Thanks to a gun law in Texas, Eugene is now home to relationship author and blogger Duana Welch. She moved to Eugene last year after her home state of Texas passed a law allowing guns in classrooms. As a college instructor, Welch says she retired in protest, and she and her husband moved to Eugene in search of political ideals more closely matched to their own.
Welch brings to Eugene a wealth of knowledge on science-based dating advice. She runs the online blog LoveScience and wrote the book Love Factually, a guide to finding love based on scientific studies and data. She’s currently teaching a class at Ophelia’s Place that elaborates on the book’s concepts.
EW sat down with Welch to find out what science has to say about relationships.
On looking for love
The simplest and most logical way to discuss this is as if we were talking about a job interview. Let’s say someone has been looking for a job for about a year, and then they say, “You know what, I’m going to stop looking. If it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen.” It’s laughable. We all know the right job doesn’t just happen.
The worst advice is to stop looking. There’s science in the field of economics looking at how long it takes people to find their partners. Basically, it takes most people about 12 relationships. It doesn’t really specify how intense these relationships are, but it’s around 12 deep considerations of a person.
So this process that feels so utterly random and therefore frightening is not really random, and hopefully it’s a little less frightening. You’re going to get what you want — you just need to hang in there. Here’s who doesn’t get what they want: the person who gives up.
On online dating
I think you can make a success of dating on any website as long as you pay. No freebies. If there’s no investment upfront, people tend to treat their relationships online as if there is no investment. So there needs to be a fee that’s associated with that website.
I was on three paid websites, and I assumed that I was doing something kind of quirky and weird. I was shocked to find out from a huge representative study called the Harris Poll that between 2001-2008, almost a third of people who met their marriage partner met them online.
The people who met online were slightly happier than people who met any other way. Even people who met at church were on average not as happy as the people who met online.
When you meet online at a paid site, especially a site about commitment, the mere fact that you are there and this other person is there breaks down a number of barriers. You’re both single, you’re both looking and, in the case of commitment-minded sites, you’re both invested in making a connection.
On finding a match
When I was dating, I figured out what would be a good match for me, and then I went on three different dating sites. I put my profile out there and, for men who responded to that profile, I basically sent them a questionnaire. It was a fun questionnaire. There was a lot of laughter involved. And if somebody didn’t want to answer it, that was OK. We just didn’t go out. They went on with their lives and I hope things worked out well for them. But if they did, we could see if we had enough in common.
I knew what my rock-bottom deal breakers were — my must haves — and I also knew what my “desirables” were. That’s probably the most important exercise I do with anyone, having people make that list and be honest when they encounter someone with a deal breaker.
I love the Beatles, but that song [“All You Need Is Love”] was really damaging. Love is just not enough. We need love, and then we also need a lot of similarity and an absolute absence of deal breakers. If you have all those things, then you’re set up for love that grows rather than love that diminishes.
On marriage & happiness
I’m going to quote Sue Johnson, who is famous for doing attachment theory and research. She says that dependency is a dirty word in Western society. And it’s true. We really are told you have to be strong and capable and happy all by yourself, and a partner is a nice add-on. But the science finds that is totally incorrect.
We now know from research conducted by the National Institutes of Health that compared to everyone else — the widows, the permanently single, the divorced, the cohabiting — married people are wealthier, healthier, their children do better on every dimension except for how good looking they are and, very fascinatingly, married people have a better sex life. Married people report the highest levels of satisfaction in their sex life of any group, including people who are cohabiting.
On bad relationships:
One thing I have my clients do is keep on their computers this list of must-haves and wants, and the must-haves are rock bottom. If there’s even one that’s gone, it doesn’t matter if they have 100 percent of the other stuff, that’s a must-have. Don’t start the relationship because basically you’ve got a guaranteed divorce on your hands. It’s heartbreak. Don’t do it. It’s a must-have for a reason.
Every time you go through a relationship, it triggers you to think of more must-haves and more wants. Sometimes they show us through bad behavior or a bad match what we can’t tolerate. For example, being messy is not necessarily a bad behavior, but I’m a neat freak and I can’t tolerate it. Those past relationships guide you in terms of what you do or don’t want.
What so many people do right now is the opposite of arranged marriage. They fall in love and then they get married and ask the questions. I want you to reverse that. Ask the hard questions. Then let yourself fall in love with and get close to people who meet your criteria, and then you’re good to go. You can make a commitment to this person, and it’s going to work. We’re doing it backwards right now.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Welch will teach a relationship class based on her book Love Factually about finding love starting Feb. 18 at Ophelia’s Place; email firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 16 to register. Love Factually can be found at Black Sun Books and the Duck Store.