Romance, flirtation, love, call it what you like, most of us have been lucky, unlucky – and, if we’re fortunate – lucky again, in our quest for a partner who makes us feel that life is good. For most of us (excepting those thrill seekers for whom too much is never enough), one partner at a time is a vital part of our search for happiness.
When you’re happily attached, having the added excitement of other people flashing their ‘I’m interested’ messages at you can seem at best a waste, and at worst, positively dangerous to your current relationship, and maybe even to the person making eyes at you.
Why do you seem more attractive to others when you are in a relationship?
So why does it happen? No-one knows for sure. Scientific evidence for this phenomenon is thin on the ground, although one scientific paper did suggest that ‘mate poaching’ has its roots in our prehistoric past. Studies of existing traditional foraging cultures showed evidence that mate poaching still carries on today. The theory is that in the time when we were all hunter gatherers, mate-poaching is likely to have happened because spouses would have died young, for instance, in battle, illness or in childbirth. With the limited potential partners available, finding a replacement spouse would often mean poaching someone else’s partner and doing your best to keep them.
But why does it still happen? Are we still living by our ancestral hunter-gatherer rules, or is it just laziness? "If someone is already in a relationship, and you find them attractive, their being with someone may act as a sort of seal of approval," says Dr George Fieldman, Principal Lecturer in Psychology at Buckinghamshire New University. "If someone very attractive, someone who looked like Scarlett Johansen, for instance, had no partner, and hadn’t had a partner, a prospective suitor might be cautious as to why this was so." It’s an interesting theory, but at the moment that’s as far as it goes. There are, says Dr Fieldman, no established facts.
Awareness of others
It may even be that there isn’t a ‘cluster’ phenomenon, according to Dr Viren Swami of the Department of Psychology, University of Westminster. "The first question I would ask is whether potential partners really do come in clusters. It might be the case that it's only when we're in a relationship that we think about potential others (i.e. our appreciation of the potential partner market is heightened when we're in a relationship). So, it might be suggested that potential partners don't cluster - we're just more aware of them when we're already taken.
"If it is indeed true that there is a clustering effect, there could be all kinds of different explanations, says Dr Swami, co-author, with Adrian Furnham, of The Psychology of Physical Attraction (Routledge).
"The most likely is that being in a relationship has a positive effect on our well-being and how we self-present, which obviously makes us a potential partner. Being in a relationship (generally) makes us happier, more extroverted, more confident, open to experience etc, all of which are positive qualities in a potential partner."
This theory gets the thumbs-up from Mary Balfour, founder of London-based Drawing Down the Moon dating agency, and author of Smart Dating: How to Find Your Man (Element Books). "We find that just taking the first step makes all the difference," Mary Balfour says. "Quite often, just after someone has signed up with us, they’ll call and say they’ve just met someone. And it’s probably because they’re relaxed and happy. It’s a turning point, especially when you’re talking about people who may not have been in a relationship for a while and are out of practice."
How to fake that loved-up look
So can you fake that ‘I’ve got someone and I feel good’ feeling? "Yes", says Mary Balfour, "and you start by being happy in yourself. Get out, get fit, read the paper, go and do things you enjoy and maximise your opportunities. If you’re happy in yourself, you’ll feel more confident and outgoing.
"And if you’re still not feeling terribly confident, ‘fake it ‘til you feel it’. Start by dipping your toe into the water just a little. Practise starting conversations with strangers – paying compliments, is a good approach. And practise really listening to other people, be curious about them, ask them questions."
"Another good tactic is to recall happy times and happy feelings from your past – even times when you felt especially flirty," says Mary. It’s a good tactic to try when you’re ready to take a bigger step, and actually try a little dating. "Speed dating is great fun," says Mary Balfour. "And it’s great for practising your flirting. Remember the main object of flirting is to make the flirtee feel wonderful, and then you will too."
If you feel speed-dating might be for you, you’ll have to put some research into it, as there aren’t many speed-dating events for people fifty and over. It’s worth contacting local speed-dating organisers and seeing if they’ll arrange an event catering for fifties and over.
"Internet dating is also a great way to get started," says Mary. "Especially as, in the online world, women don’t outnumber men so much. You must be careful though. Always read the safety code thoroughly, don’t give anyone your telephone number or your address, and if you do go on a date, always make it in a public place."
Foods that give you a glow
Even watching what you eat can make a difference to how date-ready you are. "Foods such as turkey and cottage cheese are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that your body uses to make serotonin," explains nutritionist Amanda Ursell. "Serotonin is a feel-good chemical, it makes you feel happy, especially in winter, when it’s grey outside."
"Eat healthily, with lots of fruit and vegetables in bright colours and keep your blood-sugar levels steady, so you don’t have highs and lows," says Amanda. "Take care of yourself through your diet, and take care of your appearance - it all adds up to you feeling well and looking good. You may start off by feeling you’re faking it, but you should end up feeling positive and happy for real."