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4 Ways to Use Your Words to Build Romance

Research reveals what partners need to hear (and what turns them off).

Key points

  • According to one study, both men and women feel disconnected on a date when conversation lags and requires questions to keep it going.
  • Research shows that women are more likely to feel connected with men who use language that shows appreciation or sympathy.
  • For better dating communication, think about telling a short story to get your date to connect with you more.

What makes people feel like they bond, connect, or "click" with a date or lover? What makes them pick a partner (or pass them by) after only a few minutes of interaction? There are the usual suspects:

But what about communication?

Does simply knowing how to talk to a date have an impact on whether that person feels a connection—or moves on to someone else? If so, what are the behaviors and skills that make conversations "click?"

As it turns out, research provides some answers.

A study on romantic bonding

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Source: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

McFarland, Jurafsky, and Rawlings (2013) were interested in which features of conversations could create a feeling of romantic bonding and connection during a quick interaction between opposite-sex strangers. To explore the question, the researchers studied almost 1,000 audio recordings of four-minute speed dates from graduate students at Stanford. They then asked each participant whether they felt connected and "clicked" with each date—analyzing which features of their preceding conversation may have influenced that feeling.

According to the results, both men and women felt a greater connection with dates who used statements and shared things about themselves, rather than those who just asked and answered a lot of questions. Specifically, individuals were more likely to click when a partner used "I" statements; avoided hedging language ("sort of," "kind of," "I guess"); and shared stories with enthusiasm (showing passion and emotion for a topic, as well as varied voice tempo and volume, etc.). In contrast, both men and women felt a disconnect when conversation lagged, when a partner showed a lack of enthusiasm and excitement, or when questions were required to keep the conversation flowing.

Beyond those shared preferences, women on average were more selective than men and felt that they clicked with fewer dates overall. Nevertheless, they were still more likely to feel connected with men who used language that showed appreciation ("That's great") and sympathy ("That must have been hard on you"). They also felt more of a connection to men who interrupted them—but only in ways that showed his understanding and engagement with her statements (e.g., adding to her point rather than changing the topic). In short, women more often clicked with men who made them the focus of the conversation, while showing interest and support for their views.

The researchers pointed out that these conversational effects did not completely eliminate or compensate for trait differences: Physical characteristics, status, and interpersonal similarities often had a larger effect on feelings of connection—particularly when participants made quick and early decisions about a date. Participants who took a bit more time to decide whether they clicked with a date, however, seemed to be more influenced by the conversational cues. Essentially, if both partners gave each other a chance, even a four-minute conversation could begin to build a romantic connection.

Dating communication tips

From the above research, we can gather a few helpful hints for dating communication:

  1. Use more statements—instead of questions. When a conversation is hard to get started, or stalls out, then tell your date about yourself and share your (positive) opinions to get it going. Statements about what you like, think, or feel about the general situation are good for breaking the ice, too.
  2. Tell a short story. People bond and connect over the stories they share. So have a few good ones prepared. Something positive, emotional, and informative about you is best. How did you get your job or pick your career? What funny thing happened with your family or friends? What activity are you passionate about and why? Building and sharing an exciting—and short—story about any of those could help a date connect with you more. By choosing the right features of those stories, you can pique their romantic or sexual interests as well.
  3. Be enthusiastic. Don't just sit there: Engage, listen, and interact. Vary your voice volume and tone. As the conversation continues, use a little positive and enthusiastic body language for added effect, too.
  4. Show appreciation and understanding. Listen to your date, summarize your understanding of their stories, and mimic their language to respond. Show your concern, empathy, and sympathy for their emotions. If they are happy about something, share a "that's great," or "good for you." If they describe a tough time, reflect that "it must have been hard," or share how you can relate. Everyone likes to be heard and cared about in this way, but this is particularly important for connecting with women. Using these skills to share gratitude and build rapport can deepen a connection.

Knowing how to talk on a date can be confusing, but these tips can help you build a connection and improve your chances of turning even a brief encounter into a long-term relationship.

© 2015 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


McFarland, D. A., Jurafsky, D., & Rawlings, C. (2013). Making the connection: Social bonding in courtship situations. American Journal of Sociology, 118, 1596-1649

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