Dating do's and dont's

19 February 2019

Interview with 

Viren Swami, Anglia Ruskin University

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We’ve just kissed goodbye to Valentine’s Day for another year. And if it didn’t work out the way you’d planned this time around, perhaps you need to alter your approach? To set you on the right track, we sent Katie Haylor to see social psychologist and dating expert Viren Swami, at Anglia Ruskin University, to hear his top tips for dating “do’s” and dating “don’ts”, starting with that old chestnut, playing hard to get...

Viren - In general playing hard to get doesn't work because it contravenes what's called the theory of reciprocity, that we like people who like us, and dislike people who dislike us. So if you show any form of dislike for someone like playing hard to get, the theory is you they will dislike you in return. Now it's slightly more complex than that. They may want you a bit more, but they may not like you very much when they get you. You want to give the impression that you like that person because liking sparks liking in return. The best suggestion is to play selectively hard to get, to show the other person that you like them as an individual, but it's actually very difficult for other people to get you. 

Katie - Another piece of advice is to date someone who is very different from you. This idea of opposites attracting. Can we bring out qualities in each other? What do you make of this?

Viren - There is zero psychological evidence to suggest that opposites ever attract. A very very old idea in fact about 60 percent of general public believe that your ideal partner is someone who has the opposite qualities to yourself. All the studies from psychology suggest that more like two people are in terms of their demographics, in terms of their values, in terms of the maturity, in terms of their life goals, the more likely they are to get along.

Katie - But that doesn't necessarily mean you have to be very very similar, does it?

Viren - In the short term no. So say on a first date you want to be with someone who is relatively similar to you and perceived similarity is probably more important, so you both think that you are relatively similar. If you end up having a relationship, most couples tend to engage in something called attitude alignment, if they they're invested in the relationship. If for example you and I disagree on Brexit, and we're in a relationship, we'll find some common ground or minimize the things we disagree on.

Katie - That's some do. Dont's -  a big one I've come across looking online is talking about your exes. This has got to be a no no, right?

Viren - Absolutely. On the first date you don't want to put all your stuff out there. It shows that you're still stuck in the past, that you're not really ready to move on and have a positive relationship with someone else. You might also want to think about why it is you're talking about your ex on a first date. Are you just looking for someone to listen? In which case you might want to talk to your friends rather than a potential partner.

Katie - Another don't - spaghetti bolognese, pizza, are there really any hard and fast rules about food that you should eat when you're on a date?

Viren - The thing with rules is I hate rules. Human beings are so complex and we're just so complicated that you never know how someone's going to react. Someone else might find your sloppiness, your messiness with spaghetti bolognese really cute. Another person might find it really disgusting so it's really difficult to know. The important thing is if you're planning a first date to both decide together where you'd like to go, and if that's a messy food place then hopefully you'll both enjoy it.

Katie - Obviously this is quite lighthearted, but there is a bit more of a sinister side to dating advice. I've come across a concept called "negging"?

Viren - So negging is an idea that comes from pick up artistry. Pick up artistry more generally is this idea that's typically sold to men that they can program women to behave in particular ways as a result of particular use of language or particular behaviours that they do. Scientifically there's no evidence to support it, it's considered pseudoscience. One version of that is negging, pay a woman a backhanded compliment and that will make that woman want to come to you even more.

Katie - So is this something like "Wow you're a bit cleverer than I thought you'd be by looking at your picture"?

Viren - More along the lines of "you look really horrible but at least you're a nice person". From a scientific point of view it contravenes the theory of reciprocity, if you're horrible someone they're not going to like you in return. You want to show you like that person. I think a lot of pick up  artistry is based on misogyny. This idea that you can program women to listen to men's use of language and respond in return. It's all nonsense.

Katie - Is there one piece of advice you'd give people to have a nice date?

Viren - Just be a nice human being, be a decent person and treat other people with respect. There is a good reason why this is important and it's based on the halo effect. This idea that we transfer perceptions of a person's characteristics onto some other characteristics. So if for example you're perceived as being a nice human being, sometimes that also transfers into perceptions of your physical attractiveness. In very simple terms if you're a nice person in the long term you also get perceived as being more physically attractive than you actually are. Second reason why it's really good to be nice is it just makes everything better. Particularly, if you're going on a first date it can be really stressful. Just being nice makes everyone feel better about themselves.

There is another thing you can do which is to get your partner to hold a warm cup of tea or coffee, because the idea is that they will transfer the warmth that they're feeling into your personality and essentially they will come to think of you as being warmer than you actually are.

Katie - That's genius!

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