Why some of us really shouldn’t try speed dating
Most of us get a little nervous approaching an attractive stranger, hoping to make a connection. Even if you are usually brimming with confidence, the obvious potential for rejection in these situations can rarely be ignored. But for some of us, trying to find love in the singles scene presents a particularly terrifying challenge, illustrated nicely by a recent study of speed dating.
As you are probably aware, speed dating is designed to introduce people who are looking for love to as many other love-seekers as possible in a single evening. Gone is the awkwardness of having to approach a stranger, because everyone has to meet with every potential partner for a short time – usually about three minutes. A bell rings or a whistle blows when the three minutes are up, and off you go to another table to meet the next Mr. or Ms. Potentially Right. Everyone keeps scorecards to indicate who they would be interested in dating, and when there is a match, the event’s organizers give both parties the contact information they’ll need to pursue the relationship outside of speed dating.
It’s not easy to present yourself in your best light in three minutes, nor is it easy to make an accurate assessment of someone else in so short a time. Also critical is your ability to sense whether the other person seemed to like you – even in the somewhat odd and artificial world of speed dating, rejection still stings.
Then there is the question of strategy – should you cast a wide net, giving the green light to lots of potential partners in order to avoid missing that love connection, or should you be highly selective, choosing only those you liked most and who clearly liked you? Is it more important to seize any opportunity for love, or to protect yourself and avoid the pain of unnecessary rejection?
This is a hard question to answer, but it’s particularly difficult for those among us who are what psychologists call anxiously-attached. In a nutshell, anxiously-attached people have a somewhat hyperactive need to feel close to and form relationships with others, while simultaneously suffering from a heightened fear of, and tendency to over-perceive rejection. In other words, they are both really needy and really touchy. (Attachment styles are often the product of early childhood experiences with caregivers – for more information, see here.)
Think about that for a second, and you’ll realize that it is a really killer combination – you desperately want love, but you are terrified of rejection, and you see rejection everywhere. Some estimates suggest that about one in four adults are anxiously-attached, so chances are good that if you aren’t anxiously-attached yourself, you know someone well who is, so you’ve seen the damage this combo can do first-hand.
When anxiously-attached people speed date, which strategy do you think they use? Do they cast a wide net, in order to grasp any chance at love, or do they make fewer selections, in order to avoid the dreaded rejection? Recent research shows that the answer is the former – anxious speed daters give their stamp of approval to significantly more potential mates than non-anxious daters. They are less picky, hoping that by setting the bar lower they will be more likely to make a match.
The bad news is, it doesn’t really work. Anxious daters (particularly male anxious daters) were significantly less popular than non-anxious daters, and less likely to make a match. In as little as three minutes, these individuals rub Mr. or Ms. Potentially Right the wrong way.
This isn’t really surprising – past research shows that anxiously–attached people often have a variety of social handicaps. They are more likely to monopolize conversations, disclose too much about themselves too soon, and get defensive way too fast. They are long on obvious insecurity and short on charm.
Lowering the bar really doesn’t help them in the long run – anxiously-attached people are unlikely to find lasting love without directly addressing their anxiousness. If you think that you yourself might be anxiously-attached, the good news is that you really aren’t stuck that way. People can and do change their attachment style over the course of their lives, as they become aware of their behavior, and as new experiences shape their understanding of how relationships work. Your early experiences of rejection need not haunt you forever – but until you can learn to leave them behind, speed dating is probably not such a terrific idea.
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