The dating world’s changed a lot recently, but have people’s attitudes about gender stereotypes, roles, technology, and what single life today is really like evolved along with it? Here’s your chance to quickly catch up on these new relationship realities that could make a big difference in the quality of your own love life. For the third consecutive year, Match.com’s Singles in America study — the most comprehensive look at the dating habits, sexual practices, and lifestyles of single men and women ever conducted — is shedding new light on what makes one-third of the population (107 million people, according to the most recent U.S. Census data) really tick. From sexting to gender-based assumptions now being turned on their sides to what you must understand about new relationship netiquette, it’s a whole different dating landscape than it was just a few years ago. Here are the top findings from this year’s study to get you up-to speed and on your way to finding The One:
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1. Forget everything you believed about gender-based stereotypes and love
When it comes to turning on a potential mate and falling in love, it’s time to debunk any outdated gender stereotypes and perceptions that could be holding you back. Modern daters’ roles and expectations have changed — are you ready to change, too? Consider how the answers to these common love-life questions look compared to what you previously thought to be true:
Who asks whom on dates? According to this year’s study, 91% of men are comfortable with a woman doing the asking (in fact, 65% of guys say they’ve already been asked out by a woman).
Who pays the bill? More singles than ever before think that the person who initiated the date should pick up the tab (32% of singles in 2012 vs. 25% of singles in 2011 and 21% of singles in 2010).
Who’s the bigger breadwinner? When asked about money, 80% of men said they would date someone who earned considerably more than they do.
Who fires things up in the bedroom? Women are initiating sex more often than ever before (49% in 2012 vs. 26% in 2011 and 38% in 2010).
How important is maintaining independence in a relationship? Women find personal autonomy, sex and love more important than men do, and singles overall want more freedom and independence in relationships than ever before. In fact, 77% of women say it’s important to have their own bank accounts (vs. 63% of men) in a relationship, and 93% also say that it’s important to have their own personal space (vs. 81% of men) while happily partnered.
As the times change, it’s OK to loosen up your assumptions about rigid gender roles and traditional rules when it comes to dating and relationships. And maybe it’ll even help broaden your dating pool, too!
2. Embrace the trend towards greater intimacy and personal connection with a partner
There’s a new kind of pillow talk, and it’s more substantial than fluffy these days. That singles are really talking out their intimacy concerns (66% and 68% of single men and women, respectively, vs. somewhat smaller numbers for married couples) is hopeful news, especially since good communication is key to any successful relationship. “Americans have never worked harder than they do now on their relationships,” says Dr. Fisher. “We want to communicate what we need more and worry about external issues less. We are finding the right person for us — not just for social, family, community or religious reasons. Marriage has turned into the most important quest for self-fulfillment.”
3. Privacy is out; transparency in relationships is in
Would you let your date check your phone, use your laptop, or listen to your voicemail messages? Being protective of your privacy seems like common sense in most situations, but according to new data from this year’s study, things you do that you don’t usually consider to be “secret” may be standing in your way.
Single women especially seem intent on achieving digital transparency in budding relationships. In fact, 77% of them say “no way” to dating someone who was secretive with texts, compared to 53% of single men. And 49% of women and 27% of men would cancel a first date because of something they found while researching that person online. These results call into question core values like trust, privacy, and individuality, so before you start seriously dating in this era of social media, smartphones, laptops, and numerous email accounts, you should first do some serious soul-searching. Just how comfortable do you really feel about opening up your life to a romantic partner?
“If you’re unwilling to be transparent, you are going to have a hard time dating nowadays,” says the study’s co-author, evolutionary biologist Dr. Justin R. Garcia of The Kinsey Institute. “Being secretive is risky if you want a relationship.” It’s not only what your dates might discover about you — it’s what they’re digging around for, too. Remember the stereotype of the older snooping spouse from TV sitcoms? The truth is that singles in their twenties are most likely to check out a partner’s Facebook page (29%), text messages (26%) and emails (18%) than any other age group.
4. Don’t fear the so-called “trappings” of marriage
When you’re single, your perceptions of married people are often inaccurate. You worry about losing your individuality and having to compromise too much in relationships, which simply isn’t true. If you’re worried that personal autonomy ceases, sex and romance will come to an end, and that you’ll stop having fun and socializing once you head down the aisle, think again. For the very first time, this year’s study examines attitudes and trends held by both singles and married people about love and relationships. And surprisingly, both groups enjoy social lives that are remarkably similar (e.g., 52% of singles go out 1-3 times a week vs. 46% of their coupled-up counterparts). The study’s findings also reveal that intimacy and romance continue to thrive long after a couple says “I do” (41% of married couples reported having sex at least once a week in 2012). “The implication for singles is: Don’t be afraid,” says renowned biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, one of the scientists behind the study and author of Why Him? Why Her? “For those aspiring to committed relationships and marriage, love is working. Over 74% of married study participants say they are very much in love with their spouse, and over 80% would marry the same person again.”
5. Learn the new dating netiquette
“We are at the nascent stages of new social customs based on technology,” says Dr. Fisher. So what can you learn from this year’s study before you end up making a digital gaffe? Follow these guidelines:
Be careful with misusing your smartphone when trying to make a good impression. Sixty percent of singles said they think someone texting on a date is rude, while a third of those surveyed believe it’s acceptable only when it’s a very important issue. Eighty percent of singles in their 20s think it’s OK to flirt with someone over text instead of making a phone call, which is more than any other age group. In fact, one-third of them said it’s OK to ask someone out on a first date by text message (compared to making a phone call). The older you are, the lower the approval rating gets for using texts over a phone conversation in each of those circumstances.
Don’t reveal what you learned from the online searching you did before your date. Despite the fact that lots of people choose to research a date beforehand (48% of single women admitted they look up someone on Facebook before a first date, compared to 38% of men), but nearly half of single men (49%) don’t like it when it happens to them. It could be that men especially want to tell you about themselves face-to-face, so don’t ruin the organic discovery process that comes via dating, ladies.
Watch what you sext! Remarkably, over 57% of single men and 45% of single women have received a sext (that’s shorthand for a sexy photo or explicit text), and 23% have also shared them with other people. Are singles oblivious to the risks of sexting? Nope. A majority of singles believe that sexting can hurt their reputation (75%), career (72%), self-esteem (60%) and relationships (69%). Despite these fears, 35% of single women and 38% of men have sent one anyway.
6. Watch out for unexpected social media risks
Want to make a good impression in the early days of dating someone? Watch what you post via social media online about yourself — your digital persona can hurt your dating chances. Consider this: According to this year’s study, 49% of single women (and 27% of men) would cancel a first date because of something they found while researching the other person online. And 16% of daters in their 20s say they’ve stopped seeing someone due to deal-breakers they found on Facebook, such as a date’s pictures, a wall post made on another person’s wall, a personal status update, and even who their date chose to add as a friend online.
There are some mixed messages going on here. On the one hand, we’re encouraged to be ourselves at all times, because that’s how you discover true compatibility with another person. On the other hand, “it’s important to stay aware of what you’re putting out there,” warns Dr. Garcia. “It’s easy to do silly things that can be taken out of context by a date.” Concern about the impact technology has on people’s relationships might be why so many people are cleaning up their Facebook walls and Twitter feeds these days. Across all age groups, 27% of single men and 26% of women claim they’d clean up their Facebook wall before accepting a friend request from a date.
7. There may be no such thing as a casual fling anymore
Can hook-ups and “friends with benefits” (FWBs) actually lead to a committed relationship? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems the answer might be “yes.” Forty-seven percent of singles have had a FWB relationship in the past (40% of women vs. 53% of men). With a drastic year-over-year increase, FWB arrangements are becoming long-term romances more frequently than ever before (2012: 44%, 2011: 20%). And 33% of singles have had a one-night stand that turned into a relationship. “A one-night stand leading to love makes sense because of our biology,” says Dr. Garcia. “Casual sex is rarely casual because of the biological and psycho-emotional connections that form [between both people].”
8. Romance rules above everything else for gays and lesbians
While gays and lesbians are strikingly similar to their heterosexual counterparts in regard to their desires, dating trends, and what they want to get out of a relationship, when asked what would make them happier, GLBT singles were more likely to say “romance” (singles overall: 32%; gays: 38%; lesbians: 36%). “Certain populations who have been stigmatized use technology to connect better [with other singles] within that community,” says Dr. Garcia. “It speaks to the power of the drive for love, especially if you feel that it’s threatened.”
To review the study’s findings in more detail and offer your comments, visit Match.com’s official blog, Up to Date.
Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit hiswebsite, follow him onTwitter, oremail him.