New research shows that it’s easier to reject an unsuitable romantic partner in a hypothetical situation, but not so easy in a face-to-face encounter.
“When actually faced with a potential date, we don’t like to reject a person and make them feel bad, which is not necessarily something that people anticipate when they imagine making these choices,” said the study’s lead researcher, psychology Ph.D. candidate Samantha Joel of the University of Toronto.
“The fact that we underestimate how concerned we’ll feel about hurting the other person’s feelings may help to explain why people’s dating decisions often don’t match up with their stated dating preferences.”
For the first part of the study, researchers at Toronto and Yale University asked participants to complete their own dating profile. Then they were given three profiles that supposedly belonged to other participants.
Participants were then split into real and hypothetical situations. Those in the real situation were told that the potential dates were in the lab next door and could meet them. Those in the hypothetical situation were told that the potential dates were unavailable, but to imagine the possibility of meeting them.
After selecting their favorite profile of the three, the participants were then given additional information about their potential date, including a photo of an unattractive person, and a completed questionnaire that suggested the potential date wanted to meet them.
The participants then completed the same questionnaire: Those in the real situation were told that it would be presented to the potential date and those in the hypothetical situation were to imagine the potential date receiving it.
The researchers found that those in the real situation were more likely to accept the date from the unattractive suitor. When asked, the participants said they were concerned about hurting the potential dates’ feelings.
In the second part of the study, the researchers surveyed participants’ willingness to accept dates with individuals whose qualities or attributes were undesirable because of habits or traits, rather than physical unattractiveness. Deal-breaking attributes included, for example, opposing political or religious views.
Instead of being presented with photos, participants received a questionnaire that suggested that their chosen dates were incompatible with them. They then filled out the same questionnaire and were told it would be presented to the potential date. Again, those in the hypothetical situation were more likely to reject the dates than those considering a face-to-face proposition.
“I think it’s incredible that people care so much about not hurting the feelings of potential dates who they haven’t even met if they think they’ll actually meet them,” Joel said.
“Next, I’d like to explore how much this concern might come into play when people make later, perhaps more serious, relationship decisions.”
The study was published in Psychological Science.
Source: University of Toronto