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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

This Week:
Good Lovers - Born or Made?

I’m not taking any of those crazy online compatibility tests, so how else can I tell if someone is compatible with me?


If I was new to online dating and knew nothing about compatibility tests, I wouldn’t trust taking them either. The industry has done an exceptionally poor job at educating online dating consumers about the science and research behind these sorts of tests. More to the point – it’s likely that many services offering these tests have no valid science or research behind them. But, first and foremost, you should know that there’s a wealth of research spanning decades on love, attachment and compatibility. Science does know much about what variables are involved in lasting and satisfying relationships. There’s truly a long-standing science of compatibility.

Turning those research findings into a sound psychological assessment is another story, but some companies have done a pretty good job at it. To learn more, I urge you to carefully read my recent article, “The Truth About Compatibility Testing”. It might change your mind about trying one of these tests. But assuming it doesn’t, then let me offer some alternatives.

Psychologist Andrea Baker examined the question of what factors differentiate successful and unsuccessful couples who first met online(1). She identified four general variables that signaled a couple’s capacity for long-term “compatibility.” You can use these four variables to help you estimate how compatible you’re with a specific person. Here’s what you can look for in another person without a lengthy questionnaire or intimidating statistical mumbo jumbo:

» Where you met online: the overlap of specific interests as represented by the type of site they enter for a first encounter online signals long-term compatibility.

» What you’ll do to be together: obstacles of distance, jobs and finances, and other relationships are negotiated so that past attachments are diminished and at least one partner will relocate.

» Quality of interaction: taking a lengthy period of time to get to know each other online before meeting face-to-face and postponing sexual involvement promotes longevity of relationships.

» Quality of communication: learning to handle each others’ styles of communication even when conflicts occur online enhances satisfaction and cooperation first online and then offline.

Use these variables as guidelines, and use them cautiously. These types of variables, like formal compatibility testing, won’t tell you if you have physical chemistry with another person. I mean, who needs a test or guidelines for that?! Generally speaking, our personal preferences for certain height, weight, hair color, and degree of gregariousness guide our physical attraction to someone. No, what these variables from Dr. Baker speak to is more along the lines of “mental chemistry” – an element even more important than physical attraction when it comes to nurturing and growing a relationship over time.

And be aware – gaining a sense of your compatibility with another person takes time, communication, and sincerity. So, don’t expect this approach to work after one marathon video chat or during a speed dating event.

1 Baker, A. (2002). What makes an online relationship successful? clues from couples who met in cyberspace. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 5, 363-375.

Are good lovers born or made?

What we’re like in bed is a natural extension of our personalities. Personality itself is a product of both genetics and environment – the old “nature and nurture” issue. Therefore, it would seem that some sexual preferences and style are innate, or hard wired in us. Personal experience subsequently helps us hone those attitudes and behaviors.

Of course, I can easily imagine in a survey of sexually active adults that the majority would agree that it takes the right personality to be a good lover. Something like being a “Casanova” – either you have it or you don’t. But, pressed to define that “right personality” would likely prove problematic. I feel what people mean by personality is better described as a positive or negative attitude. In this sense, good lovers are people that have positive attitudes towards themselves and their partners and they naturally express that enthusiasm and passion in the bedroom.

Yet, perhaps the original question should be rephrased as, “Is our definition of a good lover innate or learned?” That gets at the issue a bit better, don’t you agree? In that case, good lovers are made. What we like in bed from our lover is also an extension of our personalities and experience – it’s a preference developed over time. Of course, some people are born with great athletic abilities, but losing out on those genes doesn’t have to stop you from learning and mastering certain technical skills for the bedroom.

If you really want to increase your knowledge and talent in that area, I strongly suggest sexologist Yvonne Fulbright’s book “The Hot Guide to Safer Sex” (get it here). It’s an easy and fun to read guide that will help you learn the technical side of sexual practices, as well as help raise your self-esteem and body image which might be holding you back from being the best lover you can be. Hmmm… I guess in this case good lovers are also made.

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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