Dating isn't easy and love isn't a science, but the judicious application of statistics to your dating life may make the difference between a Saturday night alone and a fun night out. Here's a look at a few dating trends, studies and statistics that may help improve your love life, both online and offline.I've spent the last year or so going on a dates that went poorly for a variety of different reasons. That led to a lot of frustration, so I started to keep track of my own behaviour in order to figure out what, if anything, I was doing wrong. I also looked for statistics and studies that offered advice about compatibility, how people approach various dating situations, what expectations I should have and so on. With the help of popular dating site OKCupid's blog, Psychology Today and a few other helpful sources, I was able to learn quite a bit about navigating the dating world. This post is an in-depth look at how that information helped me and may be able to help you, too.
While there are many positive things you can take away from a scientific look at love, it's important that you remember that people are unique and not easily defined by statistics. If a statistic suggests a person who loves zucchini will also hate every cat owner she meets (note: this is not true at all), you don't want to spend your life running away every time a date has a photo of a kitty in his or her wallet. Statistics and studies can be fascinating, illuminating and helpful, but it's easy to take them too far. Use the information in this post to help you figure out new and better approaches to dating while avoiding judgments and assumptions on and about the people you meet. You may love zucchini, but that doesn't make every cat lover evil. Keep that in mind as you read.
Online: What to Do Before the Date
How to Make First Contact
When you're dating online, most interactions begin in the same way: a message. This can be a little daunting because you want to say the right thing, avoid saying too much or too little, and do whatever you can to get a reply. OKCupid did a little analysis of which first messages receive the most replies and what they have in common. First, write well and avoid netspeak like "ur" and "wat". Second, avoid missing apostrophes and simple misspellings. Third, avoid physical compliments. They tend to receive lower reply rates, and those low reply rates plummet as the compliments become more extreme. What you want to do is bring up a person's specific interests and appear to be different from the average guy or girl. You also want to keep it to just a few sentences (and sometimes even shorter). While your messages will vary depending on the specifics of the individual you're contacting, here's an example:
How's it going? Maybe this is a weird question, but have you ever been to Din Tai Fung? Your profile said you love dumplings and that place has the best dumplings I've ever had. Anyway, you seem cool and I think we'd get along. Say hi if you're interested.
The information you pick should be something that stands out as something important to your prospective date and it should be a sincere common interest. If they say they're "obsessed with dumplings" that makes it a good choice. If they simply list it as something they like, it's probably not that important. The goal is to find something you're both excited about and make that the focus of your first contact.
It can also help to get the conversation moving on the first message, so you may want to add a question if it isn't already part of the message (like the example above). You can ask something based on what you've already said, or even something more generic (e.g. "How's your week going?"). In most cases, you won't win a person over in the first message so you want to keep the conversation going for a few messages to see if you both want to go out on a date.
Set Expectations for Yourself and Your Prospective Dates
In any situation, dating or otherwise, it helps to be realistic. When you're talking to someone new it's always helpful to uncover any potentially major problems so they're not a point of tension later. For example, if you're a devout Catholic you might want to share that information with a certain atheist who's got you hot and bothered. You don't want to share everything right at the start, of course, but if you're already anticipating friction because of a specific difference it'll help to know how you're going to handle it. If your wall is plastered with Obama posters, you don't want to find out your date has a wallet full of Sarah Palin photos in the middle of dinner. Even if you have opposing political views and interests, you may get along swimmingly. Rather than judge outright, you want to know your actual deal breakers and keep an open mind about everything else.
Discover Your Major Deal Breakers
We all have a list of major deal breakers, and it's a good thing to figure out if any of those deal breakers are present in a guy or girl you like before you go out on a date. But -- and this is a very important but -- you need to be reasonable. As sex advice columnist Dan Savage puts it, if you've got a list of dealbreakers that has more than five things on it you are the problem. Your dealbreaker list should look something like this:
- Heavy drug use
- Has no ambition
- Still in love with ex-boy or girlfriend from a decade ago
- Says "I love you" on the first date
- Owns more than two cats (you know, if you hate cats and have a pet hair allergy)
It should not look like this:
- Chews with mouth open
- Leaves mayonnaise out on the counter
- Has opposing political views
- Is shorter/taller than me
- Doesn't think Titanic is the best movie, like, ever!!
You might be surprised by how easy it can be to get over the things that you think make a person completely unappealing. You have to make sure you don't rule anyone out because they occasionally forget to turn off the oven or have been known to enjoy pornography. That said, you don't want to waste your time going out with someone who isn't compatible. One of the benefits of online dating is that you can exchange a few messages and ask these sorts of questions. You don't want to ask "So I was wondering… are you a heavy drug user?" but rather bring up the topic so it can be discussed. Perhaps you're talking about your weekend and you went to a party where you had to leave early because you hate the smell of marijuana. Or perhaps you stayed for hours because of the same reason. Whatever the case may be, try to slip into these topics naturally. Not only will you find deal breakers, but you'll also learn a lot more about a person than you would from just asking "hey, what's up?"
According to OKCupid's statistics, people lie. This is probably not a shock to anyone, even if you're pretty honest yourself, but it's good to know what most people lie about so you're not too offended when you learn the truth.
Both men and women commonly lie about height, reporting to be around two inches taller on average about 10-15 per cent of the time. Both sexes also inflate their income. As a general practice you can assume they make 20 per cent less than what they boast, and the likelihood of an inflating income grows with age. Finally, when you see a particularly attractive picture, chances are it's fairly old. Most of the photos OKCupid users considered "hot" were from a year in the past (or more). While lying is definitely off-putting, and not recommended, these are the kinds of little things you can forgive. Everyone is trying to put their best foot forward, and some people will want to appear as though that foot walks in an expensive shoe and is attached to a slightly longer leg. If you expect these little lies, finding out the truth won't be unsettling and the deception will be easier to forgive.
Offline: How to Handle the First Date
Good Questions and Topics of Conversation for a First Date
Anyone who has ever been on a handful of dates in their lifetime will happily advise you on what you should and shouldn't say on a date. In reality, what is and isn't off limits relies pretty heavily on the person you're with. Figuring this out often means listening carefully and reading your date's body language for relevant signals, but there are a few surprising topics you can discuss in order to learn a lot about the person you're with.
The Three Unusual Questions with Revealing Answers
One thing dating site OKCupid does to help its users get to know people better is allow them to answer user-submitted questions and submit their own. With millions of answers, they found that an answer to a simple and shallow question can reveal the answer to something a bit more personal. For example, they found that women who answered "yes" to whether or not they liked the taste of beer also frequently answered "yes" to whether or not they'd have sex on the first date. (The likelihood as about 60 per cent.) But if you're looking for a relationship, three questions stood out as the right ones to ask on a first date:
- Do you like horror movies?
- Have you ever travelled around another country alone?
- Wouldn't it be fun to chuck it all and go live on a sailboat?
When couples agreed on one or more of these questions, it generally foretold a successful relationship. OKCupid figured this out by analysing 34,260 real-world couples who deleted their accounts because they met someone via the site and didn't need it anymore. Of the 34,260 couples, 32 per cent agreed on the answer to all three questions. While disagreement should not be a reason to rule out a potential mate, similar answers are at least cause for a little optimism.
Be a Storyteller
While the specifics of first date conversations might be unique, the topics generally are not. AskMen, iVillage and eHarmony all suggest topics and questions that make for good conversation on a first date and there's a lot of overlap. Common topics include family and friends, pop culture, life goals, hobbies and free-time activities, and personal tastes (e.g. movies, music, etc). While these are all good things to discuss, a date can turn into a two-way interview if you're simply exchanging information. Since you know which topics will inevitably come up, it's good to have a few entertaining stories at the ready. Sharing more about yourself and being a little vulnerable can 1) make your date more comfortable, and 2) move you out of interview mode and into a good, authentic conversation.
Obviously the stories you choose are going to depend on your experiences but I've found that the best ones are the kind your friends enjoy and that you enjoy telling. If you know they get a good response from people you like and you're charismatic in your delivery you can make the safe assumption that they'll play well on a date. If they're funny, that's always a bonus as well.
One thing you want to remember is that virtually no topic is off-limits. For example, I've sometimes told the story of how I ended up being a cameraman for a porno. Out of context this seems like a bad topic for a first date, but it's an interesting story under the right circumstances. If you're comfortable with what appears to be embarrassing information on the surface, most of the time your date will be comfortable too. Use your best judgment. Revealing yourself can be beneficial under the right circumstances, so don't hold back when you have something fun and interesting to share.
Photo by Aerolite.
Present the Most Attractive -- and Honest -- Version of Yourself
We like to present ourselves in the most attractive light, but sometimes that light can be a little too flattering and unrealistic. Photoshopped faces, poorly lit photographs, and portraits with sunglasses and hats blocking out most of a person's features are all common on dating websites. These types of images may make you look good, but they're frustrating to others. Despite what we tend to think, there are actually two things that statistically make you more attractive to others: the parts of you that you probably consider ugly and just a small amount of effort in the areas of presentation and fitness.
Just Take Care of Yourself
Dr Jeremy Nicholson, writing for Psychology Today, found a 1997 study that surveyed university students to discover what they actually found attractive about one another:
[B]y far, the most attractive features fell under the category of "self care". These features were changeable aspects like good grooming, neat hair, nice fitting and quality clothing, good posture and healthy weight. Essentially, the most attractive features about a person (male or female) is that they put forth some effort to shower, groom, select some nice clothes, stand up straight and manage their diet a bit. No plastic surgery, major gym time or extensive overhauling required.
Rather than worrying about the things you can't change, you're far better off spending time worrying about what you can. In fact, it appears you don't need to spend much time at all.
Photo by Judy Reinan.
Don't Hide What You Consider Ugly
When it comes to the things you can change, like your huge nose or your fat lips, you may actually have an advantage -- at least if you're a woman. OKCupid discovered that, statistically, when men disagree whether or not a woman is hot it works in her favour. Disagreements tend to happen over women who have unique features like that large nose. Tattoos and piercings also make a difference as well. The takeaway here is that if there's something unique about you, feature it rather than try to hide it. Aside from it being a statistical benefit, you want someone to be honestly attracted to you from the get-go. Honest attraction is always going to yield better results, so don't worry about what you think makes you look bad.
Photo by Do2Learn.
While statistics, studies and trends can guide you towards making better choices in dating, they all ultimately point to one thing: just be yourself. It's a cliché for a reason. It's good to be honest and genuine about who you are. The trick is simply identifying what parts you share first and what you save for later. There's no scientific formula that's going to make dating easy, but by keeping an eye on your behaviour and the behaviour of others you can learn how to handle it all a little bit better.