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Why the Story of How You Met Is So Important

Meeting via "strong ties" can set a couple up for the long term.

Key points

  • People report more satisfying relationships with partners they meet offline than with those they meet online.
  • Many couples meet through family and friends, relationships considered to be strong ties.
  • Couples who meet under circumstances with weak ties perceive less support for their relationship.
Light Field Studios Shutterstock
Source: Light Field Studios Shutterstock

One of the questions couples should always anticipate, especially when socializing together, is, "How did the two of you meet?" According to research, the answer to this question predicts relational stability, quality, and success.

Real-World Relationship Initiation

In a world where online dating has exploded, some of the most satisfying relationships are initiated in person. This is true even for young people, for whom online communication is the norm.

Heather D. Blunt-Vinti et al. (2016), studying respective levels of satisfaction of adolescent relationships formed on versus offline,i found young people reported more satisfying relationships with partners they met offline compared with those they met on the Internet. They suggest their results indicate that waiting to get to know a partner longer improved relationship satisfaction and quality.

So if meeting potential paramours in the real world is preferable, how do they meet?

Compatibility in Community

Sharon Sassler and Amanda Jayne Miller (2015) investigated how the way partners meet impacts perceived social support and relationship strength.ii Studying a sample of 62 cohabiting couples, they found that many met through family and friends, relationships considered to be strong ties. Couples also met while pursuing hobbies within their community, which Sassler and Miller acknowledged reflects the reality that common interests and shared network ties facilitate relationship progression.

In contrast, they note that couples who hooked up online or at a bar were less likely to consider their method of relationship initiation as socially acceptable, and many created “cover stories” to explain how they met. They suggested that couples who meet under circumstances with weak ties perceive less support for their relationship.

Sassler and Miller also noted that couples who meet through weaker ties or in more anonymous settings might be less concerned about violating social norms. They give the example of interacting online as a setting where individuals without social ties have the opportunity to engage in behaviors they might avoid with people they know. They also recognize that people who meet at bars are not only characterized as having weaker social ties, but the setting itself may encourage risk-taking behavior.

Connecting Through Common Ground

Many of the couples Sassler and Miller studied attributed their current relationships to their strong network ties who made the introduction. Meeting through close associations also appeared to generate more homogenous pairings in terms of age, race, and educational status.

Sassler and Miller conclude that despite a concern that community ties might be weakening, the respondents in their study demonstrated strong mutual interests in a variety of hobbies. They reported meeting in the community through mutual hobbies and interests almost as frequently as being introduced through friends or family. Sassler and Miller conclude that young people do not appear to be “bowling alone” (citing Putnam, 2001) but actively pursuing hobbies they hope will help them meet like-minded associations and potential paramours.

Apparently, common ground and community contacts contribute to solid foundations for healthy relationships.

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[i] Blunt-Vinti, Heather D., Christopher Wheldon, Mary McFarlane, Natalie Brogan, and Eric R. Walsh-Buhi. 2016. “Assessing Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction in Adolescent Relationships Formed Online and Offline.” Journal of Adolescent Health 58 (1): 11–16. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.09.027.

[ii] Sassler, Sharon, and Amanda Jayne Miller. 2015. “The Ecology of Relationships: Meeting Locations and Cohabitors’ Relationship Perceptions.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32 (2): 141–60. doi:10.1177/0265407514525886.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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