Debunking Dating Myths


There are simply too many schools of thought out there, from game playing to internet dating. It can leave people feeling overwhelmed and confused. What is true? What actually works? Let’s begin by debunking some common myths about flirting and dating.

Internet dating is effective and convenient

False. Completely, utterly, totally false.

I am a firm believer that it is not ideal when singles meet under manufactured circumstances. I mean, who actually likes the idea of meeting someone on a screen? Where’s that initial excitement? That exchange of glances across the room? I sincerely believe that internet dating has become so popular because people don’t see any other way. But what kind of anthropologist would I be without giving evidence for my conclusions.

Firstly, internet dating objectifies people in order to simplify profiling. It consigns peoples to boxes; boxes that aren’t important when looking for a functional partner. We can only measure things that come in set figures, like height and income. Important traits such as generosity, kindness, curiosity, humour and a sparkle in the eyes cannot be catalogued in cyberspace. Internet dating asks the wrong questions and consequently provides users with the wrong matches.

What’s more, people are more likely to punch above their weight. If you’re average looking with an average job, would you go for the super successful hottie in ‘real life’? Probably not. Well, on internet dating sites, people often pursue those of high desirability rather than those of an equal calibre (Lee, Lowenstein, Ariely, young 2008). Why? Because rejection is muted when it’s coming from a computer, so why not go for the super-hottie?

Secondly, and contrary to popular belief, it is a time waster. A sample of users reported that they spent on average 12 hours a week browsing profiles and responding to messages, resulting in 1.8 hours of face-to-face interaction (Frost, 2008). This is time that could be spent reading, exercising or actually meeting people out in the real world.

Thirdly, the people you meet on internet dating websites, might as well be from the Planet Zerkon. They are complete strangers; you have no mutual connections, and no one has passed the ‘vouched for’ test. Your ex-flatmate is not there to tell you that, “John is a really nice guy, but a bit shy at first.” In fact, meeting someone from online offline, you can’t even be sure his name is John.

Finally, internet couples are the exception, not the rule. It would seem that everyone knows someone who has met online. Ergo, it works! Wrong! This is purely down to sample size. If you have thousands, if not millions, of people on dating sites, there will be some people who find each other. If you throw some mud at the wall, or computer screen, some of it will stick.

But you are not mud. You are fabulous and you should be using those 12 hours a week to go out into the world and show off that sparkle in your eye. And believe me – that will leave time over for a bubble bath. Just remember, real life is where you meet real people and form real relationships.

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Initial chemistry says a lot about compatibility

A single friend once said to me, “I’ll know within the first two minutes of meeting someone if he is The One.”

Really, so you can make a decision about something as important as a potential partner, faster than you can make a decision about what food to order at Mr. Chang’s Chinese and More?

The fact is, not even fictional characters in Hollywood know that quickly. Think of the girls from The Notebook, Titanic and When Harry Met Sally. I mean even they haven’t been taken in by the dreaded Chemistry Illusion.

It is a myth that you will ‘just know’ when you meet the right person. In relationship theory, we belong to one of two schools of thought: ‘destiny’ or ‘growth’. The way you approach romance is ultimately how you view relationships.

When presented with a rose garden, the believers in ‘destiny’ see Prince Charming running towards them, rose in mouth, while a symphony plays in the background. Those who believe in ‘growth’ will sow the seeds carefully with the knowledge that the garden will flourish given the right care and attention.

‘Love at first sight’ or ‘instant chemistry’ is heavily based on appearances and the superficial level of someone’s personality. It is more immediate. The inner package takes time to get to know; much longer than a two minute speed date, for sure. If you haven’t already clocked it, I believe in ‘growth’. My own husband attended my pilates class for a year and a half and I never noticed him. Had I believed in destiny and the subsequent two minute rule, I would not be happily married to him today. If I had followed ‘destiny’, I would be married to the hot 24 year-old Brazilian bartender I met in Rio. Sparks and electricity are great, but are they the best indicators of a happy, long-term relationship?

Of course you need to be attracted to your partner and of course there needs to be a spark, but it doesn’t need to smack you in the face within a minute of meeting them. That, my friends, is called lust – and that’s a whole different ball game.

So, the ‘proof’. The science.

A study that followed newlyweds for 12 years found that those couples who fall in love rapidly and get married quickly often divorce. However, those divorces did not occur until at least seven years into the marriage. Why? Because the intense feelings of passion that are felt at the beginning of the marriage are inevitably replaced by other feelings as the marriage progresses. Passion is replaced by trust, loyalty, intimacy and companionship. While this happens in all marriages, it seems that it had a more detrimental affect for those who had fallen in love quickly, perhaps because they had placed greater importance on those qualities, like lust and passion, that existed at the beginning of the relationship. When those feelings subsided, as they inevitably do, they felt the relationship was over.

Rather than using superficial and unhelpful indicators to find a partner, start looking at the ones that really count: curiosity, generosity, intelligence, humour, empathy. Sparks are exciting, but they also burn, and fizzle out quickly…

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Masculine and feminine roles exist for a reason


Men are biologically programmed to chase and women are built with discerning taste. Ever heard that? Of course you have. The men – the hunters – are supposed to approach women, to court them and to ask them out. Women are supposed to play into this game and if you’ve heard of The Rules, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Men lose interest when women are too forward and it simply isn’t in our DNA to behave otherwise and be successful.

So, if that’s all true, why do I know so many shy, single men who would love to be approached and so many women in happy relationships who initiated conversation?

I have interviewed many single men as part of my research and most of them would really, really like for a woman to approach them. It’s nice to feel wanted and that goes for men and women alike.

“The first step is really hard, so anything a woman can do to help take the pressure off is much appreciated,” said one man emphatically.

“But wouldn’t you think it was too easy if you didn’t have to chase her?” I enquired, conscious of many women’s hunter-complex.

“Well, just because she has come up to you doesn’t mean she is caught. You still have to work for her.”

So, even for those who are unwilling to accept that gender roles have overtaken innate human behaviours, approaching doesn’t mean that you’re killing your chances. If you’re an antelope that wants to be caught, you have to put yourself in the lion’s territory first.

There are exceptions, of course, and they usually have to do with culture. For example, in Paris ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ – she must look demure, aloof and mysterious and he must win her affections. While 90% of men prefer it when the woman approaches, there is the other 10% that enjoys playing to gender stereotypes. Similarly, there are some women who thrive on the hunt. It’s not biology, it’s individual preference.

There is one caveat to this whole approaching business, said the men. A woman approaching first is great “as long as it’s not done too aggressively”. This, ladies and gents, is not a male preference, but rather a human preference. No one likes an obnoxious twit, male or female.

Paying for the date

So, if men enjoy being approached and women can hunt, why is it up to the man to pay? What kind of foundation for equality is it when the man is expected to assume financial responsibility from the word go?

Society creates, adapts, and discards, traditions and rituals, depending on how they help serve society at different times during its trajectory. As I alluded to in an earlier post, in the past, men traditionally asked out women because they had the money, and the cars, to do so. As the higher-earning gender, it was expected that with the choice of whom to ask out, they also had the privilege of paying for it. Society has moved away from that model. In my line of work I meet many, high-flying, executive women, who make bags of money and have bags of confidence. Why shouldn’t they ask a man out? The t&c’s of why this should be left to the men has changed.

Take our Scandinavian sisters, for example. Swedish women have the highest standard of living in the world with the smallest pay gap between the sexes. What happens when a Swedish woman is asked if she’d like to be bought a drink? More often that not, such advances would be met with an offended, “I can buy my own drink, thank you!”

What we now except in cash gestures we pay for in independence and equality.

So, in a world where we date more people and more frequently, what are the factors we should consider? Who did the asking out? Does one party have a significant amount of money more than the other? Do you intend on going on another date? If so, maybe you should pay this time; your date will offer to get the next one (and if not, maybe it’s a sign that it’s just not right).

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There are natural flirts and I’m not one of them

Most people think that you can flirt or you can’t.

You are born into the ‘good flirt’ or ‘bad flirt’ camp and that is it, your fate is sealed for all eternity. So, all those people who consider themselves a ‘bad flirt’ think they just have to accept it.

And everyone has their own valid reason, right? You went to an all girls school? Your father left when you were young? You were a shy kid and preferred reading to play dates? You moved around lots when you were growing up?

Well, let me let you in on a little secret. Flirting is a skill and like any other skills it requires practice. There is no such thing as a ‘born’ flirt. There are only people who are more inclined to practice. Perhaps they’re more outgoing or are less scared of rejection. Even the shy girl can make eye contact from across the room. Sure, meeting new people, quickly building rapport with strangers, and immunity to rejection comes naturally to a few people, but they really are in the minority. The rest of the population has to practice!

The fact is, everyone thinks that they are a worse flirt than those around them. Everyone thinks that everyone else is having a much easier time than they are. In my line of work, I’ve heard it said time and time again. These kinds of ‘reasons’ or better yet excuses provide people with a reason not to make a change. They accept that they aren’t natural flirts and close that door on themselves.

Think back to school. How did you learn a new skill? Did you pick up a recorder and start rolling out great tunes? Did you learn multiplication tables through osmosis? When we were younger, we accepted that learning new skills was a process; it was something we had to put effort into. We weren’t good at things to begin with, but with time and patience we improved.

So why don’t we approach life like this now? Why can’t we accept that we need to learn to flirt?

Of course you feel awkward smiling and asking that cutie at the gallery a question. You’re not used to it! I bet you felt awkward first asking your French teacher a question in French! Malcolm Gladwell posits anyone can become an expert in anything after putting in 10,000 hours of practice. Wanna be an expert flirt? Better get cracking then!

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Treat ’em mean to keep em’ keen

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