Science Interviews


Mon, 15th Feb 2016

Dating: past, present and future

Graihagh Jackson, The Naked Scientists & Viren Swami, Anglia Ruskin University

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Rules of Attraction: The Science of Sex

Now weíve just heard how to attract people, but how do we actually go about early datingmeeting them? Chatup lines in a bar clearly arenít a great idea, and these days it seems people are using tech more and more. Graihagh Jackson has been looking into our dating pasts and presentsÖ.

Pat - This might interest you.  In the Isle of Man there was a hotel and they had tables all round the ballroom and on every table was a telephone, and if you fancied somebody at the other side of the room, you could ring her up.  And she would answer the phone and youíd say ďwould you care to have a dance with me.Ē

Graihagh - Thatís not how my grandmother met my grandfather thoughÖ

Pat - How I met Eric, your grandfather, was on on the tennis courts and it just so happened that the girl I was with, she knew the two lads on the adjoining court.  So she introduced us and thatís how our friendship began.

Graihagh - Did you manage to give him a good thrashing when you played him at tennis then?

Pat - No I didnít really - we were pretty evenly matched.

Graihagh - My grandmother had never really dated anyone before then.  Things were very different back then.  Today though is rather different - you donít necessarily have to approach someone in a bar or at a tea dance.  You can just ping them a message via one of the many dating websites or apps.

David - Well, it strikes me that the internetís perfect in that contextÖ

Graihagh - Meet my dad David.  We were just saying how difficult it is to meet people when youíre out and about.

David - If you were to take the view that you have to meet, let's say 200 people, in order to meet one person that was compatible, then internet dating provides that volume that you would otherwise struggle to find if you were relying on face to face encounters.  And, I guess in terms of the way you might approach it - I mean if you were thinking of it as a job interview, looking in terms of looking for a partner, you might in terms of analogy, try and encourage as many candidates as possible to apply and, in that sense, you kind of interview them.  So you can reduce it all to a bit of a process - I mean itís clearly a matter of the heart in the end.

Graihagh - This is slightly weird because youíre discussing it with your daughter about your dating life.  But something that strikes me about the world of dating today is that things are much more casual, if you have to meet say 200 people.

David - Well at the risk of, as you say, discussing it with my daughter, in my mind itís a mistake to commit to something which has no sort of definable end.  So the whole evening, so dinner for example, would be a commitment a bit too far, in my view, on the first meeting because you still havenít really established any clear rapour.  So a coffee, in that casual sense, is a nice easy thing to do in my limited experience I hasten to add.

Graihagh - Dating is definitely more casual - I can vouch for that, but I think it goes further than that.  But this was something I definitely did not want to probe with my dad.  At least among my peers relationships start with sleeping with someone and then, maybe, it develops into something more. Itís all about going with the flow and hanging out but, as a result, the definition of what the relationship is or isnít gets completely blurred and, in my experience, you have no idea whatís going on.  So I rang up my brother Scotty to discuss my dating woesÖ

Scotty - Yes, thereís quite a few different types of relationship in my mind.  So you can be seeing someone or you can be going out with them or you could just be, you know, friends with benefits - that sort of thing.

Graihagh - This new way of dating - supercasual with no clear boundaries and a choice of seemingly endless possible mates.  Is it a good or a bad thing?  Either way, the hapless romantic in me has always taken great comfort in what my dad told me last yearÖ

David - That was when we were talking about when you were saying you were comfortable being single and that you had no real plans to meet anybody..

Graihagh - MmmÖ

David - And thatís when I said ďyou may not have any plans but if you meet somebody, you meet somebody no matter what you were thinking previously - love takes over.Ē

Khakhil - That was Graihagh Jackson speaking to her Nanny Pat, her father, David and her brother Scott Jackson. Graihaghís with us now -

Which dating method sounded best to you?

Graihagh - Itís really hard to tell I think because, ultimately, in the modern way of dating - how you and I might date.  Actually, thereís a lot of confusion - are you dating someone are you not - ultimately that could lead to someone getting hurt.  But having said that, that can also work in your advantage if youíre not sure where you want the relationship to go.  Itís less defined, itís more flexible.  So I donít know really - I think itís each to their own and you take each situation as you go.

Khalil - Nowadays, especially with our generation, technology seems to be playing a bigger and bigger role.  It used to be online dating websites but now itís moving more into the app arena.  What kind of an impact do you think this is having on modern dating?

Graihagh - Yes, itís really interesting you say that cause, you know, my grandmother was telephone across a room.  My dad uses online dating websites whereas, I canít speak for Scotty - itís not something we talk about regularly.  But certainly for me, itís much more about the apps and less about your online profiles.  I think itís having a huge impact on how we date.  As I said before, things are becoming much, much more casual. I think itís just because you have a limitless number of people you can choose from and, as a result, you want to invest less time so that you can see more people but also there's this FOMO thing, this fear of missing out out - perhaps thereís someone better just around the corner.

Khalil - Viren - Iím going to bring you back in here.  Is this something youíve looked at?  Would you say apPs and technology are changing how we find love?

Viren - Theyíre changing two things; theyíre changing where we meet our potential partners.  So about 30 years ago very few people would have met online and the majority of people would have met in what we would call closed spaces.  So closed space is any place  where you have to have an affiliation to join like university or work places and by far the majority of people would have met in these closed places.  The latest data suggests that increasingly people are meeting online or through dating apps.  The other thing thatís changing is the nature of relationships.  Itís changing the nature of relationships in the sense that people are self-presenting in a way that they havenít been able to before.  If youíre meeting someone offline, you have to kind of have a negotiation of that relationship very quickly and trying to work out what that other person is like, and trying to find out what their personalities are like, what their hobbies etc., and so on are like.  Online you can get a lot of that information very quickly, even before youíve met that person, and that short circuits the relationship process because you get that information.  The thing you need to do to work out once you meet that person is whether that information actually matches what theyíve said online.  The curious thing though is that most people, apparently, donít seem to lie very much on their online profiles.  They may lie - add a centimetre here or take a few pounds of there but people donít tend to lie very much because, obviously, the point of online dating is eventually meet someone and if you add 6 inches, you are going to get found out.

Khalil - I guess no-one wants to get caught outÖ

Graihagh - I find that very hard to believe.  Iím sure people have lied about their height orÖ

Viren - Im just telling you what the science says. I think there is a certain type of person who does lie on online dates all the time.

Graihagh - Mind you, Iíve had some horror story dates.  Maybe Iím just tarnished forever more...


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