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Romance is dead

A psychologist’s reflections on today’s dating scene and what comes next

| MARYANNE FISHER | One of my main areas of research is on how women compete amongst each other for mates. So, as I was having lunch with a girlfriend recently, we somehow ended up on the topic of romance and the current dating scene. By the end of lunch, we reached the conclusion that romance is pretty much dead. I was devastated at the thought, but I think we’re right.

As part of my work, I often ask women about their perceptions of the dating market – what they have to do to acquire a good prospect in light of the fact that there are other women out there trying to win the same prize.

A comment I routinely hear is that they greatly dislike the dating scene today. There are three main sources of concern – the quality of the mate, the energies they have to undertake to self-promote and the competition they face. I should preface the rest of this article by saying that I don’t know much about men’s views of the dating world, as it’s not part of my research, so I’m going to focus on women here.

Women usually begin by complaining about the available men. There seems to be two main problems. First, they meet men who are already in relationships but who take off their wedding ring to appear available. Or, there are men who say that they are single but then secretly text their girlfriend saying that they are still out with the guys and will be home late. Second, many complain about meeting men who only want sex; some of these men pretend to want a relationship, but ultimately it’s a deception. In general, there seems to be a perception that there are only a few good men out there left. To win these few good men, they have to improve themselves and compete with other women who are trying to get the same guy. And, because there are only a few good ones out there (at least in their eyes) they don’t want to be overly demanding.

When questioned about what they would ask for if they could, most women mention romance – they want to feel that they are the center of his world, that he can’t help but fall in love with them, and it’s them and only them that he wants.

They want him to be clear about his love, not sending some cryptic text that is laden with ambiguity. Some do mention sex, but usually it follows from falling in love. Basically, these women want to live the plot of any romantic comedy movie or romance novel.

When I asked whether the women thought they themselves were romantic, the answer seems to be no – so the women want the men to be romantic, but aren’t themselves. They seem to believe that men really don’t care if they are romantic, so why bother? Overall, then, there is a perception that there aren’t many good men out there, and if a woman finds one, she doesn’t want to place many demands on him because it might scare him off.

Cost of self-promotion

The second issue is one centered on the women themselves. Many feel exhausted from all the various activities they undertake to look good and to make themselves seem as desirable as possible. In research, this is called self-promotion because one is trying to promote herself as being the best option out there.

Listening to a group of women who are active daters talk will often reveal the effort that is involved simply in terms of improving physical appearance. Then there is the financial cost of that undertaking – gym memberships, clothing, salon visits, teeth whitening, cosmetics and wonder creams are not cheap. Many women also feel unsure how to ‘be’ when dating – what personality characteristics should they display and hide? Is it okay to have a loud laugh or not? Is it ok to be intelligent, or does playing dumb improve one’s chances? Should they be honest about their profession if it’s one that is high in status, given that it might mean they are too competitive or challenging? Together, trying to put the best foot forward is not an easy undertaking if you are making the effort to find a good mate, especially if you are particularly self-conscious or have been away from the dating scene in a while.

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