If you want to know about love, ask someone with a lifetime of experience.
That’s why, when Karl Pillemer set out to collect advice about that deepest of human experiences, he consulted the country’s elders.
Pillemer, a gerontologist and professor of human development at Cornell University, and his team interviewed more than 700 Americans, ranging in age from 63 to 108, about their views on love. Married for 43 years on average, they weighed in on everything from how to find the right person to what keeps the spark alive.
Here are 10 of their lessons on love:
1. Opposites may attract in the movies, but they don’t make great marriage partners
The elders told Pillemer that you should choose a mate who is a lot like you. That means sharing core values and interests and having a similar outlook on life. So even though opposites can make for an exciting relationship, a lasting union often involves people who have similar personalities and backgrounds.
Science backs them up: A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that when people choose a partner, they prefer someone of a similar level of attractiveness, wealth and status, and commitment to family and monogamy.
2. Pay attention to what your friends and family say
Consider that if nobody likes your partner, there may be good reasons for it. So if your loved ones have lots of reservations, don’t get defensive but listen to why they feel that way.
3. Physical attraction is important
“I began this project with the illusion that the elders would be all about inner beauty, but the opposite was true,” Pillemer said. “Everybody across all walks of life said the relationship begins with a physical attraction of some kind.”
That doesn’t mean you have to be movie-star handsome or turn to cosmetic surgery. Rather, it means staying a healthy weight and looking as good as you can. That’s especially helpful if you want to keep the sexual spark alive in a relationship.
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