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We Should Just Buy Garlic In Bulk

January 19, 2011

Last night Ethan and I had a somewhat typical interaction. It starts with him asking a seemingly simple question, like “did you buy garlic?”, to which I reply something really informative, like “oops.” After that we have a lively discussion about grocery lists, which somehow turns into a conversation about the best way to clean the kitchen or whose system for separating the recycling is more efficient. Assuming this discussion isn’t accompanied by any work disasters or finding out that Gossip Girl is a rerun, again, then good mood prevails and we laugh it all off. But inevitably we find ourselves wondering how on earth we ended up together.

Oddly enough, it turns out that Slate Magazine was wondering the same thing! The article describes a common theory in psychology called assortative mating, which is sciency talk for “we fall in love with people just like us”.

Well I don’t know how they wrote that whole article without talking about this awesome study from 1993*. These researchers collected super crazy data (from 369 pairs of adult twins and their spouses!) to try to find out if there is any rhyme or reason for how people end up together. See the thing about identical twins brought up in the same house is that they’re bound to be really really similar to one another. And the logic follows that if there is anything lawful, anything at all, about how we pick our partners (opposites attract, similarity prevails, we only love people who forget garlic at the grocery store, pretty much anything) then the spouses of those twins should be be really similar too.  So if the spouses are similar to one another, then voila! Evidence for some kind “perfect match” system in the Cupid Cosmos. Wanna know what they found? Nothing! Nada! The spouses were no more similar to one another than they were to some other random person in the study. Apparently, there isn’t any predictable road to coupledom that science has detected.

Now sure, we’re similar to the people we fall in love with on lots of things, like level of education and political beliefs, but we’re also similar to a lot of people who we don’t we fall in love with on those things. So they can predict with some accuracy the kind of person you’ll end up with (e.g. same race, same level of attractiveness), but if you were dropped in a room full of similar people, they wouldn’t be able to predict better than chance which one you’d end up with. At the heart of it, the specific person we end up with is due to serendipity.  It’s chance or timing or luck or fate–whatever you want to call it. I find this romantic. It’s like somehow people find something extraordinary, even without any kind of evolved internal perfect-boyfriend honing device. (Not that I didn’t spend a serious amount of time wishing for such a device, oh pretty much all of 1994-2005.)

*Also, in case you’re wondering, this is the year that Whoomp! There It Is topped the charts.

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