it is edited and produced by Brooke Peterson.

People don’t learn about podcasts usually by just searching around, they learn about a podcast because somebody who loved that podcast told them about it. So, I encourage you to please subscribe, write a review, and more than anything, hit that share button now. Think of somebody who would like to hear this information as much as you enjoyed it.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram at Dr. Wendy Walsh. Thanks for listening, I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh.

The sound was pretty good, hey?

Mating Matters ” The Secret Life Of Super Attachers”

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In this episode Dr.Wendy Walsh discusses long term love. Why is it that some struggle with maintaining intimate relationships and others seem to glide through with barely a bump? Could happy love lives be in our genes or is it all learned behavior? Listen to this episode and find out

EPISODE: THE SECRET LIFE OF SUPER ATTACHERS

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The Secret Life of Super Attachers

Speaker: Dr. Wendy Walsh

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Who are these couples that last a lifetime or at least a large chunk of a lifetime, while the rest of us mere mortals struggle to keep it together? What do they have that we don’t? What do they know? Basically, what’s their secret? This is Mating Matters.

Welcome to Mating Matters, the podcast that looks at human behavior through a lens of evolutionary psychology and reproduction, because mating matters for everything we do. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. On this episode, The Secret Lives of Super Attachers, people who stay attached for decades or life, happily.

Evolutionary anthropologists report that only 17% of human cultures worldwide are strictly monogamous. In other words, more than 80% of human cultures permit men to take more than one wife. Yet, monogamy has spread around the world in wealthy countries, in poorer countries, even in social circles where men could certainly afford to support more than one woman.

Researchers, Joseph Henrich from the University of British Columbia, Robert Boyd at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Peter J. Richerson from the University of California, Davis, speculated on why this is. It’s a provocative paper called The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage. Their theory? That monogamy creates some societal norms and institutions that favor cultural evolution because it benefits the larger group.

Now remember, we are cooperative breeders. It takes many people to raise a human safely. According to these researchers, monogamy reduces the population of unmarried men. Yeah, angry young men with fewer economic resources who can’t obtain regular sex, not so safe for society at large. In that way, they speculate monogamy reduces crime rates, rape, murder, assault, and robbery.

It also shifts male energy from constantly having to seek female mates. You know, dating is time intensive and expensive to paternal investment. Expenditures on all those expensive romantic dinners where sex isn’t obtained, can now be redirected into food, education, and shelter for babies. So monogamy leads to lower rates of child neglect and abuse.

But, if only 17% of human societies are strictly monogamous, what’s really going on? Well, the rest of us embrace a mixed bag of perceived monogamy and serial monogamy. In real talk, that means plenty of affairs and high divorce rates.

Probably the most common question I get when I was a practicing clinician was, is this normal? Usually the client was referring to feelings they were having in their relationship, or ways their partner was relating to them. So many people live affected by childhood trauma, neglect, abuse, or abandonment by early caregivers that they’re missing a healthy blueprint for love. And consequently, may have tumultuous relationship lives. They want to know what real love feels like, what’s normal.

Meanwhile, another chunk of the population seems to be happily sailing through long-term relationships with such ease. It makes the rest of us wonder if they have a secret formula for love. Wow, they may have. How can some people happily stay together for so many decades?

So how many years have you been married?

Male: I have been married for 24 years. It’ll be my 25th wedding anniversary in May of 2020.

Female: We met in 1991, July, 1991.We married in October, 1992 and our anniversary is this Friday – 27 years of marriage.

Female: On November 11th, it’ll be 30.

Male: I’ve been married for 30 years.

Female: We’ve been married for 30 years, together for 31.

Male: We have been married for 38 years.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: News flash about that often misquoted statistic, that 50% of marriages don’t make it, the truth is that the divorce rate in the United States has actually been declining after it peaked way back in 1980. According to the national survey of family growth, the chances that a first marriage will last at least 10 years is nearly 70%. The chances of lasting 20 years? About 54%.

So a majority of marriages do last a very long time. What keeps people together? Well, according to a 2015 Pew research study, people report that they stay together because they have shared interests and a good sex life. Also, more than half said that sharing household chores was a big plus.

If you listen to our episode in season one of Mating Matters called What is Love? – You remember that love has biological, sociological and psychological underpinnings. And people who have been together a really long time seem to be quite clear about what works in long-term love, and just how secure they feel.

Male: It’s kind of corny, but she does things that I don’t do. So she kind of completes the equation. I’m not a detailed person. She crosses Ts and dots Is, and I don’t, and we both know where our strong suits are. So I don’t try to do things she’s really good at. She doesn’t try to do things I’m really good at.

So I think when we’re together, we feel like we work really good as a team. When we’re apart, the intimate relationship is not there, so you feel a little lost.

Female: We’re not just passionate about each other, we are very passionate about each other. But in addition to that, we’re very passionate about very similar things and that has helped our marriage to grow.

Male: I think just understanding and being sensitive with one another, and not crossing the line of really bashing each other’s families because family is one of those things when you marry somebody, you marry the family.

Male: We set boundaries. Like after eight o’clock, we don’t do anything that could be a major decision. That’s time just to do mindless things, just to have relaxing time, maybe talk.

Female: You have to be friends – friends above everything else. The attraction of you know, “Oh my God, oh my God, I just love that person, I can’t wait to be with that person. I can’t wait to jump in bed with that person.” I mean like that can wax and wane over the years. But your friendship and the respect of a friendship and love of a friendship, that I think lasts forever.

Male: We understand stress is a part of life and you have to manage it daily. You can’t go a day without managing your stress. If you don’t, then your loved ones are going to pay for it.

Female: Don’t nag, bite your tongue. Think of what you say, how that’s going to affect that other person, and think if it was told to you, how would you react?

Male: Communication is top of the list, obviously. I think that if you communicate and you build that trust, that’s the recipe for a long standing relationship. Just like in life, I think communication is the key to longevity with our marriage.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Okay, besides the fact that these super attachers have some mad skills when it comes to patience, communication and maybe even fair fighting, is there something else? Could all these people have a natural inclination to bond, a genetic predisposition to love well? Have some people evolved to carry a gene for happy marriages?

To answer these questions, we turn to a geneticist who knows a thing or two about this.

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: My name is Dr. Sarah Seabrooke. I have a PhD in genetics and I’m the chief science officer for Instant Chemistry. So I’m involved in all of the science that goes on here for biological compatibility.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: When you talk about biological compatibility, what do you mean?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: So biological compatibility is a component of sexual or physical attraction that can be contributed to our biology. And what I mean by that, is there are certain genes and more specifically, genes of our immune system that contribute to our physical attraction. So these genes are very diverse among the human population. And the more different these genes are between two people, the more likely they are to have a physical or sexual attraction to each other.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: We know that having a physical attraction to somebody is great at the beginning. It’s good for drawing couples in together. But is there any evidence to say that people with these different immune systems have longer lasting passion?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: Yes. So if they have a physical attraction to each other, they’re more likely to have a longer lasting relationship. They’re more likely to have better sex lives with each other. They’re more likely to have a really good relationship with each other. So yes, that is definitely an important part of the biological attraction for our relationships to last.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Now, you are one of the founders of a company called instantchemistry.com where people can actually, couples can take a DNA test with a cheek swab saliva test to look at their immune genes. But what did we do in human history long before instant chemistry came along?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: Right, so that’s a great question. So how did we detect different genes in somebody else from ourselves back a long time ago before genetic testing. And it’s related to body odor. So when these genes – they’re turned into protein and when the protein starts to break down, they get excreted through our body odors and they contribute to the bacteria on our body that creates our body odor.

So it’s all about smell, it’s all about sense. So if somebody smells really good to you, they’re more likely to have different immune system genes than yourself. So it’s all about how good does that person smell?

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And there’s good evolutionary reason for this. When creating offspring, a baby may get brown eyes from one partner, long legs from another, curly hair or high intelligence from either, but not immune system genes – they’re special. Immune system genes combine to create a human stronger than either parent, ready to fend off way more diseases than either mom or dad. Each generation evolves to be more superhuman than the last.

But today, there’s a problem. Times have changed since we roamed the planet as sweaty and fragrant cave people, sniffing each other out. Today, humans don’t like natural human smells. And we do everything to avoid them by plastering our bodies with scents that promise a better life.

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Are we doing things that mess up Mother Nature’s perfect smell sensors?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: Yes, for sure. So when we’re showering regularly, we’re washing off all of that body odor. It’s a big movement to like not have any of your own body odor, to use perfumes, to use deodorants to kind of mask that smell. And that definitely impacts our ability to sort of detect those different immune system genes from ourselves and other people.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: But long baths and perfumes that disguise our scents aren’t the only problem. Widespread use of the birth control pill can play havoc with a woman’s natural ability to choose mates because hormones change the biological selection process.

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: At the end of your cycle, there’s higher progesterone and that will drive you to be more like interested in being around family because if the progesterone’s high, you may be pregnant. But some birth control pills are progesterone-based birth control pills. And so it’s kind of tricking your body into thinking that you’re pregnant and it changes who you’re attracted to, who you want to be around.

So if you’re taking a birth control pill, you may be attracted to someone and then when you come off that birth control pill, you’re like, “Whoa, this person isn’t what I thought they were.” That kind of attraction goes away. So there’s definitely a component to taking the birth control pill to kind of mask our ability, detect the differences in immune system genes between people.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Now, instant chemistry also tests for some other genes, some other that affect our neurochemistry. And you look at serotonin, how can that predict if people will stay securely attached for a long period of time?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: Right, so there’s a serotonin transporter that affects how well serotonin is moved from the outside of the cell to an inside of the cell in your brain. And if you have very scientifically, they call it the short and long version of these transporters. And if you have the short version, it doesn’t move serotonin as well inside the cell.

And what they found is that people who have the short version of the serotonin transporter are more likely to respond very strongly to emotional situations in their life. When things are good, they’re really good for them. And when they’re bad, they’re also really bad for them.

And they’ve done research onto married couples and they did a 13 yearlong study on married couples looking at their serotonin transporter in relationship to their marriage and their marriage satisfaction. And what they found was that if two people had this short version of the serotonin transporter, that their satisfaction in their relationship decreased over those 13 years.

And the reasoning behind it is because they had these very strong responses to emotional situations in their life. And when it was good, it was really good. But when it was bad, it was very bad for their relationship, and it kind of weird away at their relationship over time and decreased that satisfaction.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And YouTube is full of people who publicly show us their short serotonin transporters.

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What about if two people have the long version of the serotonin receptor? Are they really boring?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: Well, they have more stable relationship satisfaction over time.

Male: Well, neither of us like to yell, which is good. So we do have conflict every once in a while, but luckily, nothing severe over 30 years. One thing that I think we’re both very more cerebral than most maybe, because we like to think things out and we like to kind of root it out and we have a saying – all blame is off track.

Female: So our conflict style is we don’t yell at each other. We never have. And if we reach the point of an impasse, usually we kind of go to our own separate corners, think it through, calm down, and then come back together and work through it again.

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: There is another gene that we look for called DRD4, and that’s related to sort of excitement and looking for excitement in your relationship. And if you carry what’s called the 7R plus version of it, you are more inclined to want to do exciting things, explore, take risks than you are if you don’t carry the 7R plus version.

And what we see is that there’s only 30% of the population who carries 7R plus, but a lot of the relationships actually have one person carrying the 7R plus, and it looks like it’s because they need someone to bring that excitement to the relationship. Someone to keep it fresh, keep it moving. And if you have two people who are kind of with it, the 7R plus, they’re sort of boring. They like to get into a routine, they don’t like to try new things, take risks and it kind of gets like mundane and it just kind of flows along without too much new and exciting to keep that relationship fresh.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: So do people with the 7R plus gene fool around more? Are they more likely to have affairs? Because they’re risk takers?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: That actually is in the research and they have found yes, that if you have the 7R plus gene, you are more likely to be involved in an affair, yes.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Okay, calm down everybody. There is no such thing as a cheater gene. And saying, “My genes made me do it” is no excuse. It’s really important to remember that genetic predisposition doesn’t mean guaranteed to, it means maybe liable to or is inclined to, but can be prevented. Whether we’re talking about genes for emotional eruptions or genes for infidelity. Biology isn’t destiny.

Take the gene for heart disease for example, one that I happen to carry. Someone can make behavioral changes like exercise a lot, eat well and manage stress throughout their life that they will never ever have a heart attack, even if they carry a gene for it.

Likewise, someone with a gene for excitement and risk taking could just as easily take up sky diving and race car driving as sexual philandering. Genes can give you an advantage or a disadvantage. And, also, our early environment can enliven or suppress genetic predisposition.

So, remember those hotheads with the short serotonin transporter? They also could’ve been brought up by a family that taught them healthy relationship skills and how to manage emotions. That’s the truth about genes. They can always be enlivened or suppressed to some degree by environment. No matter what, good parents tend to raise good romantic partners.

Male: First of all, the groundwork for me was that my parents, when my dad passed away, my parents had been married 61 years – very stable family and very loving family.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And the same with your wife’s family? Did she have a model of secure attachment?

Male: Yes, she did. She came from a stable family with tremendous commitment between the parents. I did as well. And so what you want to do is you want to replicate that when the time comes for you.

Female: Well, I had a really great role model in my life with my parents. They were married for almost 50 years before my mother passed away, and my mom was kind of the more calm one and my dad was a bit more of a driver. So I saw that growing up. My family too, there was no yelling in our house. That just wasn’t allowed. And so that’s the way that I was raised.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Of course, we don’t know how much of these couples attachment style was nature and how much was nurture. We could attribute their calm nature to their long serotonin transporter genes that they inherited from their parents, along with watching their parents’ model good love.

You talked about people who both have the short version of the serotonin transporter, and sounds like they’re all fire and fury. And then you talk about two people who have the long version who tend to be stable. They’re probably a home with very neatly organized drawers. But what about when you have one and the other along in a short together of the serotonin transporter?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: Right, so they actually as well showed a more stable relationship satisfaction over more time because you have that one person bringing sort of that level headedness to the relationship and saying, “Okay, let’s step back. Let’s look at this. Let’s try to work through this.” So it helps to have one of the person be the more level headed approach to things in life.

Male: My dad never had any eyes for anyone else except my mother. He adored her and she wasn’t always easy to live with, but she was extremely funny and very witty person, very well read. And he played a great straight man to her ripe hosts and all through life, we had just ruckus laughter at the dinner table.

Male: I’m the bipolar one. I’m the one who has those streaks of, I’m up, I’m down, I’m moody, I’m whatnot, throughout the week. You know, this work can be somewhat stressful. But I think … the most even keel one. At the end of the day, I think she happens to be the rock of the family. She’s really the glue. She is.

Female: I’m more of the like, “I can’t believe you just did that, blah, blah, blah.” He’s more of the, doesn’t say a word. So when I just word vomit and get it all out there, he just lets me do it and then I’ll revisit it and say to him, “Okay, let’s talk about this calmly and I know that I went crazy on you.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh: With almost every couple we interviewed, we notice that when asked about conflict style, one partner was described as cool and steady. And the other was described as a bit of a hothead.

In our armchair analysis, the couple seemed to share one long and one short version of the serotonin transporter gene, which may have contributed to their long-term compatibility. But then, we met a woman who’s been with her husband for 28 years, despite, well, a rocky road.

Female: We’re almost the same when we argue. We’re both stubborn and we raise our voices, and one of us walks away until we cool down. We used to fight even a little bit more when our daughter was younger and throw stuff. I used to punch the wall, things like that. I know that’s bad, but I had anger issues, I guess, that’s part of it. I mean, I’m not angry anymore. I’m matured.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: When you were young and fiery and throwing things and punching the wall, was he-

Female: Breaking lamps.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Breaking lamps – was his reaction a little more calm?

Female: No, he would fight back. He wouldn’t throw things, but he would scream.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: So how did they stay together through decades of anger? Maybe, just maybe, they had two short versions of the serotonin transporter gene; the ones that cause fire and fury. But those genes could have been modulated by an excellent pairing of immune system genes – the ones that contribute to an exciting and bonding sex life. It was the physical attraction that kept them stuck like glue.

Female: We’ve always had a good sex life for some reason, even though we kind of hated each other. Maybe the hate brought the sex better, I don’t know. And I think if we didn’t have a good sex life, I don’t know if we would have lasted, I don’t know. But some people, they can’t have sex with each other when they’re mad at each other, but we were still able to do it.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And are there other genes that you look at for instant chemistry?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: Yeah, so we look at an oxytocin receptor and that’s related to empathy. And we look at two versions. One which they found people have higher abilities to empathize. And the other version people have lower abilities to empathize. And that’s also very important for a relationship because there’s research showing that if you have one person who is less empathetic, they bring more anxiety to the relationship, more anxiety about the stability of the relationship, they have lower trust and that also affects the relationship.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And here’s the good news, empathy can be learned. Relationship skills can be learned. Our lovable hotheaded friend, the one with the great sex life, you just heard, she says that once she became ill and woke up in the hospital with her husband at her side, at that moment, she made an intellectual choice to change, to respect him more. She says she had an awakening, one that may have saved her marriage.

Female: We’re like friends now, friends and lovers and mates. We do more things together. We go to movies together, we do something every weekend. It’s just we have more respect for each other now. I know it’s kind of boring saying that, but I wouldn’t see the good things that he did. It was like blocked.

I started reading some books about happiness, how to be happy and this and that. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and just doing it with him, he just was responding in a positive way. Now, when I do act like a bitch, I usually realize it and I apologize.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Empathy is also how the couple who has been together for 30 years operates.

Male: Always look at how you can serve the other person. And if you look at it that way, then you’re not becoming co-dependent, you’re actually adding to the relationship. And I think that that’s a big thing. I’m not always looking to take, I’m looking to see how can I add value? How can I plus her day, how can I make things better? And she’s doing the same thing for me.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: It’s important to remember that a DNA test can help reveal the vulnerabilities in a relationship. Not so you can break up, but so that you can attend to those vulnerabilities, instead of letting your genes run the show.

So do you recommend that before anybody get married nowadays, they both take a DNA test?

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: I think it’s a great idea. I’ve taken it with my husband and I thought it was a great thing to do. It gives you some information about your partner that is very unique to your specific relationship because we’re looking at so many different factors. So it’s very unique to you and your partner. And it tells you insights about them that gives you an understanding about why they’re reacting to certain situations.

Maybe you’re like, “Well, I didn’t find this to be a big deal, but my partner is very stressed out about this, or reacting very strongly. And okay, well maybe there’s this genetic predisposition to it, and I should be more empathetic towards that and take that into consideration. Instead of just being like, ‘Why are you reacting so strongly?’” Have an understanding about how the other person is working, how they tick.

Love takes work. It takes involvement in the relationship. I mean, maybe it just happens at the beginning, but it doesn’t just stay. It’s something that you have to work on and develop. I think it’s really important, really great for your relationship to take the test.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Remember the man married 30 years, the one with the calm neurochemistry who never raises his voice in an argument? Well today, he and his wife run a company called BrainTap that actually helps people and couples manage their neurochemistry.

Male: Your loved ones will take you back, so there’s a tendency to go off on people you love because they’re going to love you back. And so knowing that you need to basically get rid of that excess energy, but there are solutions. It’s more than just saying there’s a problem. There are solutions out there today that can help relationships.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Even solid relationships whose partners have good relationship skills, face life’s speed bumps. Here’s the man who’s been married 38 years, the one who learned relationship skills from his parents who had been married 61 years. Even he and his super attached partner had to work through tough times. One time, he says, he, his wife and one of their sons decided to talk to a therapist about some behavioral issues, but a lot more was uncovered.

Male: And concurrently with that situation, she had seemingly lost interest and intimacy with us. And I quite frankly, one night I said to her, “I think I can do the math in my head, how many times more we’re going to be intimate before we expire.” And she just had kind of a different response.

And it turned out that my wife’s mother who had passed away two years before, it turned out that that shutting down of intimacy impulses was the fact that she was in a deep mourning for her mother’s death and she had no idea. And the psychologist got that out of her, but apparently she was in a deep form of mourning that I was not able to recognize it. I didn’t see that.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: For most couples, being a super attacher means being willing to do the work. But, for some lucky couples, the mating game is literally about winning a genetic lottery.

Dr. Sarah Seabrooke: I think if you have maybe a high biological compatibility and you’ve got a couple of high factors and the neurochemistry that there’s a higher chance there of you having that sort of super attachment. If you’ve got that physical attraction component and you’ve got like, yeah, you’re very stable in your relationship, those are all benefits to you – could contribute to being a super attacher

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Nature and nurture work hand in hand. Our genes may impact nearly 60% of our behavior, but the other 40% is up to us. You and your partner may have mismatched immune system genes, which means you have to work a little harder on your sex life. Or maybe it’s your serotonin transporter genes, meaning you have trouble with emotional regulation and fiery fights.

Well, conflict resolution skills can also be learned or perhaps, it’s empathy, the oxytocin receptor, and you have trouble with empathy and trust. That also can be learned. Finally, if you’re one of the 30% of the population with the DRD4, the 7R plus version, that means that you’re a risk taker. You love excitement and adventures. There’s ways to do that without risking your relationship health.

The human brain is malleable. The four cornerstones of a good relationship do include physical attraction, emotional regulation, empathy, and impulse control. But if you didn’t win the couple’s genetic lottery, awareness is the key. You have to know your vulnerable areas and give them the attention and extra effort they need. Because yes, relationships are work.

Thanks for listening to Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh with producer Brooke Peterson.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: If you’d like to call the Mating Matters message line, you certainly can. The number is (323) 207-8277. That’s (323) 207-8277. If you’ve got a question, we want to hear it. Or maybe you have a comment, either way, we love to hear from you, our listener

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Mating Matters is produced in partnership with iHeartMedia. It is researched, interviewed and written by me, Dr. Wendy Walsh. And it is edited and produced by Brooke Peterson.

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Male: Listen to the other, listen to them. Humor is really important. So having a great sense of humor is really important. And whether you like it or not, compromise, you’ve got to compromise. If you’re going to be stubborn and dig in on things and be unreasonable, you’re going to have problems down the road.

I’m a big believer, listen to what they have to say. And you may have to do something that you don’t want to do. Don’t compromise principles, don’t compromise ethics. But it’s give and take. You’re a team, and it sounds hokey, but you’re a team. And as long as you view each other as a team, it’s all good.