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Are You Looking for Love in All the Right Places?

Research reveals where we seek long-term love and lurk for hookups.

Does it matter where you meet a potential partner? Can it tell you something about who they are, and what they're looking for? New research has found that when people are seeking a mate at certain venues, they do so with particular personality traits and with short-term or long-term intentions in mind.

Peter Jonason of the University of Western Sydney and his collaborators conducted new research that has taken a lot of the guesswork out of the mating game. There were three aims:

  • to examine where people go in search of short-term and long-term mates;
  • to discover how personality traits are linked to the preferences of certain venues to search for a mate; and
  • to find out whether there are gender differences in the preferences of certain venues in the search for a mate.

Here's what they did: First, the investigators created a list of 50 venues or “niches,” as they were referred to in this study, where people might look for short-term and/or long-term mates, or sex and relationship partners, respectively. This sample was comprised of 100 students (70% female and 30% male) who attended the University of South Alabama, ranging in age from 18 to 38. Remarkably, the men and women in this sample largely agreed on where to go find a fling vs. a relationship.

Here are the Top 10 for each category, from most to least:

Long-term niches:

  • Class
  • Organizations
  • Religious
  • Work
  • Gym
  • Coffee shop
  • Volunteer groups
  • Neighborhood
  • Conferences
  • Park

Short-term niches:

  • Bar
  • Nightclub
  • Party
  • Dance Club
  • Beach
  • Wedding
  • Gym
  • Concert
  • Fraternity party
  • Neighborhood

Next, Jonason and his team examined how certain personality traits related to the preferences of these niches. They had participants complete questionnaires that assessed the traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (known as the Dark Triad) and HEXACO, an acronym for honesty/humility, emotionality, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness.

The participants were also asked to imagine going to the places on the “niche list” and to rate how likely it would be for them to look for a mate at that venue. This time the sample consisted of 209 students from the University South Alabama (65% female and 35% male), ranging in age from 17 to 56 years old. The investigators crunched the numbers to see if there were significant relationships between particular personality traits and short-term and long-term-oriented niches.

What did the researchers find?

The traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (i.e, the Dark Triad) predicted more use of short-term niches, but not use of long-term niches. In addition, the traits of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness were correlated with going to long-term niches. (Of note, no significant gender differences were found.)

Jonason and his team also examined how successful participants were in finding short-term and long-term mates in these various niches by simply asking participants about each, and having them rate it on a scale from 1 to 5. They also had participants complete a questionnaire assessing Dark Triad traits, to see how these exploitative and opportunistic characteristics may come into play across mating environments. Now the sample was made up of 472 American individuals, 44% female and 56% male, ranging in age from 18 to 72 years old.

The results were striking. The trait of narcissism appeared to drive mating success in short-term niches. And there was one significant gender difference I'll refer to as the "wedding crasher" effect: Men reported more success at finding short-term mates at weddings than women did, and the overall results suggested that narcissistic individuals may use weddings, classes, and the beach to seek long-term mates, and that those high on measures of psychopathy may especially use weddings to find long-term mates. Finally, according to the findings, if you want to steer clear of people possessing the traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, volunteer. There were no associations between the niche of volunteer groups and the characteristics that comprise the Dark Triad.

Jonason and his colleagues note a few limitations of their study, including that the list of niches was created by the authors and that the use of online dating forums were not explored. But they contend there is still much to learn from their results. Specifically, they argue that research has already borne out that birds of a feather flock together—but now we know where they actually gather.


Jonason, P.K., Foster, J.D., McCain, J., & Campbell, W.K. (2015). Where birds flock to get together: The who, what, where, and why of mate searching.

You can find Dr. Mehta's other Psychology Today posts here. Connect with Dr. Mehta on the web and on twitter and Pinterest!

Vinita Mehta, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Washington, D.C., and an expert on relationships, managing anxiety and stress, and building health and resilience. She provides speaking engagements for your organization and psychotherapy for adults. She has successfully worked with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, and life transitions, with a growing specialization in recovery from trauma and abuse. She is also the author of the forthcoming book, Paleo Love: How Our Stone Age Bodies Complicate Modern Relationships.

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