Nice guys finish last


A new study, which looks at the satisfaction and longevity of relationships, suggests that nice guys (and gals) finish last – or finish first by finishing last (their relationships, that is):

Countless dating sites and apps claim to use sophisticated algorithms and  techniques to connect users with their “perfect match.” While sharing interests certainly doesn’t hurt, a new study out of Michigan State University claims that at the end of the day, simply finding a nice and pleasant partner is more important.

“People invest a lot in finding someone who’s compatible, but our research says that may not be the end all be all,” explains lead study author Bill Chopik in a release. “Instead, people may want to ask, ‘Are they a nice person?’ ‘Do they have a lot of anxiety?’ Those things matter way more than the fact that two people are introverts and end up together.”

Chopik and his team claim to have conducted the most comprehensive study ever on relationship happiness. More specifically, researchers utilized a long-term survey of more than 2,500 heterosexual couples who have been married around 20 years. Using this data, the study’s authors measured the impact of personality traits on well-being in these relationships.

Researchers were shocked when their results indicated that shared interests and similar personalities had little to no effect on relationship satisfaction. Even among couples sharing personality traits, the study found that having a conscientious and nice partner leads to a more satisfying relationship. The study also concluded that relationships including a person who is especially neurotic, or extroverted, leads to lower relationship satisfaction.

All this makes instinctive sense when you realise that, contrary to the modern popular culture, successful relationships are not sustained on a crazy romantic love (which wanes pretty quickly as our brains build up tolerance to all the good chemicals being released in the process of infatuation and lust) but a sensible and comfortable companionship. If that’s the case, it figures that sharing your life with someone who is considerate, caring and even-tempered is easier than with a partner who’s selfish, impulsive and difficult. Romance and partnership thrive on different sets of qualities.

Compatibility is an interesting issue. I don’t believe that “opposites attract”; maybe they do to some extent for a fling but generally not for a long-term relationship. But I also don’t believe that the two people in a relationship need to be carbon copies of each other. The sweet spot is probably somewhere in the middle. Considering how much time a couple spends together it’s important that there is some overlap in interests, activities and temperament – otherwise you’re leading separate lives together. Imagine someone who has a travel bug in a relationship with a partner who is a complete homebody. Or an extrovert life-of-a-party with an introverted geek. These are recipes for frustration, and that’s not a good foundation for a life-long partnership.

Of course, none of such “rules” are absolute. Many people (of both sexes), for example, equate “nice” with “boring” – somebody without “the oomph”, a footstool, beta, low energy, possibly passive-aggressive. The attraction to “bad boys” and “bad girls”, charismatic alpha individuals sometimes bordering on sociopathic, is a real  – and relatively common – thing. This is an exception, however, that proves the rule. Bad boys and bad girls are not a relationship material, which is why people who chase them end up in serial short-lived, disastrous relationships, which repeat the same pattern of excitement turning to heartache. It seems akin to an addiction, the same way that the high of the romantic love can be addictive too. And some people are indeed addicts to the rush brought by dopamine, endorphin and oxytocin. To what extent you keep on chasing that rush throughout your life is a matter of your inborn personality interacting with your formative experiences, but in the end it also determines the shape of your love life. Not everyone around us is happy – not everyone around us can be happy.