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'How to Not Die Alone' author on modern dating

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Valentine's Day is tomorrow, and if you are single, that may have you feeling bummed out. But if you're looking for love and haven't had much luck, we've got just the thing to make it better - research. No, seriously. Relationship science is a thing. In recent years, scientists have started using their research tools to look into what actually makes relationships work and last.

One of those people is Logan Ury. She is a behavioral scientist who applies research into human behavior to dating. Lucky for us, she's also a dating coach. She currently serves as the director of relationship science for the dating app Hinge, and she's written a book. It's called "How To Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love." Ury spent years working at Google studying human behavior online. Now she's using that skill for daters, and she told me what makes her approach different.

LOGAN URY: This behavioral science piece that I apply - that's really about understanding there are all these things that are going to get in the way of you making a good decision, things like what we call the present bias. I say that people often look for the prom date, not the life partner. The prom date is the person who looks good in pictures, you want to dance the night away with, maybe you hope to hook up with at the end of the night. But at a certain age, you need to move past that and go for the life partner, the person who you can fight with well, who you can make hard decisions with, who will really be there with you for the highs and lows. And so there are these biases that are holding us back. And if you can understand them and then make different decisions in the future, that's how you can escape your old patterns.

MARTIN: One of the big points you make in your book is that people rely too heavily on this idea of the spark, that you just - it's, like, instant. You just - you know when you know is what, you know, people say. And they think of this as something that happens immediately. Talk a little bit more about that, if you would.

URY: Yes, absolutely. So one of the first big mistakes that I see people make is they come to me with a checklist, and they say, Logan, I know exactly who I'm looking for. I just need your help finding him. I just haven't met him yet. And then actually, when I dig into their past, I see they've been dating the same type of person over and over again, and that type of person actually brings out an anxious side of them, an insecure side of them, a side of them that doesn't feel comfortable and that they need to tear up that checklist and actually have a reset around what matters and what doesn't.

And so, for example, I had this male client who was a really tall guy, a CEO, very good looking. And he said, I just want to find a guy just like me. That's what I'm looking for. And he went on a date with someone, and he said, you know, the guy was cute, and we had a good conversation, but I'm never going to see him again. I said, why is that? He said, I just didn't feel the spark.

And so the spark has become my nemesis because I feel like it's really holding people back from what matters in relationships. And people are so focused on instant chemistry, instant fireworks - I'll know it when I see it - and that's just not true.

MARTIN: Give us some ideas about what's a better way, and especially given that people are using apps like the ones that you work with. What have you found works for people?

URY: A few tips that I can share for doing this better - so one is really understanding a first date is about connection. Can I talk to this person? Do I enjoy being around them? What side of me do they bring out? And I have this list of questions called the post-date eight. It says things like, did this person make me laugh? Do I feel curious about them? What side of me did they bring out? And so actually focusing on the right things during the date helps you avoid those interview questions and instead go for what is ideally part of a date, which is play.

So how can you have a playful interaction? How can you have that banter? How can you have an experience together? And so instead of sitting across from each other under fluorescent lights at 9 o'clock in the morning drinking coffee, can you actually meet up and go to a couple of different taco places and not take yourself too seriously when salsa is dripping out the side of your mouth? And so really understanding that love and relationships is about connection, not evaluation, and focus on having an experience together, not an evaluation.

MARTIN: Let me just say this one thing. I should have said this at the beginning. I just want to be very clear. There is nothing wrong with being single if that's what you want. But what do we know? It seems to me that we do know some things about how being in a relationship can affect a person. I mean, are there benefits to being partnered?

URY: I know plenty of people who have decided that they are self-partnered or that they are much happier being divorced and on their own than being in an unhappy marriage. So everyone should make the right choice for themselves. My work is really for people who are saying, I'm putting the effort in. I'm not seeing the results I want. What should I do?

One thing that I could add is that I feel like the biggest change that happens with my clients and with the people that I get to talk to in a teaching capacity is when they really look back and they understand their patterns. And so people can make a little spreadsheet for themselves, make a journal entry, whatever works for them, that goes back and says, how did I meet this person? How long did we date? Why did it end? What did I learn from this relationship? What are the things I want to do again in the future? What are the things I don't want to do? Really just taking that time to look at your past patterns and noticing things - that can help you unlock what's going on for you and make different decisions in the future.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Valentine's Day - what are your thoughts about it? I mean, some people - Valentine's Day brings up a lot for people - some people. So any thoughts about it?

URY: Yes. It's funny. I would say in my line of work, Valentine's Day is like the Super Bowl. I feel like I'm busier than ever right now. So it's funny that, you know, the Super Bowl is just around now. But, really, in my personal life, I don't take Valentine's Day too seriously. And it's not something that I put pressure on. But I understand that if you're single, it can bring up a lot of uncomfortable emotions around a society that really prizes partnership and stigmatizes being single. So I hear that.

But my general thought is, we should all be thinking about dating and relationships way more often, because if you are single and this is something that you want to change, this is probably causing a lot of pain in your own life. And so how can we actually be thinking about partnership more often and not just having one day a year where our society says, OK, this is the hallmark holiday where you buy yourself a card? - because being in relationships, you know, happy ones, has great impacts on people's health, happiness and overall life satisfaction. And so I think as a society, we should be talking about it more, investing in our skills more, supporting each other more and not just doing that one day a year.

MARTIN: That was Logan Ury, director of relationship science at Hinge and the author of "How To Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love." Logan Ury, thanks so much for talking with us today.

URY: It was such a pleasure. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.