How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You…
A Review of Leil Lowndes’ Love Manual
Self-help books. Handbooks to everlasting love. Is it really that easy – read a book; change our lives?
I once evaluate a popular press book in effort to understand how the author’s advice might match scholarly interpersonal research. I evaluated Leil Lowndes’ (1996) popular press book How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You (HMAFLY) in the context of scholarly evidence. Granted, this is an older book, but it is one that I tried to use in looking for a husband. I identified three of Lowndes’ claims and explored the adequacy of her evidence. In addition, evidence from research is used to support or refute her claims. Since Lowndes promises readers the techniques needed to secure life-long partners, I wanted to determine if one can accomplish this by relying on her book as a user manual.
Please forgive the formality of the language of this post. I am doing a similar evaluation on two more recent ‘manuals’, and plan to be a bit more casual in my approach.
Since HMAFLY addresses only heterosexual relationships, the term ‘partner’ is used in this evaluation to refer to male-female partners only. To investigate the adequacy of Lowndes’ claims, the evaluated research includes studies published over the past 20 years.
The chosen studies investigate long-term romantic relationship development, maintenance and success. In addition to the research cited, social exchange theory (Thibaut & Kelley, 1986), a meta-analysis in sex differences (Dindia & Allen, 1992), Timmerman’s (2002) study on sex differences in language, and Blumstein and Swartz’s (1983) American Couples: Money, Work, Sex, a book rich in case studies, were examined. The journals cited include Social Forces, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Marriage and the Family, and Communication Studies.
Lowndes is a public speaker, communication consultant and an author of seven popular interpersonal and business communication books. Lowndes’ website (2007) includes her full biography. The site lists Lowndes as president of Applause, Ltd., listing many big name corporations like Kodak, Mattel, and Walt Disney Company as clients. Lowndes, clearly a commercial personality, relies on both popular and academic sources, personal experience and hypothetical examples to support her claims. Her three evaluated claims, each presented in the context of developing relationship intimacy are:
(a) to be successful a relationship must be equitable
(b) the establishment of similarity is a critical part of relationship development
(c) to establish and stabilize a relationship, one must communicate with a partner in a way that bridges a gender gap (Lowndes, 1996, pp.105-199).
Lowndes’ scholarly sources mirror those used in this evaluation. She lists psychology and sociology journals in her bibliography, including Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Social Forces, American Sociological Review, Journal of Psychology, and American Sociological Review. While journal articles are listed in Lowndes’ bibliography, she does not specifically cite many of them in her text. However, she occasionally alludes to them in sweeping general statements, referring to her sources simply as ‘researchers’ instead of identifying each individual work.
This renders it difficult for readers to determine if Lowndes is referring to her popular sources or her academic sources as she explicates her claims. The popular works she depends upon to support her claims are Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand (1990), John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1992); and Lovemaps, written by John Money (1986).
Lowndes’ Claim 1: Equity
Lowndes’ (1996) first claim is that to be successful, a relationship must consist of partners who each see their romantic relationship as equitable (p.161). For Lowndes, this means that the partners in an equitable relationship have identified value in each other by adding up each others’ assets and determining that the total assets of the partner mirror the total assets that each of them has to offer the other. She isn’t referring exclusively to monetary assets; though they are included on her list of the coveted characteristics she defines as assets.
To support her equity claim, Lowndes defines a “What’s in it For Me (WIIFM) principle of love,” that states that all men and women have a personal ‘market value’ (Lowndes, 1996, pp.160-161). According to Lowndes, it is an individual’s assets that determine his or her marketability in the vast marketplace of potential life-partners (p.161). Lowndes identifies seven assets necessary for success in the marketplace of love, of which two are perceived through communication: knowledge and personality.
Lowndes (1996) defines ‘knowledge’ as intelligence in a variety of subject areas (pp.187-188). She does not offer very much detail regarding intelligence/knowledge as an asset, but rather highlights the importance of an individual’s projection of it as opposed to actually having it. For example, Lowndes states that women “have a tendency to fall in love with men who can help them professionally” (p.188).
Lowndes implies that acting as a mentor demonstrates knowledge. Along this line of thought, other ways to project knowledge might include topic of conversation choices, word choices and appearance. For example, knowledge projection might consist of choosing to discuss the latest novel one has read instead of the most recent television episode of Duck Dynasty, using the term ‘making love’ as opposed a brassy blatant alternative, and presenting oneself with glasses and conservative clothing as opposed to wearing the fashion trend of the moment.
Lowndes’ cites her own interest in the “seedy, professorial, pipe-smoking, suede-patches-of-his-sweater type man” as evidence of knowledge being an asset. It is important to note that her ‘evidence’ is entirely appearance-based – it does not speak to actual intelligence levels.
Another way that Lowndes implies that knowledge projection is more important than possession is that she advocates life-long learning, while at the same time suggesting that each individual focus learning on what the opposite sex cares about, even when it is in conflict with his or her own interests. Lowndes (1996) addresses women: “You may not find discussing cars, facts, sports, business, and politics as interesting as psychology, philosophy, relationships, reactions, and trends, but your [man] will find you a more intriguing woman if you can hold your own while pitching phenomenon and numbers around with him” (p. 200).
It is in this section of HMAFLY that Lowndes recommends that her readers read John Gray’s and Deborah Tannen’s books to get a better understanding of gender differences in communication (Lowndes, 1996, p. 197).
Additional indication that Lowndes advocates an artificial approach to relationship-building is the question she asks and then immediately answers: “Does this new breed of sensitive man and superwoman exist? The question is academic, because it’s not reality but your [partner’s] perceptions we’re dealing with” (p.196). She follows this point with a discussion of what a person should talk about around the opposite sex and how he or she should talk about it. This discussion is referenced later in the evaluation of Lowndes’ remaining two claims.
Lowndes refers to personality in broader terms than she does knowledge, with her definition of personality encompassing verbal communication, attentiveness and overall likeability. In presenting this claim, Lowndes notes that it is important to have a specific list of assets to offer a partner. She adds the following ‘but’: “You really don’t want to marry the handsome prince or the beautiful princess” (p. 168).
Lowndes notes that those who possess more of a particular asset than his or her partner may feel resentful. Likewise, one noticing that he (himself) or she (herself) possesses less of particular assets may feel guilty or inferior. The related studies cited in this paper refer to Lowndes’ unbalanced partners in terms of being ‘over-benefited’ or ‘under-benefited.’
Though Lowndes makes no reference to the research, the formula for determining an over-benefited or under-benefited status is provided by Thibaut and Kelly’s (1986) social exchange theory. Thibaut and Kelly’s research speaks to relationship outcomes of the equation, rewards – costs = outcomes, with outcomes as only one of three levels of relationship self-evaluation. Only two of the three levels are addressed by Lowndes (1996): outcomes and comparison level (CL). Outcomes are referenced indirectly by Lowndes through her WIIFM principle: the more assets one has to offer, the more potential partners will see it to their benefit to make a connection with him or her (pp.162-163). Comparison level involves relationship satisfaction and is known by researchers whom have studied Thibaut and Kelly and evidently by Lowndes, as a suggested standard by which a person evaluates the rewards and costs of a relationship in terms of what is deserved.
Those with outcomes falling above what a man or woman feels he or she deserves are defined as satisfied (overbenefited), while those whose outcomes fall below what they feel they deserve are defined as unsatisfied (underbenefited).
I determined that Lowndes believes that an imbalance is a problem, whereas Thibaut and Kelly’s (1986) work indicates that a particular ‘ordering’ takes place before a person determines his or her over-benefited or under-benefited status to be a problem. According to Lowndes (1996), equity theories suggest relationship dissatisfaction can result from an asset imbalance between partners (pp. 168-172). The only evidence that Lowndes (1996) cites in support of her claim is a 1977 unpublished manuscript. According to Lowndes’ citation of the manuscript, interviews of 500 couples were conducted (p. 168).
Unfortunately, the value of Lowndes’ evidence cannot be assessed as she provides no details of the study and the original work is not accessible to this evaluator. Lowndes cites the result of the study without offering statistical data or evidence: “The more equitable the partner’s assets, the happier the couples were” (p.169). While the result appears to support Lowndes’ claims, the research methodology, statistical results and discussion are needed for proper assessment. Without this information, there is no way to interpret Lowndes’ reported 1977 study result. For this reason, two studies of relationship equity and satisfaction were reviewed.
The first of the two studies, Larson, Hammond and Harper’s (1998) documented research of 66 couples who had been married five years or less, and who were defined as ‘inequitable’ (p. 495). Larson, Hammond, and Harper hypothesized that spouses in marriages low in equity would also be low in intimacy (p. 492). The hypothesis was not fully supported ; the researchers found no significant differences between the under-benefited groups and over-benefited groups (Larson, Hammond and Harpers, 1998, p. 496). Larson, Hammond, and Harper’s research challenges Lowndes’ claim that negative feelings arising from ‘marrying up’ or resentment resulting from ‘marrying down’ will destroy a relationship or prevent one from forming in the first place.
To further investigate if equity should be a premarital concern, the second study reviewed was Wilcox and Nook’s (2006) study using participants who had been married at least five years, looking specifically at egalitarian marriages and marriage satisfaction. Since Lowndes implies that women need to be able to match a man, asset for asset, it is important to determine if one should force new values upon him or herself in the search for a life partner. For example, Lowndes implies that positive results might be expected for a woman who is inherently disinterested in having a career, but who strives to achieve success in the workplace for the purpose of becoming more marketable.
Wilcox and Nook provides evidence to the contrary. Their research, focusing primarily on women, found that wives who seek to be a co-provider are less happy in their marriages than women who don’t seek equality in their marriage duties (p. 1331). The findings infer that Lowndes’ equity claim, which is not multi-dimensional, doesn’t take into account the desires that partners have for marriage lifestyle, in which potential partners may not desire equality.
Clearly, equality does not necessarily equal equity as Lowndes would have her readers believe. This means that Lowndes has either misinterpreted or misrepresented equity theory in HMAFLY. Thus, the first of Lowndes’ claims, when evaluated in the context of scholarly research is reduced to general advice that simply directs the reader towards deception as the most direct route to love.
Lowndes’ Claim 2: Similarity
Lowndes’ second claim is that the establishment of similarity should happen early in the search for a marriage partner. She describes the tenets of “three critical conscious similarities” (p.105). They are: (a) shared interests are “conspicuous, unmistakable and easy to create”; (b) “world view, values and beliefs are important”; and (c) shared assumptions regarding what a partner should expect from a relationship must be present (Lowndes, 1996, p. 105). As Lowndes explains this claim, it is again evident that she doesn’t have a problem with individuals using deception to establish similarity. In fact, she suggests to readers that they ‘fake’ interest in their partners’ interests for this very purpose (p.107).
Lowndes discusses the importance of expectations in connection with comparison level (CL), one of the components in Thibaut and Kelly’s (1986) social exchange theory briefly explained earlier. As a whole, Lowndes’ three similarities represent a contradiction to the clichéd popular thought that opposites attract. For this reason, similarity and attraction research was reviewed to determine if opposites do attract, thus disputing Lowndes’ claim. Since AhYun (2002) conducted a meta-analysis of 80 studies on similarity and attraction, it is not necessary to separately analyze individual studies on the topic (p.154).
AhYun reports that the included studies’ individual effect sizes were gathered, weighted by sample size, and cumulated (p.154). He formed three hypotheses, the first of which can be used to evaluate Lowndes’ similarity claims. Hypotheses 1 predicted that the highest percentage of individuals would be attracted to those who possess the greatest number of attitude, interest and belief similarities with them” (AhYun, 2002, pp.150-155). As AhYun (2002) hypothesized, his research “showed a strong positive relation between attitude similarity and interpersonal attraction. Overall, the study produced a strong relationship, (r =.51) (p.157). Therefore, AhYun’s research supports Lowndes’ similarity claims. However, her advice for how to establish similarity with a potential partner is problematic.
In HMAFLY, Lowndes suggests that similarities can be successfully simulated. This suggestion is not supported by AhYun’s research. Though the issue was not explicitly addressed in AhYun’s study, that he used a variety of attitude items in his measure demonstrates that there are a number of possible similarities at varying intensity to be explored when connecting romantically with another person.
To expect that one could successfully determine what similarities he or she needs to simulate prior to relationship development and the natural course of self-disclosure is not realistic. Research conducted by Norton, Frost and Ariely (2007) also indicates that ‘faking’ similarity early in a relationship will not be productive. Norton, Frost and Ariely’s research, which focused on issues of similarity and familiarity, was broken into five studies, two (Study 3 and Study 4) of which produced results relevant to the discussion of similarity in relationship formation.
Norton, Frost and Ariely (2007) report that the goals of Study 3 were to gather traits (listed as adjectives) that people use to describe themselves and also to determine the status of a relationship as similarities weaken due to a couple learning more about each other over time (p. 99). The researchers found that the “number of shared traits was related to liking.” More importantly, Norton, Frost and Ariely found that once an individual determines that there is dissimilarity between him or herself and a partner, additional information about the partner may be “determined as further evidence of dissimilarity” (pp.99-100).
In Study 4, Norton, Frost and Ariely explored this last point of Study 3, dubbing the phenomenon of developing dissimilarity perceptions as the “cascading nature of dissimilarity” (p. 100). It was predicted that if a participant identified dissimilarity with a partner on the first of ten listed traits, that participant would find the remaining traits dissimilar (p.100). The results supported this prediction (p.101). As in Study 3, and as Lowndes suggests in her book, similarity was shown to correlate with liking (p.101). However, the results show that while Lowndes’ similarity claim is supported, the condition of simulated similarity cannot be sustained, particularly when she advises men to self-disclose in their communication with women early in the relationship.
Since Norton, Frost and Ariely’s (2007) research found that perceived dissimilarity becomes more frequent as familiarity builds, it is likely that a man could unintentionally facilitate the perception of dissimilarity by his partner as he seeks to become closer through personal revelation.
Norton, Frost and Ariely’s cumulated results of all studies show that their predicted cascade of dissimilarity had a more negative effect for women than it did men indicating that, as Lowndes’ would have her readers believe, a women’s early self-disclosure is no more damaging than a man’s (p.101). As in the evaluation of the first claim, the second claim, falls short of what one might call good advice. In addition to ignoring the complexities of relationship formation, once again, Lowndes advocates deception.
Lowndes’ Claim 3: Communication: A gender gap
Lowndes’ (1996) third claim is that to establish and stabilize a relationship, partners must learn to communicate across her self-defined gender gap (p. 196). Her discussion of this gender gap could easily lead her readers to envision a great empty chasm, with a man standing on one side, a woman on the other, each trying to get his or her message heard while the distance between them is just too great for the goal to be accomplished.
Lowndes offers suggestions on how this gender gap can be bridged. Her suggestions dealing with the gender gap can be divided into two clear categories: self-disclosure and word choice. Lowndes defines man-talk and woman-talk, offering specific examples of how to communicate in a way that will evoke favorable response from the opposite sex. She suggests that only when one appropriately manages the method in which he or she discloses information about him or herself can the walk towards long-term bliss begin.
Lowndes relies solely on hypothetical examples and personal anecdotes to make her points.
According to Lowndes (1996), woman-talk consists of clear communication rules that can be divided and categorized as subcategories under the assets she discusses earlier in her text: knowledge and personality. Lowndes’ rules are written in trite sentences using ultra-conversational language. When translated into researchable terms, her rules for women can be collapsed and translated into four rules.
The first rule is that a woman should not display her intelligence at times when it might intimidate or challenge her partner. Lowndes advises women to study all of the topics important to her partner, but to not communicate learned information in a way that might indicate that she knows more about those topics than he does (pp. 200-201). This rule for women suggests that while Lowndes supports life-long learning in HMAFLY, she doesn’t advocate knowledge as an asset in the same way she presents it. After all, it could be argued that selected projection of intelligence may not be intelligence at all. The second rule is that women should avoid early self-disclosure.
Lowndes, in the consistent antiquated tone of HMAFLY, warns women that the process of getting to know a woman friend is much different than getting to know a man. She states: “Women, when talking to their friends, often ask each other how they feel about a certain situation. The last time some men used the word feel was when they told their high school buddies they got to feel up a girl in the backseat” (p. 203). She makes similar statements throughout her text. From this, readers can infer that a woman should not discuss feelings with her partner until she is asked about them, thereby preventing early self-disclosure.
Lowndes’ (1996) third rule is to avoid competitive messages during crisis or challenge and to not participate in decision making unless asked to do so. It is clear that Lowndes believes that women need to allow men to take the lead in communication. Lowndes does admit that her suggested rules may seem outdated, but promises that they work (Lowndes, 1996, p. 201). With her promise comes no evidence beyond a story of her and her high school boyfriend’s instances of miscommunication. The fourth rule is to avoid the use of powerless language.
According to Lowndes, this means that women must not use phrases like ‘would you’ or ‘do you think’ because it will confuse men who interpret everything in the most literal sense (p. 218). Her rule can be visualized by considering a man and woman sitting together in a room. The woman, who is uncomfortable with the room temperature, asks her partner if he thinks the room temperature should be adjusted. Following Lowndes’ advice, the woman should have instead stated that she thinks the room temperature needs to be adjusted. This way, she won’t get frustrated when he simply answers her question, and he won’t feel like an idiot when she gets up to adjust the temperature.
Lowndes’ (1996) rules for men correspond to her women’s rules, simply taking the opposite stance. When collapsed and translated into researchable terms, her advice can again be translated into four rules. The first is to not center conversation on intellectual ideas and instead talk about “…people, feelings, philosophy, rationale, and intuition” (p. 201). Lowndes offers no help to readers in connecting her discussion of knowledge as an asset to the idea that one partner may need to conceal his or her intellectual abilities. One can only assume that Lowndes expects her readers to know when to conceal and when to disclose.
Since HMAFLY centers on perception making rather than relationship forming, Lowndes indirectly suggests to readers that they control the display of their assets according to the need of the moment. The second rule is to encourage a woman to self-disclose during each shared communication episode. Lowndes fails to discuss how it might influence communication in a relationship if a woman takes her advice to not self-disclose early and a man takes her advice to push early self-disclosure. It can be presumed that the resulting conflict has the potential to stall or stop relationship development all together.
The third rule for men is to use supportive and non-competitive messages and responses in conversation with their partners. Lowndes notes that to avoid competitive messages, men should stick to topics women like, because those topics are not likely to spark heated debate. Again, it appears that Lowndes encourages knowledge repression, conflicting with her discussion of knowledge projection as an asset. Yet, she directs men to “pick up a copy of Psychology Today, a magazine with a readership of intelligent women. It’s an excellent way to brush up on what subjects hot for women” (Lowndes, 1996, p. 202).
Her fourth rule for men could create an awkward power shift in the developing relationship: men are advised to use powerless language and to invite their partners’ influence – to listen to her advice. Since Lowndes asks women to withhold advice unless asked for it, one might conclude that women following her instructions would need a clear statement from a man that he does, in fact, want advice. Powerless language, at least in this case, would not be the most direct route to putting either partner’s personality assets forward in a positive way.
Academic research supports and also contradicts Lowndes’ (1996) claim that her rules for woman and men facilitate intimacy development. Since each set of Lowndes’ collapsed rules are designed to provide guidance that will ultimately lead to a marriage, Gottman, Coan, Carrere and Swanson’s (1998) research on newlyweds was studied. Gottman’s involvement in the research adds the perspective of a popular author who, unlike Lowndes, has established credibility as a scholarly researcher.
According to The Gottman Institute’s website (Gottman, 2004), Gottman is the author or co-author of 178 published academic articles and 37 popular books on marriage, sex and other interpersonal relationship aspects. In this study specifically, Gottman, Coan, Carrere and Swanson (1998) studied seven process models of interactions between husbands and wives in effort to make predictions of marriage stability (pp. 9-10). Since Lowndes’ communication rules are interaction based, it makes sense to analyze her claims in regards to this research. Research participants answered questions about “their marriage, well-being, and health” (p.10). The scenarios involved communication in conflict.
Though Lowndes does not focus specifically on conflict, Gottman, Coan, Carrere and Swanson’s (1998) research provides a ‘worse case scenario’ that allows their research results to be applied to communication at the beginning of a new relationship, which has the potential to be as volatile and contain the same irrational moments that occur in conflict.
Gottman, Coan, Carrere and Swanson found that in happy marriages, women do not approach conversation as a challenge, husbands are willing to accept their wives’ feelings and encourage expression and input, and both partners are able to manage their feelings and impressions to a positive relationship result (pp. 10, 17).
The findings also indicate that while Lowndes’ rules direct women to not initiate conversation in tense moments, that it is in fact the way a woman initiates that makes the difference in a man’s acceptance of her initiation. Ignoring the situation all together has the potential to create more problems.
Gottman, Coan, Carrere and Swanson’s (1998) research supports Lowndes’ rules for men and women that center on softening their approach in their conversations with men. The Gottman, Coan and Swanson research also indicates that Lowndes is correct in advising men to accept influence from women. However, Lowndes (1996) specifically advises women to avoid conversation when the man is angry (this falls under the rules that advise women not to ask men about feelings and to not present challenges), while Gottman, Coan, Carrere and Swanson’s research indicates that a woman’s effort to appropriately engage in conversation with an angry man would not, in itself, end a relationship or predict relationship satisfaction.
The third claim, that a gender gap exists, has not been entirely discredited by the scholarly research. As in Lowndes’ first and second evaluated claims, it is not her claim that is unsupported, but the advice she offers to readers in regards to the claim. The quality of her advice is an issue since HMAFLY is a ‘how to’ guide – a user manual.
Lowndes’ claims: conclusions
A review of Lowndes’ HMAFLY forces two conclusions: (a) her advice to singles is too simplistic, providing none of the depth needed offer effective and efficient relationship advice to men and women, and (b) Lowndes advocates deception in initial relationship development. As indicated by the conclusions of this evaluation, there are two separate issues here: Lowndes’ claims and her advice. Each of Lowndes’ three claims discussed indicates that men and women should develop an alternative personality specifically for the pursuit of love, covering up or dismissing each of their established identities. Deception is harmful to developing relationships, rendering Lowndes’ advice useless, even though her claims are supported by research.
A study of social penetration theory (Altman and Taylor, 1973) reveals that rules like Lowndes’ manipulate the natural processes of self-disclosure leading to intimacy. Seiter and Bruschke (2007) conducted research demonstrating that deception can interfere in the development of intimacy. The results of research conducted by Seiter and Bruschke, imply that Lowndes’ suggestion that men and women stick to stereotypical roles when determining their communication style with romantic partners may damage a relationship.
The final evaluation of Lowndes’ HMFLY finds that while Lowndes’ claim of equity, similarity and gender differences in communication can be partially supported, her advice cannot be supported with the research chosen for this evaluation.
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