Getting to Know You

The reasons why we date.

Posted Jun 18, 2018

baranq/Shutterstock
Source: baranq/Shutterstock

First-date interactions play a major role in determining the trajectory of a potential relationship. During the initial meeting, partners have the opportunity to learn more about one another as they assess whether or not they are well matched. The information that we share, both verbally and non-verbally, can make a lasting impression. Therefore, first dates are often carefully orchestrated events in which the participants play specific roles, with the goal of creating a bond. While a few of my posts have already covered my research on first dates and gender differences in dating scripts, this post will explore the reason why we choose to date in the first place.

The Purpose of Dating

It is important to determine the purpose of dating, as the reasons why we engage in this behavior may be connected to the different experiences we have during our dates. Roscoe, Diana, and Brooks (1987) used a sample of 210 adolescents (6th graders, 11th graders, and college students) to examine why they chose to date and to determine if there would be any differences in their reasons based on their age. The results demonstrated that younger students viewed dating from a more egocentric perspective, whereas late adolescents were more focused on having healthy and balanced relationships. Specifically, seven different functions of dating were identified as a result of the research: recreation, socialization, increasing status (i.e., to increase social status by dating an attractive or popular partner), sexual experimentation, companionship, courtship, and intimacy.

Other research has zeroed in on the initial romantic encounter, focusing on the reasons for the first date. Mongeau, Serewicz, and Thierren (2004) examined 144 college students’ goals, which revealed 14 reasons for first dates. From these 14, eight were first-date goals (FDGs) and six were partner-focused reasons. Specifically, “[f]irst-date goals represent end states toward which participants strive [and p]artner-focused reasons center on why the participant was dating a specific individual” (Mongeau et al., 2004). 

The study, which primarily focused on FDGs, found that the most frequently mentioned goal was uncertainty reduction, which involved getting to know the partner better. Another goal, which was described by more than half of the participants, was relational escalation, or investigating the possibility of a future relationship. Gender differences were also observed in that men were more likely than women to report sexual activity goals, and women were more likely to discuss long-term potential and companionship. In fact, men were four times more likely than women to mention sexual goals. The most commonly mentioned goals (reduce uncertainty, relational escalation, fun, and friendship), were reported similarly by both men and women. Gender differences were more pronounced for the less frequently mentioned goals.

Examining the reasons why people date is important, because it demonstrates that there are many purposes that it can serve. The reason why one person may choose to go on a date may not align with his/her partner’s purpose. Therefore, assessing the level of commitment and interest a person has in you on a date may be a bit more challenging than we originally accounted for.

References

Mongeau, P. A., Serewicz, M. C. M., & Therrien, L. F. (2004). Goals for cross‐sex first dates: Identification, measurement, and the influence of contextual factors. Communication Monographs, 71(2), 121-147.

Roscoe, B., Diana, M. S., & Brooks, R. H. (1987). Early, middle, and late adolescents' views on dating and factors influencing partner selection. Adolescence, 22(85), 59-68.