RE­LA­TION­SHIP Is there such a thing as the per­fect match?

Can new sci­en­tific tools like DNA anal­y­sis re­ally de­ter­mine ro­man­tic “chem­istry”?

ELLE (Canada) - - In­sider - By Sarah Tre­leaven

chan­dani Sheth and her fi­ancé, Steve Male, had been to­gether for three and a half years when they de­cided to turn to sci­ence to see if they were a per­fect match. They sought out the ex­per­tise of In­stant Chem­istry, a Toronto-based ge­netic-test­ing ser­vice that ex­am­ines whether cou­ples have com­ple­men­tary ge­netic as well as per­son­al­ity traits. They or­dered the $199 kit, which comes with a plas­tic tube to col­lect their saliva and a bio­haz­ard bag to send it off via FedEx, and they also com­pleted a 24-ques­tion mul­ti­ple-choice per­son­al­ity as­sess­ment on­line.

“We have a lot of dif­fer­ences,” says Sheth, 31, a hu­man-re­sources man­ager in Toronto. “I’m more spon­ta­neous and so­cial, and Steve is more prac­ti­cal and a bit of a home­body. I wanted to know how com­pat­i­ble we are.” Sheth’s now hus­band, a 32-year-old mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, had no doubts that the cou­ple was meant to be, but he in­dulged Sheth’s cu­rios­ity.

It’s that same cu­rios­ity that in­spired In­stant Chem­istry co-founders Sara Seabrooke and Ron Gon­za­lez to launch their com­pany back in 2013. Al­though the field of be­havioural sci­ence is well es­tab­lished, lay­er­ing in a ge­netic fil­ter to as­sess com­pat­i­bil­ity is new. Still, Seabrooke points to 20 years of peer-re­viewed ma­te­ri­als to sup­port their com­pany’s ap­proach. “It has been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven that long-term re­la­tion­ship sat­is­fac­tion stems from two con­stants: your DNA and your core per­son­al­ity and how these match up with your part­ner’s,” says Seabrooke, who, like Gon­za­lez, is a neu­ro­sci­en­tist.

In ad­di­tion to the per­son­al­ity quiz, which was de­vel­oped by Joel Block, a cou­ples ther­a­pist in Plainview, N.Y., the re­searchers at In­stant Chem­istry test cou­ples’ lev­els of sero­tonin, oxy­tocin and dopamine. These are the “love hor­mones” that are most as­so­ci­ated with ro­man­tic con­nec­tions and con­flicts, ex­plains Seabrooke. “If you have two peo­ple who both have low­ered sen­si­tiv­ity to sero­tonin, the re­la­tion­ship can be emo­tion­ally charged,” she says. But cou­ples with sim­i­lar re­sults for dopamine, for ex­am­ple, can have is­sues with risk tak­ing and im­pul­siv­ity. If you’re both that way, you could be in for one wild—and un­pre­dictable—ride.

The re­searchers also study the COMT gene, which may in­flu­ence whether some­one is prone to anx­i­ety. To mea­sure a cou­ple’s ge­netic di­ver­sity, they ex­am­ine the hu­man leuko­cyte anti­gen ( HLA). These are spe­cific genes that reg­u­late the im­mune sys­tem in hu­mans; the more di­verse they are, the greater the chance a cou­ple’s off­spring will stave off dis­eases. NAT­U­RAL SE­LEC­TION Still, some re­searchers dis­pute much of the sci­ence prac­tised by firms like In­stant Chem­istry, claim­ing there’s no proof be­hind it. Dan Davis, a physi­cist and au­thor of The Com­pat­i­bil­ity Gene, says he and his wife took a test to de­ter­mine their ge­netic di­ver­sity be­cause they wanted to an­tic­i­pate any po­ten­tial is­sues for their chil­dren—it was never about try­ing to find out if they would be good for each other. “There’s no hard sci­ence that jus­ti­fies ge­netic match­mak­ing,” he says.

Even with­out the ben­e­fit of a ge­netic test, adds Davis, hu­mans al­ready sub­con­sciously smell genes as­so­ci­ated with ge­netic di­ver­sity. In one fa­mous 1994 ex­per­i­ment cited in his book, a group of men were asked to wear a plain cotton T-shirt for two days. Then, a group of women were asked to rank how sexy they thought those T-shirts smelled. The women pre­ferred the smell of the T-shirts worn by men with dis­sim­i­lar ma­jor his­to­com­pat­i­bil­ity genes (MHC). SCI­ENCE OF LOVE In­stinc­tively or not, we’re in­creas­ingly drawn to h

sci­en­tific ex­pla­na­tions that make it eas­ier to deal with some­thing as mys­te­ri­ous as love, ex­plains Ben­jamin Kar­ney, a pro­fes­sor of so­cial psy­chol­ogy and co- di­rec­tor of UCLA Mar­riage Lab at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les.

“What the hunger for sci­en­tific an­swers to the chal­lenges of love speaks to,” says Kar­ney, “is just how en­dur­ing those chal­lenges are and just how much peo­ple would like help.” One of the first main­stream ex­am­ples of this de­sire for sci­en­tific cer­tainty came to light in 1966, when re­searchers at the Univer­sity of West­ern On­tario used a com­puter al­go­rithm to match up two sin­gle peo­ple. But now we want to move beyond pseudo-sci­ence like on­line­dat­ing al­go­rithms to more nu­anced and data- driven mod­els that ex­plain how we both find and sus­tain love—which is rather am­bi­tious, says Kar­ney. “Sys­tem­atic re­search on in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships is less than a cen­tury old,” he says. “Some of it is use­ful, but none of it gives peo­ple the easy an­swers they’re hop­ing for.”

In­stant Chem­istry’s Gon­za­lez ac­knowl­edges that the re­search on ge­netic com­pat­i­bil­ity is still young and shaky. (The com­pany has thus far tested only around 100 cou­ples.) “But we’re not go­ing to ad­vance this sci­ence un­less we have peo­ple who are try­ing to push it for­ward and start col­lect­ing data,” he says, adding that re­la­tion­ships and love are some of the most im­por­tant as­pects of our lives, and sci­en­tists are just now start­ing to skim the sur­face: “I think this re­search is part of a move­ment to­ward self-im­prove­ment.”

In a con­tin­u­a­tion of that quest, Seabrooke and Gon­za­lez are now work­ing on a rapid com­pat­i­bil­ity “stir-stick test,” a con­sumer prod­uct they’re hop­ing to get to mar­ket in 2016. The kit, which would only mea­sure HLA, would be sim­i­lar to a home preg­nancy test in terms of us­abil­ity and pric­ing. Armed with this info, you and your date could meet at a bar and de­ter­mine your ge­netic har­mony or dis­cord—be­fore you com­mit to that $15 Man­hat­tan. BODY TALK Other re­searchers are fo­cus­ing their at­ten­tion on body lan­guage and body chem­istry and how they af­fect our re­la­tion­ships. “We’re mam­mals,” says John Gottman, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton and co-founder of the Gottman In­sti­tute, a re­search fa­cil­ity that also of­fers cou­ples ther­apy. “The other per­son has to look, smell and taste right.” Gottman is best known for his re­search into how body lan­guage and phys­i­cal re­sponses be­tween cou­ples can pre­dict re­la­tion­ship out­comes. Gottman’s lab stud­ies cou­ples over decades, prompt­ing them to dis­cuss an area of on­go­ing dis­agree­ment and then mea­sur­ing adrenalin and cor­ti­sol to de­ter­mine the de­gree of stress they im­pose on each other. He has stud­ied thou­sands of cou­ples up close and claims he can pre­dict with 90-per­cent ac­cu­racy whether a cou­ple will stay to­gether. Body­lan­guage cues, in­clud­ing eye rolling or sneer­ing, for ex­am­ple, can be signs of “con­tempt,” which Gottman has iden­ti­fied as one of the most toxic el­e­ments of a re­la­tion­ship. LOVE, AC­TU­ALLY But even if you and your part­ner have hit the bi­o­log­i­cal jack­pot, it doesn’t guar­an­tee you’ll be ef­fort­lessly happy to­gether for­ever. “Re­la­tion­ships are what physi­cists call ‘dis­si­pated sys­tems’: You have to keep putting en­ergy into them in or­der to get en­ergy out of them,” says Gottman. “I think the next growth in­dus­try will be in Ja­panese sex ro­bots be­cause there are a lot of peo­ple who don’t want to do the work nec­es­sary to be in a re­la­tion­ship,” he adds with a laugh.

Sa­man­tha Joel, a 25- year- old grad­u­ate stu­dent in so­cial psych­o­logy at the Univer­sity of Toronto, wasn’t wor­ried about putting the time into her re­la­tion­ship. When she got mar­ried just over a year ago to her boyfriend of four years, she took an un­usual ap­proach to craft­ing her wed­ding vows: She based them on sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. In­stead of the clas­sic prom­ises to “cher­ish” and the out­dated “obey,” Joel wrote 10 vows based on re­search from the bur­geon­ing field of re­la­tion­ship sci­ence. They in­cluded prom­ises to re­spect her part­ner’s free­dom, to strive to meet his needs and to keep their lives ex­cit­ing—all things that re­searchers have proven work to cre­ate hap­pier part­ner­ships.

“I wanted to prom­ise things with a lot of em­pir­i­cal back­ing, things that are concrete and be­havioural that you can ac­tu­ally work on,” says Joel. The cou­ple keeps the 10-point list on their fridge. DAT­ING FAST TRACK Sci­ence— whether it’s ge­netic- or re­la­tion­ship­based—is chang­ing the way we think about love and ro­mance. Yet, the no­tion of “soul­mates,” or find­ing “the one,” is still a cher­ished dream for even the most sen­si­ble women. Mandy Len Ca­tron, a 34-year-old who teaches cre­ative writ­ing at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, cer­tainly felt that way. “There’s an idea that fate has a big hand in our love, es­pe­cially when it comes to ro­mance,” she says. “But on a prac­ti­cal h

Sci­ence—whether it’s ge­netic- or re­la­tion­ship­based—is chang­ing the way we think about ro­mance.

level, you’re bet­ter off find­ing one per­son and in­vest­ing in them than wait­ing for a mag­i­cal be­ing.”

Last sum­mer, Ca­tron de­cided to adopt a more prac­ti­cal, sci­ence-based ap­proach to find­ing love. She and an ac­quain­tance asked each other 36 ques­tions that had been de­vel­oped by renowned psy­chol­o­gist Arthur Aron. Ac­cord­ing to Aron, in­ti­macy be­tween two rel­a­tive stran­gers can be fast-tracked if they ask each other per­sonal ques­tions, such as “Given the choice of any­one in the world, whom would you want as a din­ner guest?” and “If you were to die this even­ing, what would you most re­gret not hav­ing told some­one?” At the end of the quiz, the two peo­ple have to stare into each other’s eyes for four in­tense min­utes.

Ca­tron wrote about the ex­pe­ri­ence of tak­ing the test in an ar­ti­cle for The New York Times. “The ques­tions re­minded me of the in­fa­mous boil­ing-frog ex­per­i­ment in which the frog doesn’t feel the wa­ter get­ting hot­ter un­til it’s too late,” she wrote. As Ca­tron felt her­self be­com­ing in­creas­ingly vul­ner­a­ble, she also felt a grow­ing in­ti­mate con­nec­tion; it was a short­cut to a con­nec­tion that can typ­i­cally take weeks or months. The pair tran­si­tioned to a close friend­ship and then made a con­scious leap into a com­mit­ted part­ner­ship three months later. They’re still to­gether to­day.

“I felt like I could trust him right away, but we gave each other space to fig­ure out what we re­ally wanted,” says Ca­tron. “Mark thinks we might have started dat­ing any­way with­out the ex­per­i­ment,” she adds, “but this felt re­ally de­lib­er­ate to me in a way no other re­la­tion­ship has. Be­fore this, I would mostly feel an over­whelm­ing at­trac­tion to some­one who would make me feel help­less— which isn’t very healthy.” THE VER­DICT Two weeks af­ter Sheth and her part­ner sent in their tests, they got their re­sults from In­stant Chem­istry: a 27-page e-book­let divided into two parts. The first half out­lined their in­di­vid­ual ge­netic pro­files paired with an ex­plan­ation for how each of these ge­netic com­po­nents can have an im­pact on per­sonal be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing emo­tional re­sponse, em­pa­thy, cog­ni­tion and risk tak­ing. The lat­ter half of the man­ual was ded­i­cated to a com­pari­son of the cou­ple’s in­di­vid­ual re­sults. There was even a “Cer­tifi­cate of Com­pat­i­bil­ity,” with an over­all per­cent­age as well as a break­down of per­cent­age matches for each of the ar­eas tested.

Sheth says that they re­ceived an over­all com­pat­i­bil­ity score of 89 per­cent. Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany, the av­er­age com­pat­i­bil­ity find­ing for cou­ples it has tested is around 75 per­cent. Sheth found the test re­sults— in­clud­ing re­sults for four genes known to in­flu­ence emo­tional re­sponse, em­pa­thy, cog­ni­tion, risk tak­ing and ad­ven­tur­ous be­hav­iours—com­fort­ing.

“My hus­band says that now I can’t ever say we’re not com­pat­i­ble be­cause we have sci­en­tific proof,” she says with a laugh. In par­tic­u­lar, Sheth ap­pre­ci­ated the part of their re­port that in­di­cated po­ten­tial sources of con­flict and rec­om­men­da­tions on how to trou­bleshoot prob­lems. “Cou­ples fight a lot, and you’re not al­ways sure why,” says Sheth. “You think they’re crazy and they think you’re crazy. But the re­port gave us tips re­lated to our per­son­al­i­ties, like how we both have a re­ally hard time with rou­tine and we need more stim­u­la­tion than most cou­ples. That can re­ally help.” Still, Sheth, who got mar­ried in May, wasn’t pred­i­cat­ing fu­ture plans on the re­sults of the test. “We were al­ready in it for the long haul.” n

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