The stars seem to be aligned when it comes to love and horoscopes, but what really happens when we rely on astrology to find love?
The first Mercury retrograde of the year (and decade) began on 16 February. Essentially, this means that the first planet from the sun has been moving through Pisces since 3 February. And that, as of Sunday, it began to move backwards in its orbit, as seen from our perspective here on Earth.
If you’re into astrology, though, it means so much more than this, as it gives us something to blame for blocked emails, delayed trains and hideous arguments.
That’s right: Mercury is said to rule communication, technology and travel. When it’s in retrograde, people believe that life gets a little… well, a little complex. Particularly when it comes to matters of the heart.
“What’s your star sign?”
Once upon a time, this was the sort of cheesy line that would see someone relegated to the ‘no’ section of your list of dating prospects. The year is now 2020, though, and it’s a very different world. In fact, the use of astrology to navigate relationships is rapidly on the rise.
Research has shown that some 49% of millennials now identify as ‘spiritual’ rather than religious, and astrology is now part of a $2.2 billion industry. In the UK, Google searches for “birth chart” doubled between November of 2013 and November of 2018. Since September of 2017, there’s been a steady increase in people searching for more information on “astrological compatibility”. And one of Stylist’s most popular articles of all time details the shifting of the stars (and Nasa’s introduction of a brand new zodiac sign).
It makes sense, then, that dating apps are looking into the link between astrology and dating, too.
Last year, Tinder revealed that the online dating stars do indeed align for particular signs, with Scorpio, Leo and Taurus receiving more ‘swipes right’ than other signs. Meanwhile, over on Bumble, the star sign filter (which allows users to match with specific star signs) is the most commonly used filter in all markets, with the majority of users opting to filter their matches based on their zodiac’s compatibility. The women-first social networking app even has a team of in-house astrologers, Michele Knight and Francesca Oddie, to help users find a deeper connection.
Then there’s Align, the dating app that finds matches based on astrology. Helen Grossman, one of the company’s co-founders, told TNW: “Whether or not the astrology applies – which we argue it does, duh – it allows for a more open and tolerant relationship to develop.
“Astrology is fun, it’s forgiving, it doesn’t make you feel bad for having certain traits of characteristics that make you who you are.”
And let’s not forget the popular Co-Star app, which uses data from the publicly accessible Jet Propulsion Laboratory to map out the position of the planets. They then translate the astrological data into thoughtful daily horoscopes and push notifications, all of which is free. For an added $2.99, though, users can compare their charts to those of their friends (whether they’re on the app or not).
“I can’t wait to get a crush and ask them for their birth chart so I can put it in my Co-Star app,” one of my pals tells me, when I ask her if she’d consider using the tool. I’m half-certain she’s joking, but you never know.
Essentially, the stars seem to be well and truly aligned when it comes to love and horoscopes. But what really happens when we rely on astrology to find love?
Well, it depends how seriously you take it.
The positive side of astrology and love
Professor Stuart Vyse, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, tells WebMD that looking to the stars “can be a positive thing”. In fact, finding a sense of order or meaning to your life can prove psychologically comforting, something which Stylist’s Emily Reynolds knows all too well.
As she previously told Stylist: “The only time I really engaged with my horoscope was when I had a crush. Alongside numerology, magazine compatibility quizzes and online love calculators, into which I’d doggedly type two names until it declared we were 90% compatible, checking my horoscope was one of the ways I’d essentially lead myself on.
“The crushes never came to anything, obviously. But there was a strange kind of comfort in giving myself over to the complete nonsense of a Bliss horoscope or a random online calculator, despite – or perhaps because – I knew it meant nothing at all.”
Tess Brigham, a marriage and family therapist in San Francisco, agrees. Speaking to Mic, she points out that, when it comes to people’s behaviour we can’t control, astrology can keep us from spiraling into self-blame and bring a sense of peace.
“It makes it external so that it’s not about you,” she says.
Meanwhile, Andrea Liner, a Denver-based psychologist, has said that, while astrology is rooted in… well, in nothing (as I’ve said before, it’s not a science), it can offer a useful starting point for understanding the people and experiences in our lives.
Likening it to the light on our phones, she reasons: “It’s not going to do much for you, but you can at least find the door with it.”
With that in mind, having fun with the star sign compatibility feature on your favourite dating app is a good idea. At the very least, it will help you find someone who’s as into horoscopes as you are. But what about when we’re no longer trying to whittle down the pool or prospective partners? What if we’ve met someone, we like ‘em, and we’re trying to determine whether or not they’re worth throwing our lot in with?
That’s when things change slightly.
And the negative side?
While Vyse believes it’s generally a positive thing to engage with horoscopes, he is less keen on people using astrology to make important decisions.
“It’s never a good idea to make an important decision based on your horoscope,” Vyse tells WebMD. “You might as well flip a coin.”
Which I guess boils down to this: when it comes to deciding if someone is or isn’t The One for you, listen to your heart, your head and your gut, too. Listen to your friends and family. Listen to your therapist, if you have one.
What you shouldn’t do, however, is listen to your favourite astrology app.
As Jenni Hill, who used to write horoscopes for a psychic hotline, tells me: “Horoscopes can be a really fun form of entertainment and a great tool for anyone interested in self-improvement, but when using them to inform dating decisions I think you need to find a balance between taking inspiration from astrology and following your heart.
“If you meet someone who ticks all your boxes and you have amazing chemistry but your star signs suggest you may be incompatible, I think it’d be a shame to let this cloud your outlook on your potential as a couple.”
When I ask Hill if people should look into star sign compatibility when it comes to prospective (or current) partners, she says: “I think reading up about your compatibility can be beneficial as long as you’re letting it influence your relationships in a positive way.
“Don’t take it too seriously and just have fun. It’s unproductive to blame your relationship problems or partner’s weaknesses on their star sign.”
Thankfully, it seems most of us know this already. Indeed, studies suggest that women’s relationships aren’t usually affected by what they read in horoscopes. Like, at all.
In 2001, an experiment saw 46 undergraduates randomly assigned to two groups. One was given a horoscope that contained positive love advice; the other neutral love advice. All participants also completed an Astrology Awareness Questionnaire, as well as a questionnaire concerning their relationships both before and after they received the horoscopes, with about six weeks between the two.
Researchers revealed that the scores on the relationships questionnaires did not change after the neutral advice, and were only ever so slightly higher after the positive love advice. And, while participants’ knowledge of and belief in astrology were high, very few subjects said they would change their behaviour according to what they read in their horoscope.
“More generally, the questionnaire results confirm the strong influence of astrology on women’s lives,” revealed the study’s authors. “72% do not think astrology is just superstition and almost 90% said that they find out the sun signs of people they have relationships with. 78% had read a book concerning their sun sign in love.
“However, only 15% said they would alter their behaviour according to what they read in a horoscope.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that all of the above is based on an incredibly Western view of astrology. In Hindu culture, astrological charts are often used to make major decisions about marriage, business, and the like. Complex systems of predicting fate and destiny based on one’s birthday, birth season, and birth hours, such as ziping and Zi Wei Dou Shu are still used regularly in modern-day Chinese astrology. And countless others around the world rely on astrology in some form or another.
I’m not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t turn to the stars when you’re in need of guidance. What I will do, though, is remind you that modern-day horoscopes and astrological charts are not based on science. As such, their predictions should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. And, even if they do prove to be 100% correct, you shouldn’t lean on them too hard when it comes to making major decisions, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.
After all, the only person you are destined to be with is the person you decide to be with. You are the captain of your own fate. And, while the stars may help to chart a course, it’s all on you to steer the ship home.