Why Perfect Dates Make Lousy Partners

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The best "catches" in dating land may be the worst choices in the long-run, new research shows.

Popular people who monitor themselves carefully in social situations and thereby appear to be the most socially appropriate are often highly sought after as romantic partners, a study finds, but these people show less satisfaction and commitment in relationships than socially-awkward people.

By self-monitoring, people assess how their actions affect others and adjust to fit the appropriateness of the situation. They screen their words and behavior to suit the people around them.

"High self-monitors are social chameleons," said Northwestern University professor of communication studies Michael E. Roloff."And, because they're quick to pick up on social cues, are socially adept and unlikely to say things upsetting to others, they are generally well-liked and sought after."

Self-monitoring is often a helpful attribute.

"Research finds [self-monitors] to be excellent negotiators and far more likely to be promoted at work than their low self-monitoring peers,” Roloff said.

But there’s a downside for high self-monitors when it comes to their romantic relationships.

"High self-monitors may appear to be the kind of people we want to have relationships with, but they themselves are less committed to and less happy in their relationships than low self-monitors," Roloff said.

The problem seems to be that they can't turn the self-monitoring off.

"The desire to alter one's personality to appropriately fit a given situation or social climate prevents high self-monitors from presenting their true selves during intimate interactions with their romantic partners," Roloff said. "High self-monitors are very likeable and successful people. However, it appears they’re just not deep."

Roloff and co-authors Courtney N. Wright and Adrienne Holloway conducted a study of 97 single young adults to investigate the effects of self-monitoring on romantic relationships. The results will be detailed in the journal Communication Reports.

The researchers surveyed study participants about the levels of emotional commitment in their romantic relationships and assessed their degrees of self-monitoring, intimate communication, levels of emotional commitment, relational satisfaction and relational commitment.

They did not survey the partners of study participants. "That may be something we eventually should look at," Roloff said.

High self-monitors seem to avoid face-threatening interactions and honest self-disclosure. Thus partners of these people may be completely in the dark about the extent of their significant other’s degree of commitment and regard.

"It's not that high self-monitors are intentionally deceptive or evil," Roloff said. "They appear to have an outlook and way of achieving their goals that makes them attractive to us socially but that prevents them from being particularly happy or loyal in their romantic relationships."

Conversely, the researchers found that low self-monitors — people who are the least concerned with social appropriateness and are unlikely to mask their feelings or opinions to avoid confrontation or preserve their self-image — are more committed to and more satisfied with their relationships.

Those awkward people who always seem to be sticking their feet in their mouths may ultimately be more genuine and capable of intimate relationships. However, their honesty and loyalty can extract a price from their partners, because they may be more likely to say blunt and hurtful things.

Fortunately, Roloff said, self-monitoring is normally distributed, so most people end up with a partner who falls somewhere in the middle. A person who moderately self-monitors may have great social skills and the ability to be unguarded with their partner when necessary.

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Live Science Staff
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