Hi Reddit, I'm back! Last year about this time I did an AMA and it was such a blast, I thought I'd do it again. I'll be here until 4pm PST answering as many questions as I can.

What are our ideals for what we want in a romantic partner, and whom do we select? The research might surprise you!

My research investigates how people initiate romantic relationships and the psychological mechanisms that help romantic partners to remain committed and attached. One segment of my research explores how the qualities that people say are critically important to them in a romantic partner—their ideal partner preferences — affect how they choose and retain a partner.

In addition to teaching General Psychology, and graduate and undergraduate courses on close relationships and evolutionary psychology. I run “The Attraction and Relationship Research Laboratory” at UC Davis. I'm currently working on a piece about evolutionary psychology but that's for another time.

Proof: https://twitter.com/ucdavis/status/1357505487282057216

**UPDATE @ 4pm PST ** Thanks for all these great questions, everyone! I have to go but you can follow me on Twitter and read more about my research at this link here.

**UPDATE @ 1:45pm PST 2/12/21** Wow! Thanks for all of the additional questions! I plan to come back and answer more of them after getting through this weekend."

Comments: 149 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

juswundern164 karma

Why is the end of a relationship so devastating? & is it best to cut contact completely or remain friends?

OfficialUCDavis291 karma

Hi u/juswundern -

Most people feel their relationships the way they do other attachment bonds, and the breaking of bonds is especially hard. By knowing that relationship endings can be so painful, we’re often willing to work harder to maintain them - so the pain of a breakup may have a preemptive motivational function in this way.

The cut contact vs. remain friends question is a classic, and I can’t say I know of any strong research making this comparison well. My guess is that there are quite a few contextual and mitigating factors here, such as how challenging it is to cleanly separate your social networks and how painful it eventually is to see the person with someone else. I do know of work, though, suggesting that sleeping with an ex is NOT the way to get over a breakup - that tends to prolong the process, especially if the sleeping is casual or accidental or not well thought through.

rededelk90 karma

I've had a few girl friends over the years (not romantic in this question ) who, after marriage, confided to me that they knew that they were going to marry so and so at first sight, and they did. Your take? (all very attractive, good women, if that matters)

OfficialUCDavis171 karma

This certainly CAN happen - there are not many relationships that start with this level of certainty, but some could. When we ask people to retrospect about the history of their existing long-term relationships, a modest percentage of them will say they were at the top of the scale from moment #1. But to really test this idea, I’d want to compare your friends’ predictions with other, similar predictions that they made about other men to really get a sense of whether they were accurate. After all, if you predict that you’ll form a relationship (or marry) every potential partner you meet, you’ll eventually be “accurate”!

brynn2879 karma

Hi Professor :D its brynn from psc51. Is it true that people never truly get over their first love? I've heard that people always say you will never experience a love as passionate as your first love since that was your first time experiencing those emotions... like you're chasing a high that you can never fully obtain again. so people say that you shouldn't compare your future relationships to that initial because it's impossible to attain that initial high. its like in criminal minds one episode this man killed someone and then kept killing people and escalating it, but it didn't matter because he would never get that intense feeling he felt from his initial kill. LOL sorry that was the first comparison I could think of. does that make sense?? if so, do you think that's true? also any tips for getting over a break up :D

OfficialUCDavis162 karma

Hi Brynn! It’s a really good question, and I’m willing to bet that there are no good data out there to address it in the right way (very few studies follow people over multiple relationships, much less the FIRST relationship that someone had). I will say there are some researchers who think that age is related to worsening relationships - that older people are just generally more miserable in their relationships - and this would be consistent with what you’re suggesting. That being said, I think this idea is probably an artifact of the fact that people generally decrease in their romantic satisfaction over time over the course of one relationship, so it’s really a relationship length effect and not an age effect.

As to your key question, though: I think it’s also important not to lose sight of the fact that people are really good at reimagining the past so that they are happy in the present. So when they think back to past relationships, they remember all the parts that were worse than their current relationship - they forget about the partners that were better than the current relationship. And this is adaptive for staying happy! So I’d be willing to bet that most people can remember the high of their first love, but they also think “oh, but he/she was so immature!” or other rationalizations that keep people going in subsequent relationship attempts.

yakshack75 karma

Do the ideals we want in a romantic partner change if we have close or emotionally supportive relationships with friends and family?

Basically, wondering how what we want from a ronantic partner may change the more or fewer relationships we have in other areas of our lives that can meet our needs.

OfficialUCDavis80 karma

Hey u/yakshack -
If I were to speculate based on the data I’ve seen: If we’re talking about what you SAY you want in an ideal partner, then I would suspect that the same attributes you like in friends/family members/friends are going to be highly correlated with the attributes you say you want in a partner. I suspect most evolutionary psychologists would disagree with this take of mine, but I think ideal attributes reflect in large part a general value that people put on the attribute: If you come from a family/neighborhood/peer group that really valued traits like kindness and respect, you’re going to see those attributes as being valuable wherever you go.

I think it’s helpful to think about people’s ideals as reflecting these shared ideas about the attributes we value. The challenge is that these ideas actually correlate quite poorly with the attributes that inspire our romantic interest in real-life people. So we might say we value kindness and respect more than most people - and we genuinely believe this in our hearts! - but then it’s the adventurous rebel that appeals to us in real life. (And then we just convince ourselves that the adventurous rebel actually IS kind and respectful and there is no tension to be resolved!)

rosyjellybean65 karma

What are your thoughts on forming (long-term/long-distance) romantic relationships through the internet as we grow increasingly connected online?

OfficialUCDavis97 karma

Hi u/rosyjellybean - When internet connectivity was less sophisticated ~10+ years ago, I would have said that it’s tricky because it is a common experience that an initial face-to-face impression of a person can be quite different from the impression that you got over email/through IM/through photos. But as we’ve all experienced over the last year, there are so many ways of feeling connected to another person online now that I would be willing to bet that the difference between an online (e.g., Zoom) impression and a face-to-face impression is much smaller than it once was. It probably isn’t “no difference” of course, and so it’s probably still true that most people will want to meet face-to-face not just for the physical intimacy but also to “be sure” that this relationship feels in person like it does online. But this need to meet face-to-face quickly is probably less pressing than it used to be.

HelloILikeShawn42 karma

Hi professor! I was curious how soon people find "the one" once they officially start looking.

I have been single for 19 years and I am affaid that having lost out on the "dating to see what I don't like" in my youth may make it so that I do not settle down for a while!

Also is it common to not be in a relationship for this long? Just feel a bit behind.

Thank you!

OfficialUCDavis79 karma


Well, I can speak to a little bit of data on this question. I have seen numbers like the following: If you follow an average sample of single college-aged people for 6 months, about ⅓ of them will form a casual or serious relationship during that stretch. Most people are a little surprised by how low that value is. It means that if you want to follow a sample and make sure EVERYONE gets in a relationship, you’re going to be following that sample for a very long time - it definitely takes a while.

And so - if by single you mean unmarried - 19 years before finding “the one” doesn’t strike me as especially uncommon in the modern dating landscape.

IndyPoker97935 karma

Why do so many people believe in the alpha/beta relationship?

OfficialUCDavis83 karma

Hi u/IndyPoker979 -

It is a very popular idea that there are “different kinds” of partners, with alpha vs. beta being a recent incarnation of the idea. For example, in the evolutionary psychological literature, there is the distinction between men with “good genes” vs. men who are “good dads” (i.e., dad vs. cad), which is very similar to the alpha vs. beta idea. There is also a general tendency among people to think about others in terms of “types” (e.g., Astrology signs).

The trouble is, almost no individual differences actually work this way. There is very little evidence for types on pretty much anything, even including clinical/psychological disorders which were ALWAYS assumed to reflect types and other categorical distinctions. What this means vis a vis alpha and beta is that, even though there might be a continuum of dominance out there, and it might matter in settings where people are initially meeting each other, there is remarkably little evidence that some men are the “investing” kinds of partners and other men are the “good for sex” kinds of partners.


IndyPoker97927 karma

Ty. I've never understood why people would buy into a concept that relates men to predators. It eliminates the other person's humanity and it infers that men are preying upon their targets...

OfficialUCDavis74 karma

I agree with you. AND I would also note that the movie Promising Young Woman deals with these themes in a deep and thoughtful and frankly terrifying way. It makes the point, in a way, that all men are alphas and all men are betas - one woman’s beta-good-dad-prince charming is another woman’s alpha-nightmare - and that observation really requires men to reckon with the sum of their behaviors in the romantic/sexual realm.

smartief135 karma

So many questions!

Is there a timeline for how quickly relationships develop, from meeting to being serious and committed? Is there a correlation between speed of relationship development and longevity?

What are your views on polyamory and parallel committed relationships?

OfficialUCDavis72 karma

Hi u/smartief1 -

For your first question - This timeline can vary quite a bit. On average, most partners know each other as acquaintances or friends for weeks, months, or even years before the relationship actually becomes sexual or romantic or mutually acknowledged. An average value that I sometimes toss around to describe this period of time (i.e., first meeting to “we are a couple”) is 11 months. But that’s an average, and the average is pulled up by those couples who knew each other for many years before they finally got together. And of course, the “click” can happen instantaneously, too, and online dating is probably increasing the proportion of relationships that form this way. (Although people can also use online dating in conjunction with the “older” approach of expanding your social network, getting to know a bunch of people over time, and letting the romance happen gradually.)

For your second question - As a researcher, it seems to me that polyamory and parallel committed relationships are likely to have unique challenges that “traditional” exclusive couples do not face, and they are likely to have unique opportunities as well. On the challenges side: One of the biggest challenges that the average exclusive couple faces is that the building of a bond requires that you spend a lot of time together, and it’s important to feel as though you are uniquely important and desirable to that other person. This is why we get jealous if our partner seems interested in someone else - it threatens our unique importance. So it would seem to me that, to make polyamory work, two people have to maintain that feeling of unique importance and desire even in a context where one or both of them is spending considerable time or having sex with other people.

But if folks can overcome these challenges, one could imagine there is a lot of potential for benefits, too. After all, in the contemporary US, we expect A LOT of our exclusive romantic partners: They are our confidants and our co-parents and our sex partners. It could be very efficient to split up some of this work among different partners so we didn’t burden one person so heavily with all of our needs. So there is a case to be made that polyamorous systems could work more efficiently, in this sense, if needs are distributed to the partners who are best equipped to handle them.


SeriousAsPie32 karma

What can you tell me about trauma and dating?

I have a history of trauma and seem to attract people who are not great for me. Is it possible to change myself/my preference/something in order to attain healthier relationships?

OfficialUCDavis78 karma

Hi there - I think there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that finding support (e.g., from trusted close others, or through counseling), especially in cases of trauma, can help people to repair their existing relationships and find new relationships that are good for them. So getting support in that sense is critical.

An additional, perhaps underappreciated avenue, is to find a “change of scenery,” if possible. When we have looked at the data on what leads our various romantic partners over time to be similar to each other, it doesn’t seem to be due to our preferences at all, and it’s only a small degree due to factors like our ability to attract certain kinds of people (e.g., how attractive we are).

It mostly has to do with who we are regularly meeting - in our town, our school, our social context. Anecdotally, I know a number of people (including myself) whose dating fortunes changed dramatically after moving to a new town/city! But the self-work, especially on how to process trauma, is probably the most vital component.

WinnerIll94925 karma

Hi!! What do you think love is? My personal opinion is that it’s subjective, so I’d be interested to know if there’s actually some way to quantify it

OfficialUCDavis46 karma

Hey there u/WinnerIll949 -

Love is a very complex and multifaceted construct in the psychological literature, and most of the time, researchers do assess it using subjective measures (e.g., scales that ask you to rate your agreement with items like “this person always seems to be on my mind”, which assesses passionate love). There are passionate components, and also companionate components (e.g., intimacy), and some have even suggested that the decision to commit to someone can be a form of love.

When it comes to doing the actual researcher, love is a term that has so many diverse meanings that I find that it’s easier to stick to constructs that are a TAD more likely to be interpreted in the same way by different people, like “satisfaction” or “trust”. Satisfaction is probably the most common variable that we examine (i.e., why are some people happy in their relationships and others are not?)


hansolo4president22 karma

I've got two pretty different questions.

  1. My past three partners were all born within 3 days of each other. Coincidence or is there something there? I'm not a big believer in zodiac signs or horoscopes...
  2. Is there any validity behind the "science" of the book 5 Love Languages?

OfficialUCDavis58 karma

Hi u/hansolo4president -

For your first question - I think this HAS to be a coincidence, rather than signs or horoscopes. The odds are certainly small, but they’re not infinitesimal. Consider that in a room of 23 people, there is a 50/50 chance that two people share the same birthday! So this probability is small but not, like, one in a quadrillion small.

For your second question - So I just had to look them up again - the languages are: affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, physical touch, and quality time.

These things are great - I would be willing to bet that all these behaviors are associated with satisfying relationships. Now, the central love languages idea is that I might use one of these but not the others - and my partner might favor the same one or a different one. That individual-differences part is what I highly doubt. That is, my guess is that people tend to use a bunch of them, and their relationships are happy, and other people don’t use any of them, and their relationships are miserable. It’s very, very unlikely that two people are unhappy because they use incompatible love languages - those kinds of “you do this but I do that” compatibility effects are exceptionally rare in close relationships research.

MuffinMagnet21 karma

How often do you comment on r/relationships or r/relationship_advice ?

Do they heed your advice?

OfficialUCDavis45 karma

I check it out from time to time (especially when I need to be inspired by real world examples), but I’ve never commented or posted in there myself!

j0mal0ne19 karma

Hello! I've heard that people who spend approximately 72 hours together fall in love with each other. Is that true?

Also, have you found any differences in how relationships form and are navigated with same sex relationships compared to heterosexual relationships?

OfficialUCDavis36 karma

Hello u/j0mal0ne!

Totally fascinating! There are certain tasks that can “fast track” the experience of intimacy (you may have heard of the 36 questions that lead to love. But in terms of the # of hours, I don’t know of any studies that have tried the “put people in a room and see how often things start to happen”. I would guess that 72 uninterrupted hours might not create too many couples, but a few hours here and there over the course of, say, a few months might be more successful at getting relationships to form. That’s my hunch anyway.

For your second question - Most of the differences of the same-sex vs. different-sex variety are in the sexual realm and sort of make obvious points (e.g., gay men are aroused by gay porn more than straight men). And I could imagine that you’d see differences in the relationship formation realm, too - I know that online dating apps have likely aided gay men and lesbian women even more than they have aided heterosexual men and women, for example. But once those relationships have become established, I haven’t seen a great many differences identified - many of the same processes like building intimacy and trust, reducing toxic conflict, and avoiding attractive alternatives seem to be key. That being said, it is very, very rare that a study examines established relationships AND collects a large sample of gay/lesbian and heterosexual couples, so the differences could emerge if we get the right kind of data.


j0mal0ne6 karma

Thanks so much for your response!

OfficialUCDavis5 karma

Of course - thanks for the question!

8urfiat18 karma

If you were in a literal food fight to the death, what food would you choose as your weapon of death?

OfficialUCDavis54 karma

I guess hot sauce? I mean, there is a pain scale associated with it, so that’s pretty good. And it’s used in psychological studies of aggression. So yeah, hot sauce.

twinned13 karma

Hey Dr. Eastwick! Thanks for dropping by.

What originally drew you to studying the science of relationships?

What's the most interesting paper/poster you've come across at SPSP's virtual preconference this year?

OfficialUCDavis20 karma

Thanks for having me!

I took Dr. Cindy Hazan’s class in college called “Human Bonding.” It covered human romantic relationships but also mating in nonhuman animals and a variety of evolutionary perspectives as well. I was hooked after that!

As for your second question...

Well, this is biased, but I was an organizer of the close relationships preconference, and I thought the panel this year on “interventions in relationship science” was deeply fascinating. The speakers were a mix of practitioners working with real relationships and intervention science folks who actually came from outside the relationships traditions. They had somewhat different (but still complementary) perspectives on issues like “do you identify the common core of a problem you want to change and develop an intervention that will work across contexts?” or “do you get to know your community and tailor an intervention to that group specifically?” (The answer is apparently yes to both questions!)

V_7_10 karma

Hi! So you think dating websites are a base to find real love? What are they doing right/wrong?

OfficialUCDavis41 karma

Hi back!

So yes, they can do great things to help people find love. Just the access to a group of single-and-searching potential partners is considerably better than the mechanisms we had available in decades past. I also think that dating apps that facilitate face-to-face meetings quickly and safely are likely to be especially effective at helping people find others they click with.
I will also say that the dating app/website landscape reinforces a mistaken (and, for a lot of people, discouraging) idea that the way you land a partner is by sweeping them off their feet from moment one. That is just not how it typically works. Classically, relationships were formed as intersecting networks of friends and acquaintances put new people in contact with each other, and you got to know people at least a little bit over time before sparks flew.

That context actually turns out to be better for the “less consensually desirable” because more time means more idiosyncratic opinions (all the studies claiming that “we all agree on who is hot and who is not” are done with first impressions and/or pictures - it’s a very different picture among acquainted individuals). So when people get very frustrated that they don’t make good first impressions, I feel for them - but note, relationships were not designed to form this way. They didn’t form this way in our ancestral past, and only recently has this approach taken over as the dominant form.

codytoshiro6 karma

Do you have a favorite romantic comedy?

OfficialUCDavis27 karma

An all-time favorite? That’s hard...maybe Before Sunset (i.e., the middle one in the Richard Linklater trilogy). The issues they are grappling with feel very real and lived in, and the whole thing just escalates exquisitely over the course of the movie.