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​We Can’t Commit to One Person Because There’s Always Someone Better, Says Science

Confirming what we already know: social media is a plague on relationships.

by Jake Kivanc
May 19 2016, 6:20pm

If trust issues weren't bad enough, this study probably makes it sting a bit more. Photo via Flickr user Tuncay Coskun

Read more: Are Young People Really More Open to Polyamory, or Do We Just Like to Cheat?

In what comes as zero surprise to anybody under the age of 40, a new study looking at long-term relationships found that the reason we have trouble settling down is because we're constantly analyzing and searching for a better, more-compatible match.

The research published this month from University of Texas looked at 119 men and 140 women who were in long-term relationships and discovered that partners chose each other based on an algorithm of 27 qualities, including attractiveness (of course), intelligence (good to know), health (fair enough), and financial responsibility (fuck).

The researchers then divided up the couples by the partner who was generally more desirable and the partner who was generally less desirable, based on the qualities described above (ie. the reacher and the settler).

The team found that when the more the desirable partner was exposed to other people who fit their ideal needs, it was harder for that person to remain loyal and affectionate to their significant other. If the partner was less desirable, they remained satisfied and were more likely to stay committed to their relationship.

Daniel Conroy-Beam, a psychology researcher and one of the lead members on the study, told VICE the partners who were more desirable sometimes do make their relationships work, but only if that person has a limited number of options to upgrade from their existing relationship.

Conroy-Beam added that, while the study didn't look at couples long enough to conclude that imbalanced relationships were bound for doom, he expects that most of the pairings would begin to see rifts once the more desirable person's status allowed them to meet more people at their calibre—or if the other person's desirability dropped too low.

"We know that we have these kind of ideal preferences for what we'd want in a mate in a perfect world. We know what people desire, but it hasn't been very clear what these desires do," he told VICE. "This was us trying to find out if we can use our desires to predict what's going on in our actual relationship."

In follow-up research, the team looked at how partners who experienced strained relationships coped with or tried to keep those bonds together. Once again, the researchers found that those who were less desirable or had fewer options tried to keep the relationship going longer and reported higher levels of happiness. These partners would also make more of an effort to keep their partners from seeing other people (referred to in the research as "mate shielding") and worked harder to make themselves more attractive.

Conroy-Beam says that the team didn't look directly at social media as a factor—noting that the need to upgrade is a "fundamental part of human nature." Rather, he believes the mating environment has "changed dramatically over the last few years" with dating apps like Tinder, which may exacerbate our inability to commit.

"The psychology has always been the same, but the dynamics have changed because the mating environment has changed," he told VICE. "This behavior has evolved over a long period of time where we as humans have been exposed to relatively small groups of mates, but now, with modern technology, we have access to a functionally infinite number of mates."

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