<i>New York Times</i> Reporter Thinks Single Women Fear Intimacy; I'm Afraid He's Wrong

reporter John Tierney recently described a study that supposedly showed that "single women are particularly drawn to other people's partners." But his interpretation is not supported by relevant data.
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New York Times reporter John Tierney recently described a study that supposedly showed that "single women are particularly drawn to other people's partners." The main point of this post is to shoot down the interpretation he offers of the results, which is dripping with singlism and - more importantly - is not supported by the relevant data.

First, though, a quick romp through the TierneyLab report as well as the actual study.

Tierney's description of the methodology in this paragraph is fine:

"each of the experimental subjects was told that he or she had been matched by a computer with a like-minded partner, and each was shown a photo of an attractive person of the opposite sex. (All the women saw the same photo, as did all the men.) Half of the subjects were told that their match was already romantically involved with someone else, while the other half were told that their match was unattached. Then the subjects were all asked how interested they were in their match."

I read Tierney's description of the results before I read the original research report. This NY Times reporter claims that when the man in the photo was described as already in a "committed relationship," 90% of the single women were interested in him, but when he was described as not currently in a relationship (Tierney uses the word "unattached"), only 59% were interested in him. [For the men who participated in the study (whether they were currently in a romantic relationship or not) and for the women who were in a romantic relationship, their interest in the person in the photo did not depend much on whether that person was described as in a romantic relationship or not.]

So, Tierney believes, single women are more likely than single men to be interested in "mate poaching." The authors of the journal article offer this interpretation: "an attached man has demonstrated his ability to commit and in some ways his qualities have already been 'pre-screened' by another woman."

Tierney, though, has his own preferred interpretation: "fear of intimacy." Referring to single women, he asks, "Could their interest in unavailable guys be what was keeping them single in the first place?" He quotes one of the authors as replying that more research is needed, but that Tierney's "explanation seems quite plausible."

Gee, where would we find data relevant to single women's feelings about attachment? Maybe, perhaps, in a study of single women's attachment? Oh yeah, that study has been done, and I described it in two previous posts to my Living Single blog, here and here.

Here is the one word answer to Tierney's question as to whether single women have a special "fear of intimacy": NO. In the attachment study of single women (average age around 40), they were no more likely to have anxiety about attachment nor were they any more likely to be avoidant [continue reading here on the Living Single blog at Psychology Today]