What does winning the Wimbledon tennis tournament have to do with marriage?
Everything, according to Australian researcher Dr. Daniel Farrelly. It all comes down to what men want–and how marriage changes that. Dr. Farrelly spent the past year crunching numbers for the top 100 players in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Singles Rakings from 1995 to 2005. He layered on some unusual data: whether and when the players had married, and if they had become a father or gotten a divorce. Farrelly found that, overwhelmingly, player’s rankings plummeted between the year before and after he married. They stayed steadily lower thereafter.
The short takeaway is this: if you want to win Wimbledon, don’t get hitched. The more interesting question is: why?
Marriage, Dr. Farrelly proposes, causes chemical changes in mens brains. We all know the stereotype about what men want–that proverbial “one thing.” Well there’s actually some science behind it. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is every organism’s primary goal to further its own genetic material. Men can father hundreds of children, therefore they are biologically primed to mate with as many females as possible. They are also primed to engage in dominant displays to compete with other males. Some scientists have proposed that much of our culture–and especially sports–is all part of a highly advanced competitive mating display. In other words–one big pick-up line.
But what men want changes once they have a mating partner. Once around a committed mate, mens’ testosterone–a male hormone that helps regulate aggression and competition–begins to drop. It further drops once he becomes a father. This signals a shift from competitive mate-searching to a more stable investment in his growing family.
This drop in testosterone also means a drop in competitive performance. Or as I like to think of it, he’s realized that there’s something more important in his life than winning a game. “When you have a family there are other people to consider,” says a married coach in the Sunderland Echo. “So a player’s complete focus could be taken off tennis.”
These findings are not universal–some players stayed in their rankings or even improved after marriage. Dr. Farrelly hopes to expand on his study of what men want by looking at other sports players.