What Determines the Success of First Dates? Psycho-Social Factors that Impact Mate Choice in Pre-Mating Encounters
As our findings suggest, the personal accounts analysed show links to the research literature. Even though our findings are limited in regards to generalisability as we have only selected a relatively small sample of the multiplicity of accounts available, they testify to the variety of individual differences.
There may be additional differences for age and gender which our study has not been able to account for. Future research would thus need to consider a more varied sample, including accounts from a wider spectrum of age and socio-economic status. Especially gender differences may prove to be interesting for further analysis as our findings suggest that first dates are still subject to conservative gender roles. Additionally, since we used a qualitative approach, our findings are of a very subjective nature. What qualitative approaches fail to provide are the effect sizes of identified factors.
Our findings thus lack great generalisability as it is unclear in how far the identified factors account for other’s experiences in similar situations. While qualitative approaches may be useful to uncover individuals’ perception of first date factors, it cannot uncover factors that we are not cognitively aware of, i.e. assortative mating effects. Future research would thus need to study biological factors on first dates using quantitative methods.
Concerning assortative mating, in line with our findings, it seems to occur over longer periods of time that different characteristics are being filtered at different times, as suggested by Hill et al. (1976). Dissimilar characteristics may over time threaten the stability of a relationship and thus lead to statistical correlations (1976). That is to say, the concept of assortative mating may be fairly unrelated to initial mate choice, maybe apart from physical attractiveness. In other words, there seems to be a difference between mate selection and mate choice. While selection may occur automatically over time, choice may be a cognitive decision influenced by other factors.
These may well be considered as two different processes acting simultaneously. While mate selection does indeed favour similarities, mate choice is socially constructed. Phenotype preferences, that is those preferences that are conscious and lead to a conscious decision, are constructed by the belief systems of the society that a person lives in and thus subject to individual and cultural differences. Our findings suggest that preferences for personality characteristics are linked to social roles and behavioural scripts and are thus socially conditioned.
Since the goals for a first date vary (Mongeau et al., 2007, 2004), there are also multiple successful outcomes. Our findings suggest that a successful date does not need to lead to a long-term relationship or mating. Thus assortative mating factors may yet have little influence.
To conclude, first dates seem to serve the purpose of testing if a romantic relationship would be possible and desired with the other person. If a first date is successful or not, first of all depends on a compatibility of goals and if the other person meets the desired personality, attitudes and interests. It however also needs an ability to communicate these factors effectively. Communication mainly happens in conversation, which is why it is so important to know how to make conversation.
Eventually sticking to behavioural scripts and gender roles, as well as choosing the right location and time frame ensures that communication can take place effectively. It is an interplay of an individual’s inner and outer worlds, that is intrapersonal factors (mate selection, mate choice, goals, personality) and interpersonal and situational factors (communication, behavioural scripts, location, time frame), that determine the success or failure of a first date.
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