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A love story written by NYTIMES best selling author Dr. Steven Dayan.

They met anonymously on Hinge the dating site for discerning millennials. Two souls separated by 1000’s miles geographically and ten years in age. Both had been serial dating for years neither finding what they desired. Yes, both had experienced initial sparks with others for which they did their best to try and kindle into something more meaningful but for one reason or another it always faded.  This time though seemed different. When they met there was an immediate intense attraction and both knew this thread ran deeper, some may call it love at first sight others might refer to it as two lost souls reunited. 

The romantic allure of twin souls who find each other is hard to deny and its appeal serves as fodder for many modern-day movies, TV series, novels, magazine covers and a plethora of websites that generously offer relationship advice. But its origins go way back to Greek mythology. However, many modern theologians, clergy and trained mental health workers warn against resting upon the dream notion that you must find your soulmate to be satisfied. Most consider it a doomed strategy jeopardizing an otherwise potentially reliable union. But is that just a conciliatory “deal with it” strategy?  In an era in which we have unparalleled access to meet and sample a multitude of others can we be a bit more liberal in our long-term mating strategies?  While I am not advocating for pathological serial dating, I am also not a proponent of marrying someone just because they meet a prenuptial checklist. And regardless once a decision is made to commit to another nobody doubts it will take hard work to make the relationship succeed. The butterfly bliss fades as partners progress toward a deeper more sustainable reality.  However, when two predestined souls find each other perhaps the work to maintain and grow the union is less of a heavy lift. 

Yes, as you can probably tell I am guilty of being a bit of a dreamer, but I am also an ardent student who prefers the science behind the occult. And there is nothing seemingly more mystical than the indescribable energy between two lovers.   

It didn’t take more than one phone call for Jake and Ilana to realize they had quite a bit in common culturally, religiously and familial. Both of their clans have roots dating back centuries from the same neighborhood in the same city, in the same country and both families immigrated out in the 1960’s, hers to Canada and his to the US. Their commonality was a welcomed sign. Their first date was a lot easier as their shared backgrounds allowed them to skip over much of the uncomfortableness embroiled in the awkwardness of first dates. When we share a cultural upbringing, we have more in common than affinity for the same foods, clothing, adornments and customs, there is a subtle but deeply important similarity that is ingrained in our facial expressions, body movements and inflections. It is poorly defined but preciously relied upon and it is the lubricant that eases the friction. 

Two people with similar backgrounds tend to grow up in a community of physical likeness which leads to inbred attractions biases. Or another way to think of it, they may like the same look. It has been shown that 50% percent of what humans find attractive is common to all regardless of background. In other words, while we as a human race can agree on what is beautiful to some extent just as all humans can agree that spoiled food tastes bad, we have individual differences that define our specific taste in food as well as in appearances.  Previously, I have defined shared preferences as a subconsciously projected and interpreted, evolutionarily preserved marker for good genes.  I semantically define this as beauty. It is detected within the archaic midbrain structures subcortically and can be sensed even in those who are blind. But I am much more interested in difficult to define 50% that we don’t share?   The portion which varies between peoples and that may be influenced by individual cultures and styles. And I suggest that even perhaps the past histories, experiences and behaviors of one’s ancestors.  

What is familiar is attractive and we get a strange but comforting feeling when we see something we know. The same holds true with faces. The more we are exposed to a face the more we find a particular face as well as similar appearing faces attractive. (4) We get accustomed to a diet of faces that forms a menu of physical appearances that we prefer.  And our specific faire of facial delight is shared with our spouses, siblings, and close friends who tend to have similar taste in appearances. (5) 

But we can drill down even further to identify an affinity to one face in particular which best shapes each individual’s preference.  And that is one’s own face. There is nothing more familiar to an individual than their own face and humans prefer to identify a portion of their appearance in their mates.   In other words, we desire our mate’s faces to resemble our own. (6)  It may be the reason that your close friends have a particular “type” that is slightly different from yours despite the fact you are in the same social circles.  

But this doesn’t seem to be the case with Jake and Ilana as they don’t look alike, Jake’s father may be Moroccan, but Jake’s mother is of Eastern European descent and Jake seems to have inherited much of his maternal genes when it comes to appearances. He is tall, slender and light skin, deep set eyes encased in a long face and topped with reddish brown hair. Ilana who is 100 percent North African reveals dark hair, dark eyes, a heart shaped face and a curvy figure.  If they don’t fall into the same range of facial appearances that they are predestined to be attracted to could it be they had a prior exposure to each other?  We know repeated exposure to a face increases attraction to that face.

It has been my hunch that first impressions are much more likely to be favorable if we find ourselves evaluating a consciously unknown but subconsciously known familiar face from our past. I no longer think it is a coincidence when we immediately feel an unexplainable but palpable attraction or preference to others whether in business, friendship or romance. Scientific evidence supports an increased attraction to a face with repeated exposure even if not conscious of that previous exposure. We may have passed in the streets, at the park or at the local 7- Eleven and just don’t recall it.  Along these lines, I frequently hear from couples who went to the same high school or same camp or lived in the same city, neighborhood or town simultaneously but are sure they never met.  Perhaps they did and just can’t remember it? 

However, Jake and Ilana cannot find a common location where they both were, and they swear they never had previously met. This causes me to ponder, Is there other perhaps chemically mediated signaling that is a manifestation of their DNA that influences their attraction. 

In a frequently cited study on odors and attraction, women were asked to smell the t-shirts from men who slept in them for two days. The preferred t-shirt has greater dissimilarity in the MHC genes.  The MHC proteins are like fingerprints individualized to each and it also may contribute to an individual’s identifying odor. And in the animal kingdom MHC leads to the sexual selective pheromone messenger. Pheromones serve an important role in mating and propagation of a species.  While pheromones are felt to be relatively unimportant in human mate selection the t-shirt study’s findings are consistent with an evolutionary strategy to finding a more ideal mate. The reason why MHC coding genes are particularly important is more recent evidence has proven that they may be modifiable after birth and these changes perhaps even can be passed on to the next generation. Maybe Jake and Ilana are programmed to be together not because the heavens, Gd or some spiritual soul search brings them together but because of the experiences and MHC altered genetic coding of their ancestors.

Would you be surprised to hear that further digging reveals that Jake and Ilana’s families had close relations and broke bread together over half a century ago in the Mellah of Marrakech, and neither Jake nor Ilana knew it. 


Are we destined by the deeds of our fathers and their fathers before them? Further research found Ilana’s grandfather presided over the wedding of Jake’sA great uncle 70 years ago back in the old country. And when a photo was found from the archives of Jake’s family album lo and behold there was Jake’s, grandfather and father who was only three years old at the time in the photograph. Is it possible Jake’s dad developed an early fondness for the family that was to deliver Ilana resulting in a physical manifestation within his genetic make- up that predestined Jake and Ilana’s attraction and union? As I have been developing this line of reasoning and logic I have become increasingly shocked by numerous accounts of couples who swear they could have never met only to trace their history back to ancestors who they subsequently found out certainly had met. 

Is there a logical and scientific reasonable explanation for this fantastical thinking of heritable predestined attraction based on the behaviors and experiences of ancestors?

Enter the exciting fashionable study of epigenetics. Epigenetics explains how behaviors secondary to environmental influences can be passed onto future generations. Epigenetic modifications that can be acquired in one generation and passed on to subsequent generations provides an explanation for some of the curious findings that leads to the theory we are in part a product of our recent environments as well as eons of evolution.  Epigenetic thinking casts aside the dichotomous, black and white nature vs nurture argument to rather suggest a gray mosaic. Epigenetic presupposes there is something above or beyond the gene that controls the output and fate of the determinate cell. And it is heritable. Standing up to peer scrutiny, epigenetic changes in the animal kingdom have been shown to influence behavior, mate selection and possibly evolution. Is it possible that mate preference and selection in humans might be influenced by epigenetic alterations? 

And this is where I take a deductive leap to ask, “Could encounters between Jake’s and Ilana’s ancestors have led to epigenetic methylation in both family’s DNA lines that branded and predisposed Jake and Ilana with a genetically coded affinity for each other? Maybe Jake and Ilana’s parents or grandparent’s facial images or positive experiences caused memories that were coded by alterations in both family’s DNA that then were passed on to Jake and Ilana.  “…epigenetic modifications of DNA have been identified as essential mediators of memory formation… playing a critical role in memory consolidation…” 

Thus, Jake’s and Ilana’s deceased grandparents from the beyond still have an influence on who their grandchildren choose as a mate. Maybe Lamarckian thinking explains a deeply rooted attraction to one another. 

You may dismiss me as a hopeless romantic for suggesting that science can ambassador toward a more ideal mate. And for such thinking I admit I stand guilty as charged.  But one can’t deny that in many other realms of contemporary knowledge science fiction and spirituality are being empirically linked with logical reasoning. However, the scientist in me recognizes even if such epigenetic changes increased our affinity for another it would likely be the most minimal of influence. Epigenetic methylations are reversible and environments are dynamic as well as personalities, emotions and social zeitgeist of the time. But for my fellow romantics who like to think that there is an ideal soulmate out there for them I say don’t give up. Consider a visit to your past, walk in the streets of your ancestors, sit in the cafes of your kin and pray in pews of your past and you just might stumble upon your destined twin soul. 

A love story written by NYTIMES best selling author Dr. Steven Dayan.


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