Study: About half the population faces considerable difficulties in attracting and retaining mates

A new study on mating performance in humans suggests it is common for people to face difficulties in intimate relationships.

“The current literature on the difficulties of human mating is thin, while many psychologist hold false beliefs about what causes people to perform poorly,” said study author Menelaos Apostolou, an associate professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Nicosia

“For instance, psychoanalysts are likely to tell a man that he has difficulties with women because of his poor relationship with his mother when he was 5 years old. Such approaches are totally unfounded, and thus not useful in helping people who face difficulties in mating.”

“The evolutionary framework is extremely powerful in enabling us to understand mating and the challenges it involves, and should be used to comprehend and address the problem of poor mating performance, which apparently many people face.”

The study, which surveyed 1,116 women and 780 men from Cyprus, found that about one in five participants found intimate relationships difficult and about half faced difficulties in either starting or keeping a relationship. Men and women were very close in their mating performance.

“The take home message is that if you face considerable difficulties in attracting and retaining mates, you are not an exception as about one in two adult individuals are in a similar situation,” Apostolou told PsyPost.

The researchers believe dating troubles are so common because there is a mismatch between the social environment humans evolved in and the current social environment in the post-industrialized world.

“In addition, your difficulties most likely are not because there is something wrong with you,” Apostolou said, “but because the mechanisms that you rely on in order to attract and retain mates evolved in a different context than the one you are in now. Simply put, they are not broken but their range of functioning is not optimal for modern conditions.”

The researchers also found that sexual functioning, self-esteem, self-perceived mate value, choosiness, personality, attention to looks, and mating effort were significant predictors of difficulties in starting and keeping a relationship.

“I would say that, at least to my knowledge, this is the first study that has attempted to measure mating performance and its predictors, so considerable more work is needed if we are to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon,” Apostolou said.

“A good start would be to attempt to replicate the findings of this study to different cultural settings. In addition, much more work is necessary in order to understand the predictors of poor mating performance. Subsequently we need to answer the following question: How can we address the underlying causes of poor mating performance so that people do better in the domain of mating?”

The study, “The challenge of starting and keeping a relationship: Prevalence rates and predictors of poor mating performance“, was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The research was co-authored by Marios Shialos, Elli Kyrou, Artemis Demetriou, and Anthi Papamichael.