Cover story


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If humans are meant to mate for life, why do
so many of us get it so horribly wrong when it
comes to choosing a partner? Joanna Wane
looks at new thinking on the “science of love” –
and whether couples should be psychologically
assessed for compatibility before tying the knot.

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Julia Hartley


he Las Vegas strip blazes
so brightly astronauts can
pick out the colours from
space. But it turned black
the night Julia Hartley Moore got
married at Caesars Palace.
As the neon signs flickered out, in
tribute to Sammy Davis Jr who’d died
two days before, she watched light
drain from the city and contemplated
her future. “All I can remember is darkness,” she recalls. “I’m saying, ‘I do’ and
thinking, ‘There’s an omen for you.’”
Five years later, it was all over. Two
husbands down; two more to go.
An Auckland-based private investigator
who specialises in exposing infidelity,
Hartley Moore has written a couple of
books on how to avoid red-flag relationships and how to extricate yourself
from one. She’s starred in a reality
series about being a snoop and was a
“Dear Abby” panellist on the TV show
How’s Life. But when it comes to the
tangle of life and circumstance that
draws two people together – and eventually drives them apart – her own
marital track record is like a blow-byblow warning manual.
As a pregnant teenager, she married
a boy she didn’t even like because she
thought it was the only way to keep her
baby. Eighteen months later, he was
sleeping with her best friend.
In her early 20s, on her own with
three young children, she went looking
for security and found it in a rich older
man. “Back in those days, a woman
couldn’t even buy a house if she didn’t
have a husband. It was a way to give
myself and my girls a better chance.”
By the time they eloped to Las Vegas,
after nine years together, he was bankrupt and all her savings had gone down
with his finance company in the 1987
sharemarket crash. She married him
anyway, their wedding bankrolled by

“A lot of people know at the altar it’s not the
life they thought it was going to be.”
a win at the casino. “I was like this little
lost kid,” she says. “My parents had
died by then. Everything I had was
gone. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Number three was a “total rebound”
– a registry-office wedding like her first
one, and over just as quickly. In the years
that followed, Hartley Moore had a few
flings, wrote her book Suddenly Single,
and finally took her own advice that the
wrong relationship is worse than no
relationship at all. “When you’re happy
in your own skin and with your own
company, then you really work out what
it is you’re looking for,” she says. “I didn’t
need anyone to support me. I didn’t need

a man for any of those things. If I got
a guy, it was purely for me.”
And that’s how she found her happy
ending, when TV producer Steve Butler
went down on one knee and proposed.
They married in 2008 (the bride wore
a cream wedding dress). Yet on paper,
it looked an unlikely match.
“I vote National, he votes Labour. He’s
a liberal – that’s why he’s in TV. He sees
the good in every murderer. But our
upbringing, our beliefs, our morals are
the same,” says Hartley Moore, who
reckons the fact two of her ex-husbands
were Catholic caused more entrenched
divisions. “Even today, people are hung

t’s tempting to read the entrails
in hindsight, but when Jennifer
Gauvain – author of Why So Many
of Us Marry the Wrong Person – surveyed
1000 divorced women, almost a third
said they knew they were making a
mistake as they walked down the aisle.
Aside from the embarrassment and
expense of calling it off, most went
through with it anyway because they
thought their partner would change or
they were afraid of being alone.
Such errors happen with appalling ease
and regularity, claims The Philosophers’
Mail, an online forum set up by a group
including UK-based Swiss writer and
philosopher Alain de Botton (see page
40). And no wonder; most of us have so
little insight into our own psychological
make-up, how can we expect to truly
understand someone else?
“Given that marrying the wrong person
is about the single easiest and also costliest mistake any one of us can make (and
one which places an enormous burden
on the state, employers and the next generation), it is extraordinary, and almost
criminal, that the issue of marrying
intelligently is not more systematically
addressed at a national and personal
level, as road safety or smoking are,”
writes the think tank, in a provocative
look at the imperfections of modern love.
Potential pitfalls couples face include
a misconception that marriage guarantees happiness, the rise of romance over
rationality, and a society that makes
singledom “dangerously unpleasant”.
We’re all a peculiar bundle of quirks

Art Green put his fate in the hands of modern-day matchmakers on The Bachelor.
“The ultimate aim is to end up with a couple in love, but they’re human beings,
so it’s a crap shoot,” says Anna Lynch, executive producer of the hit TV show.

and flaws, they argue, so perfection isn’t
on the cards. The key is finding someone
whose neuroses are a foil for your own.
In a wiser society, then, prospective
partners might put each other through
detailed psychological questionnaires
and send themselves off to be assessed
by a team of analysts before committing
to each other for life. “By 2100, this will
no longer sound like a joke. The mystery
will be why it took humanity so long to
get to this point.”
According to The Philosophers’ Mail

Fisher claims the human body knows
within a split second whether another
person is physically attractive to them
or not. But when men are looking for
a long-term partner, says Cambridge
professor David Bainbridge – author
of a new book Curvology: The Origins
and Power of Female Body Shape – intelligence is far more influential than
big boobs and long legs. (Not too much
intelligence, perhaps. For every extra
$5000 a woman earns over her partner,
their risk of divorce apparently goes

New Zealand has the
most acute shortage
of men aged 25-49 in
the world, according
to a recent analysis of
OECD data by social and
economic researcher
Paul Callister.

dating manual, a standard question over
dinner early in any relationship should
be: “How are you mad?” After all, even
the act of falling in love itself is a peculiar
kind of madness. What happens in our
brains has striking similarities with
mental illness, according to a BBC report on “The Science of Love”. And we
aren’t really smitten at first sight, but at
first smell. All sorts of studies involving
sweaty T-shirts show we can literally
sniff out someone who’s genetically
compatible, while both sexes are subconsciously turned on by symmetry, a
visual cue for fertility.
US biological anthropologist Helen

up by five per cent.)
Whatever draws us together in the first
place, navigating the minefields of marriage has been described as requiring
skills that overlap those of a bomb disposal expert. In New Zealand, one in
three marriages ends in divorce; in the
United States and the UK, that rises to
almost half. Fewer of us are tying the
knot than ever before – who can afford
it, when the average wedding bash costs
$30,000? But young romantics don’t
seem any more clued-up on choosing a
mate for life, even though they don’t have
to get married so they can move out of
home or have socially sanctioned sex, as
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up on who their kids get together with.
There’s this pressure to marry someone
who’s perceived as the ‘right’ person – a
professional who went to the correct
school. But that doesn’t necessarily
make for the right marriages. A lot of
people know at the altar it’s not the life
they thought it was going to be.”
Despite the wreckage of her first three
forever-afters, she sees them not as failures, but learning curves. “We don’t learn
how to have relationships; we’re not
taught emotional intelligence in school.
It’s all IQ, not EQ – knowing who you
are and knowing what you want.
“I believe in writing it down. Not a list
like ‘six foot two with a great head of
hair’, but the kind of person you want.
And be realistic. Have a good long look
at yourself in the mirror first.”

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Alain de Botton on Love
(from his book Essays in Love)

“Perhaps the easiest people to
fall in love with are those about
whom we know nothing.”
“Must being in love always
mean being in pain?”
“Everyone returns us to a
different sense of ourselves,
for we become a little of
who they think we are.”
“We are all more intelligent than
we are capable, and awareness
of the insanity of love has never
saved anyone from the disease.”
“Perhaps it is true that we do
not really exist until there is
someone there to see us existing,
we cannot properly speak until
there is someone who can
understand what we are saying
in essence, we are not wholly
alive until we are loved.”
“Every fall into love involves
the triumph of hope over
“The longing for destiny
is nowhere stronger than
in our romantic life.”

“Everything is
supposed to be
interesting, exciting,
dramatic, thrilling,
fulfilling, soulsearing, let’s have
spontaneous sex on
the beach while the
waves crash over us...”
Associate Professor Nathan Consedine,
director of the Health Psychology
Program at Auckland University


UK-based writer and philosopher
Alain de Botton and wife Charlotte.

where their “synergies and separations”
are. Using psychological science to assess potential compatibility isn’t a bad
idea, he says. “It would certainly give
people a head start to know what their
‘madness’ is. With some dating sites,
that’s exactly what they try to do.”
Where arranged marriages are traditionally brokered on similarities in education, profession, family backgrounds
and religious beliefs, internet dating
throws personality type into the mix.
The first computer-matching program
dates back to the 1960s, when two
Harvard University undergraduates
created a questionnaire that could be
fed into a punch-card system and then
compared to other people’s answers.
They called it Operation Match.
These days, it’s a little more sophisticated. EliteSingles, which launched
here in 2013, has millions of members
worldwide and employs a team of specialists in maths, IT and psychology.
Couples looking for long-term relationships are matched through a complex
personality test that calculates levels of
openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
No such fancy algorithms were in play
on The Bachelor. Executive producer
Anna Lynch relied on “gut instinct” to
cull hundreds of candidates prepared
to risk public humiliation for the sake
of a rose. She reckons modern matchmaking shows have a better hit rate than
randomly meeting someone in a bar.
“The ultimate aim is to end up with a
couple in love, but they’re human beings,
so it’s a crap shoot,” she says. “Matching
perfect with perfect isn’t necessarily
going to give you the best match. There
were definitely some instant connections
made that I could not have foreseen.”
New Zealand has the most acute shortage of men aged 25-49 in the world,
according to a recent analysis of OECD
data by social and economic researcher
Paul Callister. However, Lynch says it
wasn’t the “man drought” but a lack of
fidelity that emerged as a common
thread among the women’s application
forms. “Time and time again they’d been
cheated on. It’s not so much that it’s hard
to meet someone, but it’s hard to meet
someone loving and faithful. Everyone
is just looking for one that isn’t a dick!”
In reality, we’re not even close to being
able to make a definitive call on which
two people will be the right fit, says


their parents or grandparents once did.
The highest rate of divorce (including
the dissolution of civil unions) is among
people in their 20s, who clearly prefer
not to live with their mistakes.
There’s even a term for it: the “starter
marriage”, where a couple don’t have any
children together and break up within
five years. Not to be confused with the
“non-starter marriage”, which dissolves
in less than 12 months – apparently such
a phenomenon there’s money to be made
from it. One San Diego-based website,
Wedding, offers an insurance policy that reimburses the cost
of your wedding gift if the couple don’t
make it to their first anniversary.
At the same time, the number of “silver
splitters” separating later in life has hit
a record high. In a survey last year by
Silversurfers, a lifestyle website for the
over-50s, 18 per cent said their biggest
regret was marrying the wrong person.
With the prospect of another few decades ahead of them once the children
have left home, those disgruntled baby
boomers aren’t sticking around. And that
still doesn’t tell you how many enduring
partnerships are harmonious ones.
“People can be married for 30 to 40
years and what they’ve been through is
crap,” says Julia Hartley Moore. “Often
there’s all this stuff no one knows about.
Being together for a long time doesn’t
mean [the relationship] is a happy one.”
Wellington industrial psychologist
Keith McGregor, who’s run “communication in marriage” workshops for engaged couples through the Catholic
Church, believes a simple failure to listen
is often a stumbling block right from the
start. “One guy introduced me to his
partner and said, ‘I haven’t talked to her
for a week – I didn’t want to interrupt,’”
he laughs.
He doesn’t do marriage guidance, but
says that once someone has decided their
relationship is unsalvageable, counselling
is pretty much doomed to fail. “It’s easier
to see someone else’s flaws than our own
– research backs that up. A lot of couples,
in order to be happy, expect the other
partner to change.”
A specialist in psychometric testing,
McGregor developed Selector Professional, an online tool used to assess
candidates for senior executive and
other strategic appointments. He’s had
a few couples do the test, to see how
their profiles fit together and work out

Associate Professor Nathan Consedine,
who’s director of the Health Psychology
Program at Auckland University.
“We don’t even really know why people
marry. But having the same ideas about
what the hell life is for, that’s going to be
a huge predictor. People change, but if
you’re set up right to begin with, you
might grow together rather than apart.”
Compared to the days when we paired
off within tribes, the pool of potential
partners seems so vast it’s become a
source of discontent, says Consedine.
That’s known as the “choice paradox”,
where we end up obsessing about what
we might be missing out on, rather than
being satisfied with what we have.
“This expectation you’ll be happy,
which permeates the West, is a complete and utter fraud. Good marriages
take effort and work. Most marriages
are mundane most of the time. But
we’re not socialised to expect that,” he
says. “Everything is supposed to be
interesting, exciting, dramatic, thrilling, fulfilling, soul-searing, let’s have
spontaneous sex on the beach while
the waves crash over us...
“So our expectations are continually
being disappointed and the opportunities to go off and get it somewhere
else are greater than ever before.”
Auckland psychotherapist Lynne
Dunphy, who does a lot of work with
couples, thinks cross-cultural courtships and connections made through

the internet have put relationships
under even more pressure, and often
there’s little outside support from farflung families. “In the days when you
met so-and-so from down the road, you
knew what you were getting into. And
people do walk away more quickly now.
We’re still not encouraged to talk about
feelings; that code of staunchness does
everyone a disservice.”
One of the crunchiest times for couples is the birth of their first baby.
Another lumpy patch is when the children leave home. By the time most people come to therapy, it’s six or seven
years too late and the damage is done.
“The biggest thing is being open and
available to each other,” Dunphy says.
“Often people marry because of timing.
It’s the right person, at the right time.
Then suddenly here you are, 20 years
later. At best, you’ve learnt to accept
each other ’s foibles. At worst,
everything becomes further evidence
you shouldn’t be together.”
Otago University student Roisin
Hegarty, who’s doing a PhD in psychology, has been single for a year since
breaking up with her long-term boyfriend. The 27-year-old, who explores
ideas about happiness in her “Yellow
Brick Blog”, admits her generation
doesn’t seem any better at making the
transition from lust to a lasting partnership. “Apparently there’s a man drought
in Dunedin,” she says. “I’m in this age

gap where there are no suitable men;
that’s what I’ve heard. But sometimes
I wonder if the idea of pairing up and
having a lifelong monogamous relationship is actually a helpful concept. For
some people I know, it certainly isn’t.”
Hegarty has seen people “freak out”
when they hit a certain age and rush into
relationships because they want to have
children or don’t want to be alone. “It all
comes back to this whole idea that’s promoted in pop music and movies and
those ridiculous romance novels, where
you’re madly in love all the time, which
is completely insane,” she says.
“But I still have this romantic idea that
one day I’ll be in the library or a bookshop, and a man will come up to me and
start talking about books. And that will
be the end of it. I think that’s ludicrous,
but who knows? It could happen.”


wo hundred invitations had
already been posted out when
Esther Henry called off her
country-church wedding. She was 24
and her parents were furious, but all her
instincts told her she was on the verge
of making a mistake she’d regret for life.
“I felt terrible about the whole thing, but
he’d become weirdly possessive and the
closer we got to the wedding, the more I
thought it felt scarily wrong,” she says.
“I lost the deposit on my wedding
dress, but as soon as I’d made the
decision, I just felt so relieved. It was
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“In the end, it’s about someone who gets
you and knows what you’re thinking.”

definitely the right thing to do.”
A few years later, Esther’s brother played
matchmaker and set her up with one of
his mates. She and Chris, who live in
Kaikoura, have five children, including one
with Down syndrome, and are about to
celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
But when their eldest was a teenager, work
and family pressures placed their marriage
under such stress they lived apart for
several years before eventually reconciling.
At their daughter’s 21st birthday party,
it was referred to as “when mum and dad
were having their troubles”. Esther looks
back on that nightmarish time as the worst
period of her life. Again, her instincts
pulled her through – this time, telling her
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she and Chris shared something valuable
that was worth fighting to save. “Both of
us had other relationships during that
time, but nothing was at all right,” she
says. “We’re older and stronger now – it’s
like we were never apart.”
Although she and Chris are quite
different in many ways – “he’s incredibly
messy and I’m organised; he loves hunting
and going on great adventures” – they’re
bound by fundamental similarities, too.
“We’ve never had arguments about how
to bring up the children; we think exactly
the same way on what is the right or
wrong thing to do and what the limits are.
In the end, it’s about someone who gets
you and knows what you’re thinking. We
are each other’s person in life.”
As a species, it seems we’re endlessly
optimistic about love. In New Zealand,
about a third of all weddings are remarriages, which have an even higher
failure rate, as if doomed to repeat the
mistakes of the past.
Kathy, a Wellington designer, had
bought a house with her partner and
was making wedding plans when she
realised with a shock their relationship
had become an “action replay” of the
problems that caused her first marriage
to fail. “It was scary seeing similar traits
in him to my first husband,” she admits.
“I felt I couldn’t get through to him and
I know he felt at the time that I was a bit
of an emotional tidal wave. I’d started to
convince myself he wasn’t right for me;
that we couldn’t possibly be together and
be happy.”
So they went to couples therapy, before
getting wed, and while it didn’t resolve
all their differences, Kathy says it gave
them a fresh perspective and allowed
them to focus on the values they did
share. They’ve been happily married –
with all the inevitable blips and bumps
– for more than 20 years.
While it might seem there’s a world
of lovers to choose from, perhaps
that’s an illusion, when really we’re
all at the mercy of biology, psychology
and happenstance. Kathy has her own
philosophy on that. She reckons our
taste in partners is like the style of
watch we like to wear.
“Once you’ve decided on your type,
you choose it over and over again,” she
says. “But you have to get the recipe
right. You can love carrot cake, but too
much baking soda is disgusting. The
right amount is wonderful.”

Far left: Dave and Jane
Hender, best friends through
school from the age of five.
Left and below: The couple’s
wedding day at Abel Tasman
National Park – 60 years to the
day after they first met.

For Motueka couple Dave and Jane
Hender, a good thing took time.


ave and Jane Hender were
five years old and about
to start primary school
when they first set eyes on each
other – and liked what they saw.
Inseparable until their mid-teens,
the two best friends gradually drifted
apart, married young and each
had a couple of kids. Not a single
moment of passion or a romantic
word had passed between them,
but when Jane heard through the
grapevine that Dave’s marriage was
on the rocks, she sent a poem asking
him to take her back into his life.
By then, it had been almost three
decades since they’d lost contact.
It took two more years of gentle
courtship before they officially became
a couple, then another 20 years
before Dave finally convinced her to
say, “I do.” But on April 23, 2014 – the
60th anniversary of the day they met
– they finally made it to the “altar”.

“Dave had asked me a hundred
times and I kept saying no, because I’d
had such a bad experience,” says Jane,
who was 21 when she married her first
husband and knew within two weeks
of her wedding to him that she’d made
a mistake. “Dave and I had both been
betrayed by other people. But we’d
never do that to each other. Never.
We’re absolutely true soul mates.”
After a simple ceremony on the
sand in Abel Tasman National
Park, they sat among the driftwood
drinking bubbly as sunlight sparkled
across the bay. The bride wore a
bright-pink top and a sarong; the
groom wore bare feet. Not only
was it a day to remember, it was
also the 20th wedding anniversary
of their celebrant Terri Everett, a
boutique event planner in Kaiteriteri
who calls herself “The Dream
Maker”. She married the couple
six days after they cycled up her

driveway and knocked at the door.
Originally from the UK, the
Henders spent 12 years sailing around
the Atlantic before falling in love
with New Zealand during a threemonth holiday here. Now permanent
residents, they live in Motueka,
but spend much of their time off
adventuring in an old ambulance
they’ve converted into a campervan.
Dave, who was 22 and
“impregnated with rampant
hormones” when he wed his first
wife, admits he and Jane sometimes
wonder what life might have been
like if they’d hooked up as teenagers.
“Obviously there’s a chance if we’d
stayed together from childhood,
we might be clawing each other’s
eyes out by now,” he laughs.
But despite spending so long apart,
Jane says she always knew they’d find
they way back to each other. “Now
we’re making up for lost time.”
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