I’m a relationship researcher, which means that I study romantic relationships from an academic perspective. No, I’m not a relationship therapist, though people often get the two confused. The Q&A sessions after my talks often take a swift turn from academics to personal counseling questions as people ask about their relationships: the good, the bad, and sometimes, the ugly. While I will not (and cannot) give any therapeutic advice, I will often talk about the topic being questioned from an academic research perspective.
My Online Dating Past
A few nights ago, I gave a talk on the connection between the science of relationships and Seinfeld, yadda yadda yadda … sure enough, the audience questions at the end focused on how to find “the perfect match.” One person specifically wanted to know where and how I met my husband. That required a simple, one-word answer: JDate.
The crowd seemed pleased with my honesty, but a little shocked that I didn’t have a long romantic “how we met” tale. A few people even commended me for being so honest about meeting my significant other online.
The Idealization Of Romance
Based on data from the Pew Research Center, online dating has largely lost the stigma associated with it, and 5% of married or committed individuals have met online (Smith & Anderson, 2016). I suspect that the latter statistic is an underestimation, as many people who support and use online dating still make up stories as to how they met one another IRL (my friends included). I assume this is because people want a romantic story that inspires both awe and “awws” from their friends.
So why this obsession with a fairytale first date? Research has shown that media (movies, TV, etc.) can influence our relationship-related beliefs. Lippman, Ward, and Seabrook (2014) conducted a study with 625 college students and found that the viewing of romantic-themed movies was associated with the belief that “Love Finds a Way.” In addition, exposure to marriage-themed reality TV was associated with beliefs in “Idealization” and “Love at First Sight.” Therefore, it appears that the media we are exposed to can change our perceptions of romance.
Other research has shown that it’s not necessarily the media itself, but rather our motivation for watching that alters our beliefs. Hefner and Wilson (2013) demonstrated that those who approach romantic movies with the motivation to learn about relationships are much more likely to endorse romantic ideals and idealize their partners. Therefore, it is not the romantic comedies that lead people to search for “the one” and have a perfectly romanticized view of relationships, but rather the beliefs of those who watch it. Essentially, it matters why people choose to watch these movies, not necessarily what the movies they watch are.
So, what do I make of all of this?
Media is definitely powerful enough to influence our beliefs about what relationships should look like, often instilling in us the desire for a fairytale type of romance. As such, people may be hesitant to share how they met their significant others and their early dating experiences, especially if they feel that the story doesn’t live up to the Hollywood hype.
But that’s all it is – hype. Relationships are more about the day-to-day tasks you carry out with your significant other, like running errands, paying bills and completing household chores. While relationships can be and often are wonderful, there aren’t always flash mobs, big musical numbers or hundreds of long-stemmed roses involved. We certainly didn’t all meet by locking eyes with one another from across the room, instantly falling in love. Sometimes we meet as a result of one little profile click.
You may also be interested in 5 Reasons That Now Is The Best Time To Meet Someone Online
Hefner, V., & Wilson, B. J. (2013). From love at first sight to soul mate: The influence of romantic ideals in popular films on young people’s beliefs about relationships. Communication Monographs, 80(2), 150-175.
Lippmann, J. R., Ward, L. M., & Seabrook, R. C. (2014). Isn’t it romantic? Differential associations between romantic screen media genres and romantic beliefs. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(3),128-140.
Smith, A. & Anderson, M. (2016). 5 facts about online dating. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/5-facts-about-online-dating/