You often get the call late at night.
There's a sniffling at the other end. Then the words: "We just broke up."
You try and be sympathetic, even though this is the fifth time this year that your friend has broken up with the love of his life. Yes, there have been five loves of his life this year. And now, it may well be that it isn't entirely his fault.
Researcher from Peking University in China believe they have identified a gene variant that might be partly responsible for people not being very good at relationships.
Published this week in Scientific Reports, the research examined "a polymorphism (C-1019G)...of 5-HT1A gene," and found it was "significantly associated with the odds of being single both before and after controlling for socioeconomic status, external appearance, religious beliefs, parenting style, and depressive symptoms."
You can't blame God. You can't blame looks. You can't even blame your parents. Well, actually you can. They gave you the gene.
Still, the ultimate conclusion is quite dramatic. The researchers wrote: "These findings provide, for the first time, direct evidence for the genetic contribution to romantic relationship formation."
Surely we always feel that there are strange genetic things going on in terms of both attraction and relationship maintenance. There are people who, according to objective criteria, aren't attractive at all. Yet, to us, there's something viscerally alluring about them. There are also people with whom, for no obvious reason, we simply get on.
So why can't it be that there's a genetic something that makes us a little incompetent at the love thing?
In this case, researchers examined 579 Han Chinese students, and found that only 40 percent of those with the G polymorphism of the 5-HT1A gene were in a relationship. This represented a 1.4 percent difference from those who didn't have the G polymorphism, which the researchers deemed statistically significant. This 1.4 percent difference was attributable solely to the gene -- and not other factors like socioeconomic status and religious beliefs -- the researchers found.
The researchers put this down to a somewhat negative nature within the gene variant-infected. They said: "As pessimism and neuroticism are detrimental to the formation, quality, and stability of relationships, this connection between [the G polymorphism] and psychological disorders might decrease carriers' dating opportunities or lead to romantic relationship failure."
Even more haunting, perhaps, was that these findings were "consistent with animal studies." We are, indeed, mere animals trying to make our way cheerily through the world.
The researchers cautioned that the 579 guinea pigs were college students.
College is a time of life where the internal workings of the mind and body aren't necessarily conducive to stability or sanity. Moreover, as students become adults, there are many social pressures on them to become the same married psychological messes as their parents.
But who hasn't been in a relationship that is at first incomprehensibly marvelous and then ends in an equally incomprehensible manner? One minute he loves you, the next minute he swipes you via Skype. One minute you're getting married, the next you find her in flagrante with a tequila salesman.
Perhaps there's a small relief in knowing that the detritus of a life that could have been may have been heavily influence by chemicals beyond your control.