Friday, May 11, 2012

Love Me, Love Me Knot: "I thought you loved me!"

I came across this study described in a little write up on the Science of Relationships blog, by Samantha Joel.  An excellent summary on an excellent blog. 

Samantha Joel describes a study published last year (2011) by Joshua Ackerman, Vladas Griskevicius, and Norman Li.  This follows up perfectly from my last post, where I suggested that, on average, it was more critical for women to get clear signals about commitment from men than vice versa as relationships are progressing—or potentially progressing.  This is because women have a lot more at risk simply because they can become pregnant and have babies and men do not.

A lot of commitment dynamics and commitment decoding issues are tied up in that simple biological fact above.  I’ve discussed the importance of this in numerous places.  The findings of Ackerman, Griskevicius, and Li fit perfectly within this thinking.  They use some pretty complex evolutionary and economic theory to make their key points, but I can distill it down pretty clearly for the current themes on my blog:   

On average (it’s always on average, remember that!):

1.  Men tend to express love in a new romantic relationship before women do.

2.  Most people believe it’s the other way around.

3.  Men and women have different emotional reactions to the expression of love before versus after having sex. 

A couple of quotes from the research paper make the important points rather well:

            A presex confession may signal interest in advancing a relationship to include sexual activity,whereas a postsex confession may instead more accurately signal a desire for long-term commitment. (p. 1090)

          On the face of it, this reaction appears to suggest that men are quite interested in early commitment. However, after the onset of sex in a relationship, men exhibited somewhat less positivity to confessions of love. (p. 1090)


Feelings of feeling in love—and, more importantly, expressions—can be affected by the desire to have sex. That’s why when an immediate desire to have sex with the possibility of having sex make for a confusing picture regarding signals of true long-term interest and commitment.  So, for someone interested in deeper commitment and/or tying the knot, “love me, love me not” decision situations are pretty critical.  Does it mean someone wants to become more intertwined—knotted, if you will—just because he or she says they love you?

As I’ve talked in numerous posts and writings, signals about commitment are a really big deal in understanding what’s going on in relationships. If you are looking at a signal that has little signal value related to what you are trying to discern, you can misread the situation by a wide margin.  And I do think there are fewer clearer signals related to commitment in developing relationships than their used to be.  I’ll talk about Facebook pretty soon, as something pretty interesting has emerged there in this regard—and if you are in the zone of life dealing with all these things personally, you know where I’ll head on that. 

I will end by asking a similar question to the one in the last post. What truly signals commitment? What do you think?  What are you sure of? Does it work the same way for you as for others you might be romantically interested in?  That’s something it may be worth being less sure about.

If you want to read more, two of my (our) papers get pretty far into this whole issue of both signaling issues related to commitment and differences that may often matter related to either gender and/or personality attachment styles.  So, if you want to go deeper, have at it.  Here are links to two papers. 

Our journal article on commitment, signals, attachment, and the formation of commitment:

"Commitment: Functions, Formation, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment"

My article on men and commitment and why men resist marriage but say they value it more (on average) than women.

"What is it with Men and Commitment, Anyway?"