For a purely binary choice, wearing a ring either on the left or right hand can say a lot about the wearer.
- Europeans are getting married less, but wearing a wedding ring is more standardised than ever.
- Standardised doesn't mean homogenised: some countries prefer rings on the left, others on the right.
- However, this map does not capture the range of subtleties that wearing a ring on either side can convey.
Wedding ring throwing a heart-shaped shadow on the pages of a dictionary.
Credit: Roger McLassus, CC BY-SA 3.0
Europeans are falling out of love with marriage. Back in 1965, the crude marriage rate in the 27 countries now constituting the EU was 7.8 (per 1,000 persons per year). By 2017, that figure had almost halved, to 4.4. Over the same period, the crude divorce rate more than doubled, from 0.8 to 2.
Still, that means that in 2017, 3.8 million Europeans got married. Tied the knot. Put a ring on it. Which brings us to the question answered by this map: on which finger? The ring finger, of course. But on which hand? In the U.S., the consensus is: on the left. However, as this map shows, there is a remarkable variation in ring-wearing traditions across Europe.
According to this map, Europe is fairly evenly divided between countries where the wedding ring is worn on the left (in green), and those where the matrimonial band is worn on the right (in red).
Major left-wearing countries are the U.K., France, and Italy.
- Left-hand wedding rings are also de rigueur across the Nordics (Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Estonia),
- in Central Europe (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova),
- in the north-western Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia)
- and in a few other countries (Ireland, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland, Kazakhstan).
Russia, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine are the largest right-wearing countries.
- There's also a smattering of similarly minded countries in the west (Belgium, Denmark, Norway),
- a corridor or right-wearers stretching from Germany to Cyprus (via Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Greece),
- and a few former Soviet states continuing their alignment with Mother Russia (Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Georgia).
Finally, Spain and the Netherlands have no uniform tradition, with left-wearers and right-wearers according to region or religion.
The vein of love
A map of wedding ring-wearing traditions in Europe.
Before we examine the difference, let's pause a while to contemplate a phenomenon so uniform–the wedding ring goes on the finger next to the pinkie–that we've even named the digit after it.
Wearing a ring as a visible sign of the wearer's married status is a tradition that goes back to the ancient Egyptians. They believed a 'vein of love' connected the pinkie's neighbor straight to the heart. That belief was taken over by the Greeks and the Romans (who called it the vena amoris). Hence the tradition for wearing the wedding ring on the 'ring finger'. (1)
That tradition was not uniform, though: some early Celtic peoples wore their wedding ring on the middle finger, while in 17th-century England it was not uncommon to wear it on the thumb.
Also non-traditional: men wearing wedding rings. In many cultures, only women wore wedding rings. In Germany, for example, the custom for both parties each to wear a ring only became general in the second half of the 19th century. Male wedding rings took off in the UK and other English-speaking countries only during (and because of) the First and Second World Wars. The men away on military duty started wearing rings to remind them of their wife at home.
So, even as weddings themselves are on a slow decline, the wearing of wedding rings has become a standardised aspect of the married state. Except for that difference between the left and right hand.
That difference is more difficult to explain, apparently quite resistant to standardisation and, as evidenced by the reaction generated by this map, also more subtle than the various shadings it proposes.
Closer to the heart
Mr and Mrs Guillemet, a 19th-century Parisian couple, wearing their wedding rings on the left hand, as is still the custom in France.
Credit: Edouard Manet: 'Dans la serre' (1878-9) – Public Domain
Why wear the wedding ring left or right? The difference seems to be merely based on precedent – although some arguments can be found for either option.
- Wearing the ring on the left means it's closer to the heart. Also, this has slight advantages in terms of safety and convenience, if the wearer belongs to the right-handed majority.
- Wearing the ring on the right is relevant because it's the side you shake hands with, so people will be able to tell whether you're married. Also, the right hand is the more important hand, because it's the one you swear with.
In some European traditions, including many Orthodox ones, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand before marriage, then transferred to the right hand during the ceremony. In Turkey, it's generally the other way around.
In others, a relatively plain engagement ring is worn on one hand before marriage, replaced by a more ornate wedding ring on the other hand after marriage. However, in the U.K. (and possibly elsewhere), some people 'stack' the rings, wearing the engagement ring over the wedding ring, both on the left ring finger.
As for the mixed countries: in Spain, the difference is regional, while in the Netherlands it is religious.
- In Spain, wedding rings are generally worn on the right, except in Catalonia and adjacent regions, such as Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
- In the Netherlands, Protestants wear their wedding ring on the right, while Catholics wear it on their left. However, engaged Protestants would have a ring on the left hand, moving it to the right when marrying. Prompting one commenter on Reddit to exasperate: "Then how do you tell an engaged Protestant from a married Catholic? Holy hell. The taste?"
A few other countries should have been shaded as well, other commenters pointed out, at least Austria, Belgium, and Bosnia.
- While many Belgian married couples wear their ring on the left, in some regions (including Antwerp and Brabant provinces) it's worn on the right. In yet parts of the country, the custom varies from town to town.
- Contrary to the rest of Austria, in the state of Tyrol, engagement rings are worn on the right, wedding rings on the left.
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
(1) Curiously, the ring finger is known as the 'unnamed' one in languages as diverse as Sanskrit (anamika), Chinese (wúmíng zhǐ), Finnish (nimetön sormi) and Russian (bezimyanniy palets), which may refer to ancient beliefs that it is a magical finger. However, the name 'ring finger' goes back at least until the Romans (digitus annularis). In German, because of its association with golden wedding bands, it is also called Goldfinger.
Monogamy is often considered a key component of traditional marriages, but it's only half the story.
- Depending on who you ask, monogamy is either essential to a successful marriage or it is unrealistic and sets couples up for failure.
- In this video, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, psychologist Chris Ryan, former Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman, and psychotherapist Esther Perel discuss the science and culture of monogamy, the role it plays in making or breaking relationships, and whether or not humans evolved to have one partner at a time.
- "The bottom line is, for millions of years, there were some reproductive payoffs not only to forming a pair bond but also to adultery," says Fisher, "leaving each one of us with a tremendous drive to fall in love and pair up, but also some susceptibility to cheating on the side."
Most said they want to act on their desire someday. But do open relationships actually work?
- The study involved 822 Americans who were in monogamous relationships at the time.
- Participants answered questions about their personalities, sexual fantasies, and intentions to act on those fantasies.
- Research suggests practicing consent, comfort, and communication makes open relationships more likely to succeed.
New research suggests one-third of Americans in monogamous relationships fantasize about being in a sexually open relationship. Of that one-third, most want to act out their desire. Someday, at least.
If you search Google for "open relationships" — or polyamory, polyfidelity, monogamish, etc. — you'll find no shortage of articles describing how unconventional relationship styles are becoming increasingly popular. That seems true, if measured by Google searches.
A 2016 study found that searches related to polyamory and open relationships rose significantly from 2006 to 2015. Other data on consensual non-monogamous relationships (CNMRs) — which include open relationships, polyamory and cuckolding — show:
- An estimated 4 to 5 percent of Americans are in a CNMR.
- More than 20 percent of Americans have tried some kind of CNMR in their lifetime.
- Only half of millennials said they wanted a "completely monogamous" relationship, according to a 2016 YouGov study.
Consensual non-monogamy fantasies
For the new study, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers asked 822 people in monogamous relationships to:
- Describe their favorite sexual fantasy, defined as "mental images you have while you are awake that you find to be sexually arousing or erotic."
- Select which themes apply to that fantasy, such as having sex with multiple people at the same time, experimenting with taboos, or engaging in a sexually open relationship.
- Answer whether they intended to carry out these fantasies, and discuss them with their partner.
- Complete assessments on relationship satisfaction, erotophilia and personality, as measured by the Big Five Personality inventory.
The results showed that 32.6 percent of participants said being part of a sexually open relationship was "part of their favorite sexual fantasy of all time." More surprising is that, of that one-third, 80 percent said they want to act on this fantasy in the future.
Pretzelpaws via Wikipedia Commons
"The present research confirms the important distinction between sexual fantasy and sexual desire in that not everyone wanted to act on their favorite sexual fantasy of all time," study author Justin J. Lehmiller told PsyPost. "This suggests that fantasies may serve different functions for different people."
Even though most participants said they want to act out their fantasy in the future, far fewer reported acting out sexual fantasies in the past. Other findings included:
- Men were more likely to fantasize about CNMRs.
- So were people who scored high in erotophilia and sociosexual orientation.
- The psychological predictors of fantasizing about CNMRs differed from predictors about infidelity fantasies.
Do open relationships work?
A 2019 study from psychologists at the University of Rochester suggests it is possible, but especially when both partners practice a trio of behaviors: consent, communication, and comfort — or, the Triple-C Model.
Positive, romantic thoughts could produce positive, romantic outcomes while dating.
- Fear of rejection, self-doubt, and anxiety are just some of the obstacles humans need to overcome to make a meaningful, romantic connection with another person.
- According to a 2020 project by a group of psychologists at the University of Rochester (and the Israeli-based Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya), humans see possible romantic partners as a lot more attractive if they go into the interaction with a "sexy mindset."
- Across three separate studies, this team discovered that this sexual activation helps people initiate relationships by inducing them to project their desires onto prospective partners.
What encourages us to seek out potential partners? What interactions encourage us to keep dating, despite the possibility of being rejected? The sexual behavioral system of humans has evolved over millennia and has been the topic of many scientific studies over the years. The concept of dating and pursuing romantic partners has been a curiosity to everyone, it seems, with lists like this one from Mental Floss detailing what dating was like throughout the centuries.
Ultimately, romantic "success" depends on our ability to target the right potential partner whom we not only find attractive but who is also attracted to us. Fear of rejection, self-doubt, and anxiety are just some of the obstacles humans need to overcome to make a meaningful, romantic connection with another person.
Being in a frisky mood improves your chances with potential romantic partners
The right mood could land you the right date, according to a new study.
Credit: BlueSkyImage on Shutterstock
According to a 2020 study by a group of psychologists at the University of Rochester (and the Israeli-based Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya), humans see possible romantic partners as a lot more attractive if they go into the interaction with a "sexy mindset."
Harry Reis, professor of psychology and the Dean's Professor in Arts, Sciences & Engineering at Rochester, and Gurit Birnbaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the IDC (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya) have dedicated decades of their lives to studying the intricate dynamics of sexual attraction and human sexual behavior.
In a previous study, the pair discovered that when people feel greater certainty about a romantic partner's interest, they put more effort into seeing that person again. Additionally, this study found people will rate the possible partner as more "sexually attractive" if they knew the person was interested in seeing them again.
For this project, Reis and Birnbaum, along with their team, examined what would happen if a person's sexual system is activated by exposing them to brief sexual cues that induced a thought process that included the potential for sex or heightened attraction.
Across three separate studies, the team discovered that this sexual activation helps people initiate relationships by inducing them to project their desires onto prospective partners.
Study one: Immediacy
In the first study, 112 heterosexual participants (between the ages of 20-32) who were not in a romantic relationship were randomly paired with an unacquainted participant of the opposite sex. Participants introduced themselves to each other (speaking about their hobbies, positive traits, career plans, etc.), all while being recorded.
The team then coded the recorded interactions and searched for nonverbal expressions of immediacy (such as close proximity, frequent eye contact, smiles, etc.) that could indicate interest in starting a romantic relationship.
In the study, the team determined that the participants exposed to a sexual stimulus before the meeting (versus those exposed to a neutral stimulus) exhibited more immediacy behaviors towards their potential partners and also perceived the partners as more attractive and/or more interested in them.
Study two: Interest
In the second study, 150 heterosexual participants (between the ages of 19-30) who were not in a romantic relationship served as a control for the potential partner's attractiveness and reactions. All participants in study two watched the same pre-recorded video introduction of a potential partner of the opposite sex. They then introduced themselves to the partner while being filmed themselves.
The researchers found that the activation of the sexual system led to participants viewing the potential partner as more attractive as well as more interested in them.
Study three: How it all ties together
In the third and final study, the team investigated whether a partner's romantic interest could explain why sexual activation impacts how we view other people's romantic interest in ourselves.
In this study, 120 single heterosexual participants (between the ages of 21-31) interacted online with another participant who was actually an attractive opposite-sex member of the research team. This was a casual "get-to-know-you" kind of interaction. The participants rated their romantic interest in the other person as well as that person's attractiveness and interest in them.
Again, the team found that sexual activation increased a person's romantic interest in the other person, which, in turn, predicted that the other person would then be more interested in a romantic partnership as well.
The takeaway: Positive, romantic thoughts could produce positive, romantic outcomes.
The basis of this multi-study theory is simple: Having active sexual thoughts arouses romantic interest in a prospective partner and often leads to an optimistic outlook on dating.
"Sexual feelings do more than just motivate us to seek out partners. It also leads us to project our feelings onto the other person," said Reis to Eurekalert.
Reis goes on to explain, "...the sexual feelings need not come from the other person; they can be aroused in any number of ways that have nothing to do with the other person."
A new study used artificial intelligence to analyze relationship data from thousands of couples.
- Artificial intelligence discovered key relationship predictors in psychology study of over 11,000 couples.
- The researchers utilized machine learning to find the best predictors of relationship success and failure.
- The study showed the survival of a relationship depends more on its quality than individual characteristics of the people.
Does it matter more who you love or how you love? A large machine learning study analyzed data from thousands of couples to identify which characteristics are most vital to predicting the success or failure of a relationship. Using artificial intelligence, researchers found that the individual traits of the partners had less to do with making the couple happy than the characteristics of the relationship itself.
To put it another way – the dynamic of the relationship you create, with its shared experiences and in-jokes, is more important than the specific traits of the one you are with.
Psychologist Samantha Joel from Western University in Canada led the research of 11,000 couples and 43 separate self-reported datasets – the first-ever systematic research into people's love life using AI. The couples came from the U.S., Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand.
Joel put their findings in context:
"Relationships-specific variables were about two to three times as predictive as individual differences, which I think would fit many people's intuitions," said Joel, adding "but the surprising part is that once you have all the relationship-specific data in hand, the individual differences fade into the background."
According to Joel, feeling good about your relationship can have profound impacts on your health and well-being, as well as productivity at work. Their team identified five predictors of relationship success:
1. Perceived Partner Commitment – the belief in your partner's full level of commitment is the most reliable predictor of the health of the relationship.
2. Intimacy / appreciation – feeling close to or being appreciated by your partner.
3. Sexual satisfaction - how satisfied the partners are with the quality of their sex life.
4. Perceived Partner Satisfaction – how happy one thinks their partners feels about the relationship.
5. Conflict - how often the partners fight.
Credit: Western University.
If you notice, love figures on this list, being nearly as important as the last two items, but is not in the top position.
The most important individual differences that affect relationships were found to be satisfaction with life, negativity, depression, attachment anxiety (worrying about the relationship), and attachment avoidance (not getting too attached). Interestingly, all of these accounted for just about 21 percent of variance in the other partner's relationship satisfaction.
Besides Joel, the study involved Paul Eastwick from University of California, Davis, and 84 other international scholars. "Who I am' doesn't really matter once I know 'who I am when I am with you," Eastwick noted.