The Inner Life of the Minimal Dater
5 ways to manage the shyness and introversion that can make you a minimal dater
Posted Feb 09, 2013
The condition known as minimal dating occurs when people who would otherwise be active on the social scene have few dates, feel inhibited around people of the opposite sex, and are dissatisfied with their dating patterns. The personal tendencies that lead people to become minimal daters are not well-known, but a study by social psychologist Kira Leck (2006) sheds unique insights into their inner lives.
Prior to becoming involved in a stable long-term romantic relationship, many people struggle with their share of failed attempts. For minimal daters, however, life involves a series of rejections which soon lead them to become less and less likely to initiate new relationships. Based on previous studies, Leck believed that she would be able to predict the factors that contribute to the dating patterns of these individuals from a combination of their personalities, styles of interacting with others, and feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem.
Leck asked heterosexual college men and women to complete questionnaires in which they rated their introversion, or tendency to be inhibited and withdraw from social interactions. Separately from introversion, Leck also measured shyness, meaning the tendency to be not only inhibited, but also unsociable, and afraid to initiate interactions with new people. Leck believed that these personality attributes be related to minimal dating, but so should physical attractiveness. For better or worse, people prefer to date other people they see as attractive. Those people who are already somewhat shy and introverted as well as being less attractive are less sought out as dates, which over time may lead them to feel even more socially inhibited.
Unlike people who date more often, minimal daters may have a propensity to be less sought after as dates, then. However, they also develop beliefs about themselves that further complicate their dating lives. They start to convince themselves that they’re no good at dating, which understandably makes them even more anxious and uncomfortable. When they’re in the presence of a potential date, their insecurities bubble up to the surface and they become unable to function. Either because of their anxieties, or perhaps as a result, minimal daters don’t engage in the kind of behavior that makes them good company. Eventually, they become dissatisfied and lonely, placing them at risk for feelings of depression and low self-esteem.
To identify the steps that lead from shyness and introversion to minimal dating, Leck devised a lab task in which participants spoke to a video camera with the intention of introducing themselves to a possible dating partner who they saw on a video screen. The participants thought that they would be chosen or not to be a date depending on how well they presented themselves. That dating partner was actually a research assistant, not a potential partner. However, this deception was needed to ensure that the dating partners each participant saw was identical. Then, participants rated themselves on how well they thought they performed in the interaction. An outside set of raters also evaluated the participants on their social skills, as indicated by such factors as how confident and competent they seemed and how much eye contact they maintained during the interaction. The participants completed a set of questionnaires to find out about their personality traits and other attributes. The minimal daters were the people who dated infrequently and were dissatisfied with their infrequency of dating.
Minimal dating women were, as Leck expected, shyer, more introverted, less attractive, more anxious, lower in social self-esteem, and lonelier. Minimally dating men had similar characteristics, but also had lower ratings in social skill. There were some gender differences in these overall patterns, such that physical attractiveness played a stronger role in minimal dating for women than men, a fact that is consistent with most people’s dating patterns—i.e. that it is the men who ask, and the women who wait to be asked.
We might argue that the term “minimal dater” has a pejorative meaning. After all, you don’t have to be voted the most popular person in your town in order to be happy. That’s why it’s important to see minimal dating as a combination of dating infrequently and feeling that you don’t date enough.
Answering these questions for yourself can help you decide whether you’re a minimal dater. First you need to rule yourself out if you’re already in a long-term relationship, or if your religion prohibits you from casual dating. Assuming this is the case, make an honest assessment not only of how often you date, but how unhappy this makes you. It’s possible you’re exaggerating the extent to which you’re a minimal dater. Depending on where you live and what the dating norms are, having a date once a week or once every 2 weeks may not be all that infrequent. Perhaps you’ve been influenced by the media to think that you should be going out every night or every other night. It’s also possible that you’re in a stage of life when you need to pay more attention to your work than to your social life. In that case, being an infrequent dater isn’t going to have as negative an effect as you might imagine.
People sometimes judge their dating frequency by unrealistic standards, then. If you can actually say that the amount you date is enough for you (and not for the people you think you must answer to), then there’s no need to date more than the amount that doeIfs feel right for you.
On the other hand, if you feel that your dating life has dwindled to an unacceptable level because your shyness and social anxiety have gotten in the way, the Leck study suggests some practical ways you can have a more satisfying social life:
- Talk to the camera. The people in the Leck study didn’t just rate their own performance; they were also rated by objective observers. In this controlled setting, the way participants rated themselves didn’t correspond to their dating patterns, but in the real world, both self- and other-ratings of social skills could have a significant impact on how people fare. By observing yourself, and having others rate you, it’s likely you’ll spot some cues that you inadvertently give off to potential dates.
- Check out your beliefs. What thoughts do you have about your ability to relate to others? Do you feel convinced that other people will turn you down, even before you initiate an interaction? Leck’s review of other research showed that minimal daters are inordinately afraid of rejection. Even if you’ve had a string of relationship disappointments, the way to beat this cycle is to take charge of your confidence in being able to charm your potential dating partners.
- Don’t worry about your physical appearance. Although physical appearance was related to some measures of minimal dating in the Leck study, it wasn’t an across-the-board effect. It’s true that, for women, physical attractiveness played a larger role than it did for men’s dating frequency. However, the way around this dilemma, if you’re a woman, is to act more like a man. If there’s a guy you want to date, who’s to say that you can’t be the one to initiate the relationship?
- Use your social skills to your benefit. As a follow-up to point #3, you’ve no doubt heard millions of times that personality is more important than looks for relationship success. In this case, it’s not just personality, but the skills that you project into a social situation that will make it or break it for you. Use those criteria that Leck invoked to measure social skills such as making appropriate eye contact, not seeming anxious, and feeling competent, and you will project a much better image to the outside world than even your God-given features can guarantee.
- Don’t feel you need to change your personality. It’s true that introversion and shyness are correlates of minimal dating but they’re just that—correlates. Not all introverted and shy people are minimal daters and vice versa. The issue is how comfortable you are as an introvert or as a shy person. If you can okay about being able to spend time by yourself, then you won’t feel so pressured to seek out social situations that you‘re left feeling anxious, lonely, and low in self-esteem. The better you feel about who you really are, the more you’ll relax and be able to find the people, or person, who will appreciate and value your quiet qualities.
You may not become a maximal dater, but if you can identify and change these behaviors, there’s a chance you’ll reach a level that feels good for you and makes sense for your life and lifestyle right now.
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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2013
Leck, K. (2006). Correlates of Minimal Dating. The Journal Of Social Psychology, 146(5), 549-567. doi:10.3200/SOCP.146.5.549-567