Being creative can be sexy in any relationship, but how you apply your creativity can influence how long a relationship lasts.
In two recent studies that looked at the intersection between creativity, personality, and relationships, UConn professor James C. Kaufman and colleagues found that people who immerse themselves in purely artistic pursuits – such as writing the next great novel, composing an opera, or painting a brilliant landscape – are more apt to be single and experience short-term relationships.
On the other hand, individuals who share their creativity regularly in their everyday lives – such as taking a ballroom dancing class with their partner or surprising their mate with a new dish for dinner – are more likely to enjoy longer, committed partnerships.
“There is some evidence that artistic creativity is linked to short-term mating success,” says Kaufman, an internationally recognized leader in the field of creativity. “And that makes sense. Artistic creativity is a way to display, a way to entice people. But if you look at what endures, it’s not something you put on to impress people or a passion that consumes your life; it’s the kind of creativity you can share with your significant other.”
Kaufman, a professor of educational psychology in UConn’s Neag School of Education, says the findings – which appear in the Journal of Family Issues and the Journal of Creative Behavior – weren’t what he expected.
“I was a little surprised,” Kaufman says. “I was assuming that creative people would be better in love regardless. I tend to see creativity linked to generally positive outcomes. But sometimes it is not.”
The findings are based on the results of two scientific surveys that gathered information about participants’ relationships and personalities as well as their own self-assessment of their creative pursuits. One survey sample involved more than 1,500 participants; the other, more than 700.
The findings are not applicable to everyone, of course. Kaufman notes that for every artist who lives or lived alone embracing their craft (think Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh, Harper Lee, and Quentin Tarantino) there is a happily married individual who has found success in their chosen field (we’re looking at you Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Meryl Streep, and Paul Newman).
Still, Kaufman believes the findings provide important insight into the role of creativity in relationships and says the studies may be helpful to individuals, counselors, and others seeking to understand the dynamics behind strong interpersonal relationships. “A lot of creativity is what you make of it,” Kaufman says. “Creativity is not inherently good. It is not inherently bad; it’s an ability, like intelligence.”
Individuals who focus largely on artistic pursuits may do so for a variety of reasons, Kaufman says.
“There are a couple of reasons why people who are artistically creative have negative associations with long-term relationships,” Kaufman says. “They may have other negative attributes such as high anxiety, anti-social behavior, or mental illness. I don’t like that explanation as much as others but it’s certainly a possibility.
“The other possibility is that the arts can be a source of meaning in your life,” Kaufman continues. “The arts can fulfill your life in a way that is very personal and profound; it can be a way of having your passions met without another person.”
Kelly Campbell, an expert in love and relationships from California State University at San Bernardino, collaborated with Kaufman on one of the studies. An associate professor of psychology, Campbell says those that engage in daily creativity in their relationships keep the passion alive.
“Doing creative things with and for your partner benefits the relationship,” Campbell says. “In order for relationships to thrive, partners need both predictability and newness. That is, they need to feel safe and secure, which comes from stable, predictable interactions, and in order to keep the passion alive, they need spontaneity and novel activities.”
For Kaufman, it all comes down to a matter of choice.
“It’s not that single people are naturally better at art or that artistic people repel everyone around them,” says Kaufman. “It’s much more of a choice as to how we spend our time. It’s a Faustian bargain. If you choose to pursue only your creative artistic passion, there are going to be costs. I have a friend who is a movie director who has made a conscious choice that he is going to be alone and just spend his life doing that. He’s been successful, but some would say at a cost.
“On the other hand, there are ways to make creativity conducive to a long-term relationship,” Kaufman continues. “If you want a spouse and kids, then find a way to share your artistic creativity or have it be a hobby. Your family comes first, your art comes second. You just need to be aware and make those decisions consciously. ”
University of Connecticut