"Butterflies" in Dating

collage of butterflies on a blue background

You go on a date with someone — it goes pretty okay, but they’re not exactly your type. You have a nice chat, you laugh, but they don’t create that “spark” in you that you once felt with your ex or a crush. Should you go on a second date with them? 

Many relationship scientists and couples’ therapists - such as Logan Ury and Esther Perel - would advise you to go on that second date. Logan Ury presents evidence from previous research by Ayala Malach Pines, who surveyed over 400 happy couples: and only 11 percent of them said they felt “love at first sight”. 

Why is initial chemistry not enough to maintain a successful relationship? What makes “the spark”so unreliable when it comes to predicting the long-term success of a relationship? We identified some concepts from social psychology and behavioral science to bring clarity to these questions.

1) Two-Factor Emotion Theory: Initial spark can be misattributed to other contextual cues/ feelings 

Two-factor emotion theory states that emotion is based on two factors: physiological arousal and cognitive label. According to this theory, the physiological arousal precedes the cognitive labeling of the emotion, and when the brain doesn’t know why it feels an emotion, it relies on external stimuli to identify it. 

Okay —but, what does this mean for attraction? 

Let’s say you had a thrilling date with someone: Maybe you got a few drinks, went to a party, and danced together.  And you come back home feeling the “butterflies”. It might be that you are physiologically aroused from the dance floor and misattributing that to attraction towards your date (read about the iconic suspension bridge study here for more insight into this phenomenon). 

Logan Ury expresses that people are prone to misattributing their attraction to anxiety as well. Perhaps the “butterflies” we feel when we interact with someone aren’t necessarily caused by liking and attraction, but stems more so from the anxiety we feel around that interaction and its uncertainty.

So, next time you feel butterflies towards someone, it may be a smart move to spend some more time before putting a cognitive label on it. 

2)Affective Forecasting: It can lead to inaccurate predictions

Affective forecasting is the prediction of one’s emotional state in the future. Research shows that humans often make false predictions. 

When people are trying to estimate their future emotional state, their estimations are often contaminated by their current emotional state, which is referred to as the projection bias.

It is unfortunately very easy for our brains to falsely estimate a happy future with a partner towards whom we feel those butterflies even if they may be incompatible in many other aspects. 

The Relationship Science team at Marriage Pact is committed to unpacking what actually matters in relationships while highlighting what may be overrated — and it turns out that butterflies are one of those.