Valentine's with the Love Doctor


Happy Valentine's Day! Three of our writers met with SMU's resident Dr. Love ahead of this special day in search of answers to questions about love and lust.


Valentine’s Day: the season of love. If you were struck by Cupid’s arrow, today’s the day to shower your loved one in unending affection.


To celebrate this endearing occasion, The Blue and Gold commissioned three self-partnered writers to interview Dr Norman Li, a professor from SMU’s very own SOSS. Prof holds a PhD in Mating; or as he colloquially calls, a PhD in why does she like him and not me.


Prof leaning against his bookshelves
Photo: Singapore Management University Faculty Directory / Norman LI

Right before we set foot into his office, we inspected the door for signs indicative of the presence of a ‘mating specialist’ on the other end.


“Hi, are you…?”


A voice behind us called our names out, startling us ever so slightly. Turning to face its owner, our eyes met. He looked exactly like his pictures! But how did he know who we were, even before we introduced ourselves? Did he decipher our identities through eye contact alone? Did he extract it from our body language? Was this one of the many powers of Dr. Love? We later found out from our PR directors that they had passed our names to him right before the interview.


In any case, we were awestruck at first sight, and excitedly followed him into his cosy little office.


 

1. What does love actually mean?

“Well, love can mean a lot of things. It’s not just an emotion, because emotions are kind of short-lasting, but more of an overall feeling or state of mind that has evolved.”


“It happens when both parties are mutually attracted to each other. And reproductively, they offer you a good deal; meaning that they have a high mate value compared to your alternatives. Part of the attraction is physical appearances, but the other part is compatibility in other dimensions.”


We nodded along, following Prof so far.


“If the attraction is mutual, that’s great. You start feeling euphoric when you’re with them, and you feel worse when you’re apart. You start developing commitment and intimate feelings, and this feeling has been designed by the evolutionary process to facilitate bonding and reproduction. Because the bond needs to be strong enough to keep you and your partner together for long enough to have a child.”


At the mention of children, it may or may not have started to get a bit too real for our liking. The mind-reader Prof quickly continued.


“...Yes, this may not be your intention – you just feel love and want to write poems and send flowers or whatnot,” he explained, casually gesturing to the rose on his table, “but behind all that, nature is getting you to reproduce. It’s designed that way.”



2. Does being a Mating Expert improve your marriage?

Distracted by the rose and our wandering thoughts as to whom it was from, one of us remembered that Prof was married, and couldn’t help but wonder how his wisdom may have worked wonders for his relationship.


“You should probably ask my wife. She’ll tell you that it hasn’t helped us at all.” He chuckles, “My focus is on understanding attraction and relationships, and not so much on relationship maintenance.”


A serious expression returns to his face as he sips his tea and continues. “Relationship maintenance is getting harder, not just for me, but for everyone. Everyone has too many options nowadays.”


“Think of it this way. Your 2-year-old iPad has something wrong with it. You take it for servicing and the repairman gives you two options. A, you pay $1,000 to fix a small problem with your iPad. Or, B, you spend $500 and get yourself a brand new one. Why would you incur such a big cost to repair and maintain it, when you can just get a new one?”


Again, just as discomfort started to set in at Prof’s bleak observation of modern society, he followed up with a consolation of sorts.


“It helps a little bit because you see some of the pitfalls, and if you’re smart enough, you’re able to work around them.”


Are we smart enough, though? Turns out there was more at stake in this interview than we originally thought. We got serious.



3. What’s the best way to pick someone up?

“There's no perfect way to do it, but there are some methods to increase your desirability.”


That said, a note here from Prof: The results may differ for men and women.


“No matter how good you are, you can’t attract everyone. For example, guys in the pickup artist community who are the ‘most’ skilled at talking to women will maybe get 10% of women to be interested in them. On the other hand, a physically attractive woman can probably get 90% of guys interested by just showing up somewhere where there’s a lot of men; like in a club.”


Needless to say, out of the three interviewers present, two of us lamented at our abysmal prospects of applying for BTO before 25.


“Physical attraction is important. But if you’re not naturally physically attractive, there are still other things you can do to be more desirable. So firstly, grooming yourself. Make yourself look neat and presentable. Looking sloppy and sickly is usually a turn off for most people.”


“Secondly, gaining respect. Oftentimes this means money, but it could also mean having a social status in a field.” Prof noted here that this was especially the case for men – women look for someone they respect.


“You don’t have to be a top investment banker or hedge fund manager. Those aren’t the only type of man women want. You just have to be someone that other people can look up to.”


“Lastly, work on being kind, warm, and being funny. I think these things help because everyone wants someone who’s kind and understanding.”



4. On dating apps

It was at this precise moment that one of our writers spotted his co-interviewer sneaking a right-swipe on Bumble on his phone hidden under the table.


“So Prof, what are your views on dating apps?”


“They offer a lot of convenience just like any kind of technology that we have. They also facilitate more new relationships; or the illusion of new relationships because there’s just so many choices out there right? People use it and they go, omg I'm gonna meet so many people and they end up disappointed because they'd go through all this process and never find anybody.”


Exposed, our writer sighed, exiting Bumble.


“Also – the more you perceive yourself as having more options, the less motivated you are to keep your relationship going. So these apps facilitate things, but also make things harder. Commitment is more difficult. You’ll have to consciously make a decision about what you want and to not partake in all this stuff when you shouldn’t.”


...Happy swiping, everyone!



5. Does the one exist?

“In theory, yes. Love is such that you can feel that you’re destined for each other. Is it scientifically possible that you find the right one amongst seven billion people? No, absolutely not.


At this point, one of our interviewers may or may not have started sobbing.


“But the thing is you don’t have to find the one. Every potential mate can fit you in different ways. It’s up to you whether you let them.”


Oh whatever, let’s just move on to the next question.



6. Is it strange to not feel the need for lust?

“We're all genetically designed to feel some lust. But if we don't feel any, there could be a lot of explanations. For instance, our lives in the modern world are extremely stressful and difficult, which can sap us of our energy and sexual desire. Another possibility is that you naturally have a lower sex drive, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”


Unfortunately, we couldn’t relate to this question.


Just kidding, we’re hella stressed.



7. In your professional opinion, does size matter?

Prof pauses, his face resembling that of The Thinker. Indeed, it is an age-old question.


“From everything that I know, size does matter, but it’s not everything. You don’t have to be as big as the media exaggerates it to be. As long as you don’t have what is considered a micro-penis, it’s fine; you’re good. And if you do have a micro-penis you can and should seek medical help.”


“I think what matters more than size is confidence. Females will rather have a guy who’s confident and not that big, over a guy who is big and lacks self-confidence.”


Prof smirks, “Usually, though, size and confidence are related.”



8. What are the biggest red flags in a relationship?

Another hard question. Prof’s brows furrow and The Thinker is back. We wondered if he was having trouble thinking of one or busy shortlisting one out of many.


After a while, he finally looks up, breaking the silence as his eyes seem to say "oh right, how did I forget that?


“If your partner is no longer laughing at your jokes or trying to make you laugh – that's a sign that they're interested in someone else or not interested in you anymore.”


“Humour may have evolved to be an interest indicator. If someone’s interested in you, they’re probably going to try to make you laugh. And if you’re interested in them, you’re going to find them funny.”


Prof shares one more red flag before we stop him, out of concern for all the couples already at risk from the first one.


“For most people – not all – another red flag is if your partner is insistent on keeping a lot of opposite sex friends, while you’re heavily invested in the relationship. It’s a sign that they have all the power in the relationship, that they can keep all these back door exits and options available. If someone’s really in love with you, they'd want to forget about these people, and focus on you.”



9. What are your thoughts on clinginess or possessiveness in a relationship? Are they natural or do they hint at something more sinister?

“I wouldn’t say that it’s sinister. Having some clinginess and jealousy is natural. That means they care about the relationship.”


“Clinginess is natural. Falling in love is a scary process, because you’re committing emotionally without fully knowing the other person. And so to relinquish your doubts you would want to hang out with this person more often.”


“So if you have one person who's always wanting to be with the other person, and the other person does not, that's probably not a good match. Especially if it's way out of sync.”


“Everyone has different levels of tolerance to clinginess. But if it’s too much for you, then you two may not be very compatible regardless of whether it’s right, wrong, or plain creepy.”


In short, have a chat with your partner or a think about it if you find them too clingy, or vice versa. It could very well point to or be disguising something deeper.


After all, the person you love wants to spend more time with you – what's so bad about that?



10. How do you know if your partner is going to cheat? Are there certain personality types that are more prevalent to cheating?

A wide grin crosses Prof’s face, “Being male.”


This was the quickest response Prof gave throughout our entire interview. He also forgot to mention that he was kidding, we think.


“Extroverted people, disagreeable people, people with low conscientiousness, and people with many options are likely to cheat. I think most prominently, if you’re unsatisfied with your relationship, you will become motivated to look around.”


“If you treat your partner well and keep them satisfied, there’s really nothing you can do if they cheat on you. It’s not your fault and you shouldn’t blame yourself. But if you’re with a good person, they should respond accordingly, and there should be nothing to worry about.”



11. How do you maintain a healthy relationship?

Last but not least, Prof shared some advice for everyone celebrating Valentine’s Day.


“If you want it to work out, you and your partner have to limit your options to create an environment that’s conducive for the relationship.”


“So for example, if you're an alcoholic trying to stay away from alcohol; don't hang out at bars or friends who drink.” It’s concerning that one of our writers wrote this down.


“Don’t do things that can help you potentially meet other more attractive mates. This is especially important for men, because as some comedians say, a man is as faithful as his options.


“Also, you have to do things together to build your relationship and make it strong. So celebrate things like Valentine's Day, anniversaries, birthdays, all these kinds of events. Most importantly, always show each other your appreciation.”


 

As we walked out of Prof’s office, he shared some final thoughts on Valentine’s Day – for both the coupled and uncoupled.


“Valentine’s Day is nice when you have a good relationship. If you have a bad relationship or no relationship, it just sucks. Weak relationships crumble more frequently, I suppose because of social comparison. Couples will compare themselves to other couples, and begin identifying flaws.”


“And if you’re single, I think it may be a good time to look for a mate. There are definitely some lonely hearts out there who wouldn’t mind a little love, so to say. Good luck!”


With that, we hope you found our interview with Prof insightful and uplifting. And no, you cannot consult Prof on how to improve your Tinder profile.