Avoiding meals with former boyfriends or girlfriends is a safe way to keep a current relationship
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Did you ever grab a bite to eat with an ex, end up in hot water with a current boyfriend or girlfriend, and attempt to use the excuse that it was “just lunch”? In a recent study, Kevin Kniffin and Brian Wansink found that eating a meal with an old romantic partner resulted in more jealousy from a current partner compared to other face-to-face interactions, even getting coffee. It appears that sharing a meal is more than “just lunch.” But why is a meal so meaningful? Meals are often associated with developing and strengthening social relationships, as well as community building, which may be the reason behind a greater feeling of jealousy in response to shared meals in comparison to other interactions.
They asked 79 undergraduates how jealous they would be if their boyfriend or girlfriend communicated with his or her ex for one hour in a variety of ways. The different forms of communication were email or telephone correspondence, meeting for coffee in the morning or afternoon, and eating lunch or dinner together. They rated their anticipated jealousy for each circumstance on a scale of 1 (Not at all jealous) to 5 (Very jealous). In a complementary study, they asked 74 undergraduates how their “best friend” would respond to the same situations since people don’t typically like to admit to being jealous.
Across both studies, eating meals together elicited more jealousy than coffees or a phone conversation. Email correspondence resulted in the least jealously, significantly less than a phone conversation would cause. Based on their results, which included no difference in either study between ratings provided by men and women, Kniffin and Wansink believe people recognize that eating with others involves both physical and emotional exchanges, and they see other forms of interaction as involving less emotion.
So to avoid getting into a sticky situation with your significant other, stay away from meals with your ex-girlfriend or -boyfriend. Any form of contact seems to elicit some jealousy, but meals create significantly more than face-to-face as well as other communications. Remember: coffees are casual, meals are meaningful.
Summary by Erica Rausch
• Download paper from the SSRN (the Social Science Research Network)
Kniffin, Kevin, and Brian Wansink (2012). It’s Not Just Lunch: Extra-Pair Commensality Can Trigger Sexual Jealousy. PLOS ONE 7(7), e40445. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040445.
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