5 Pieces of Bad Dating Advice Exposed
Research shows that much popular dating wisdom is wrong.
Posted May 22, 2018
There is no shortage of dating advice out there, doled out in self-help books and magazines, and from friends and family. Some of this advice can be quite helpful, but much of it is mistaken and based on personal experiences and opinions, rather than actual research about relationships. Below, I take on five common pieces of dating advice that are misguided or flat-out wrong.
1. When you meet the right person, you'll know right away.
One comforting piece of advice is that when the right person comes along, you'll just magically know. Maybe you'll even experience love at first sight. Unfortunately for those romantics out there, the evidence suggests that there's no magic.
In a series of studies, Paul Eastwick and colleagues tracked people's memories of various relationship experiences across the entire course of their relationships, both short-term and long-term.1 They found that early in a relationship, the timing of various relationship milestones (e.g., first kiss, first sexual encounter) and the strength of people's feelings toward their partner was the same for both short and long-term relationships. It was only later on that the researchers saw differences between relationships that lasted and relationships that eventually fizzled.
But what about love at first sight? Research shows that many people believe they have experienced it.2 But in fact, the research suggests that this feeling of "love" is really just a feeling of intense physical attraction — more akin to lust. And many people who report "love at first sight" with their current partner are just projecting their current feelings onto their initial encounters with that person.
2. If you're interested in someone, play hard to get.
Many relationship advice books tell women that they should play hard to get if they hope to attract a man. According to this strategy, men like what they can't have, so a woman should act uninterested in the man she desires. She should ignore his phone calls and pretend to be busy when he asks for a date.
Research does suggest that we are most attracted to people who are selective in who they choose to date.3 But it does not follow from this that we are most attracted to people who act as if they do not like us. In fact, research on reciprocity shows that we like people who like us.4 We are also unlikely to pursue someone we believe is out of our league.5
The best strategy may be to show the person you're interested in that you have high standards, but to also let them know that they meet those standards.3 You don't want to appear desperate, but you should still show your interest. Essentially, you want to send the message, "I'm picky, but I like you." Playing too hard to get can send the message: "I don't like you." Do you really want to date the kind of person who continues to pursue someone who is sending signals that they're not interested?
3. Focus on putting your best foot forward until you're firmly committed.
Some dating advice suggests that the courtship experience should be approached as a game with the end goal of snagging a partner: Carefully monitor your behavior and the impression that you create in order to win the prize of a committed relationship.
It's true that first impressions matter and that you should generally be on good behavior on your early dates.6 Opening up too soon is generally viewed as socially inappropriate and is likely to turn someone off.7 But sometimes this advice goes too far. For example, the authors of The Rules advise women to hide some personal information from a boyfriend for the first few months, until they are sure he is madly in love with them, in case any of these personal revelations could turn him off and cause him to leave. But waiting months to share personal information with a romantic partner is a recipe for a shallow relationship, and mutual sharing of personal information is one of the key building blocks of intimacy.8 If you keep everything light, you will never develop emotional intimacy with each other. Someone who falls in love with you in the absence of emotional intimacy is probably not someone you want to form a lasting relationship with. In fact, a relationship free of emotional intimacy is what people with avoidant attachment styles desire9 — that is, an intimacy-free courtship will appeal to an intimacy-avoidant person.
4. Opposites attract, so try to find someone really different than you.
People often claim that opposites attract. However, it is much more often the case that birds of a feather flock together. They also tend to have fewer conflicts, making for smoother relationships.10,11
There are times when someone with a quality that is very much the opposite of ourselves may fascinate us. Maybe you're very cautious and conservative and are excited by someone who is spontaneous and unconventional. Maybe you're very emotional and find the perspective of someone who is highly rational to be eye-opening. However, research on "fatal attractions" suggests that these sorts of opposite qualities may initially attract us, but ultimately end up being sources of friction.12 That cautious person becomes irritated with a partner who is reckless and disorganized, and that emotional person is frustrated by an overly rational partner and begins to feel like they're dating a robot.
5. You'll only meet liars and weirdos if you date online.
Many people believe that everybody lies online, a topic I've written about previously here and here. Online daters do sometimes lie about their age and physical appearance. However, research shows that extreme lies are rare because people who are looking to develop relationships with those they meet online realize that such lies will eventually be revealed, and when they are, it would likely spell the end of the relationship.13
There is also a stereotype that people who use online dating are desperate because they are unable to get a date "in real life." Contrary to this picture, research shows that there are almost no personality differences between people who date online and those who don't.14 In fact, one study found that people who met their spouses online were more likely to be of higher socioeconomic status than those who met offline.15
When you're on the dating market, be yourself, don't chase after your polar opposite, don't expect to instantly know if you've found "the one," and don't be afraid to try online dating.
1 Eastwick, P. W., Keneski, E., Morgan, T. A., McDonald, M. A., & Huang, S. A. (2018). What do short-term and long-term relationships look like? Building the relationship coordination and strategic timing (ReCAST) model. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(5), 747-781. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000428
2 Zsok, F., Haucke, M., DeWit, C. Y., & Barelds, D. P. H. (2017). What kind of love is love at first sight? An empirical investigation. Personal Relatoinships, 24(4), 869-885. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12218
3 Walster, E., Walster, G. W., Paliavin, J., & Schmidt, L. (1973). "Playing hard to get": Understanding an elusive phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26, 113-121.
4 Kenny, D. A., & La Voie, L. (1982). Reciprocity of interpersonal attraction: A confirmed hypothesis. Social Psychology Quarterly, 45 (1), 54-58. doi:10.2307/3033675
5 Montoya, R. M., & Horton, R. S. (2014). A two-dimensional model for the study of interpersonal attraction. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 59-86.
6 Uleman, J. S., & Saribay, S. A. (2012). Initial impressions of others. In K. Deaux & M. Snyder (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of personality and social psychology (pp. 337-366). New York: Oxford University Press.
7 Derlega, V. L., Metts, S. Petronio, S., & Margulis, S. T. (1993). Self-disclosure. London: Sage.
8 Laurenceau, J., Barrett, L., & Pietromonaco, P. (1998). Intimacy as an interpersonal process: The importance of self-disclosure, partner disclosure, and perceived partner responsiveness in interpersonal exchanges. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1238-1251.
9 Bartholomew, K. (1990). Avoidance of intimacy: An attachment perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 147-178.
10 Surra, C. A., & Longstreth, M. (1990). Similarity of outcomes, interdependence, and conflict in dating relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 501-516.
11 Huston, T. L., & Houts, R. M. (1998). The psychological infrastructure of courtship and marriage: The role of personality and compatibility in romantic relationships. In. T. N. Bradbury (Ed.), The development and course of marital dysfunction (pp. 114-151). New York: Cambridge University Press.
12 Felmlee, D. H. (2001). From appealing to appalling: Disenchantment with a romantic partner. Sociological Perspectives, 44, 263-280.
13 Toma, C. L., Hancock, J. T., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Separating fact from fiction: An examination of deceptive self-presentation in online dating profiles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(8), 1023-1036. doi: 10.1177/0146167208318067
14 Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S.. (2012) Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13, 3-66. doi: 10.1177/1529100612436522
15 Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., Gonzaga, G. C., Ogburn, E. L., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2013). Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (25), 10135–10140. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1222447110