"Romeo & Juliet" has led us astray

As I found when researching my book on the science of human attraction, our typical romantic beliefs are quite often wrong. For instance, even couples who are blissfully happy together can’t count on a happy ending. The PAIR project, a long-term academic study of couples, found that those most in love when they marry are also the most likely to get divorced.

And the chemical attraction that many people rely on to choose a partner has been found to fade “to neutrality” in two to three years. That’s right, neutrality, which might work well for Switzerland but is deadly for a marriage.

Perhaps most damning of all, I discovered that wife murderers tend to be strong subscribers to the romantic ideal. Take that, Romeo and Juliet.

Love and romance did not always rule the roost. As recently as the 1930s, American men ranked mutual attraction as only the fourth most important quality for a relationship, while women had it even lower, placing it fifth (in a 1956 survey, women dropped it all the way to sixth). But in recent decades, love has climbed to No. 1, accompanied by a rise in the importance of looks, which suggests that our romance with romance is long on style and short on substance.