science of us

Here’s a Depressingly Scientific Way to Describe Your Bad Relationship

Photo: Sasha/Getty Images

I loved the movie He’s Just Not That Into You, which I think everyone can agree reflects poorly on my taste. At the time, though, it seemed charming, and refreshingly minimalist in its central philosophy: if a person likes you roughly as much as you like them, you will know. I know a lot of the movie is sexist and it’s certainly heteronormative and probably gender essentialist as well, but … is that titular line true? , yes — only they, as academics, call it something else: “Asymmetrically committed relationships,” or ACRs.

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Perhaps you’ve deduced as much, but ACRs are defined as “relationships in which there is a substantial difference in the commitment levels of the partners.” The term builds on the Principle of Least Interest, coined by the sociologist Willard Wallar, which states that the person with the least interest in the partnership has the most control. (Unfair for those of us who are enthusiastic control freaks.) The study’s authors took Wallar’s theory and applied it to romantic relationships, in order to evaluate what sort of person is more likely to be the less committed partner, presumably so you can avoid them, or pursue them exclusively, depending.

According to their findings, people with increased odds of being just not that into you, scientifically speaking, tend to perceive themselves as having more potential alternative partners, or a sort of “plenty of fish” mentality. They are also likely to be attachment avoidant, with a higher number of prior relationship partners and a history of cheating in their current relationship. (So, a lot of the traits you’d probably expect.) Additionally, people with divorced parents aren’t any more likely to be less committed, but people whose parents never married are.

The authors found fewer traits likely to be shared by the more committed partners, though that group did tend to experience more attachment anxiety (perhaps because their partners are cheating on them all the time?). It seems worth noting that all 315 couples surveyed were straight and young: for women subjects the median age was 24.8, and for men it was 26.97 (imagine giving that as your age, ha). One might hope, then, that some of the more narcissistic attitudes and behaviors on display might mellow out in one’s 30s or 40s, but if the film He’s Just Not That Into You taught me anything, they do not.

Here’s a Fun New Way to Describe Your Bad Relationship