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More singles want emotional maturity in relationships, dating survey shows

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

OK. This one's for all the single people out there and for the people who are still trying to fix them up. If you have noticed that dating priorities have changed since the pandemic started, you are not alone. Maybe you, if you are the single person, are spending more time reading people's bios on dating apps instead of just swiping based on looks. Or maybe you now prefer to have a first date via video before you agree to meet someone in person.

Whatever you've noticed for yourself or your friends, we now have evidence that singles and their thoughts about dating are evolving. That's thanks to the latest Singles in America study that's just been released. The annual study is funded by the online dating company Match, so we called up Match's chief science adviser, Helen Fisher, to help us decipher the data. We started our conversation by discussing what Helen Fisher calls post-traumatic growth. She told us singles came out of the pandemic looking for more stability in relationships and putting emotional maturity ahead of pure physical attraction.

HELEN FISHER: That's new. In fact, you know, every single year, I say, what are your preferences? What are you looking for? And we have about 30 different things. You can check the boxes on this. And within the top five was always somebody who's physically attractive to me. Now, it's not any longer in the top five. The top five instead are somebody who I can trust and confide in, somebody who communicates their needs and wants, somebody who's open-minded, somebody who's emotionally mature, definitely - and somebody who makes me laugh. So they're looking for something solid now.

MARTIN: What about the whole hookup culture, the desire to sort of be super casual? Did that survive a pandemic test?

FISHER: Yeah. No, it didn't. First of all, it's hard to do when you're stuck at home. So there's that. But anyway, when we asked, 11% of people said that they were now - did want to have some casual sex. But the balance, the 89% said no, they're looking for something real. And when we asked, you know, how important is sex to you? Eighty-five percent of singles said it had become less important to them, not more important to them. There was no hot vax summer. And you know, there's also a biological reason for this. You know, short-term stress like fight or flight is going to give you the focus and the strength to run away or fight back. But long-term stress dampens these brain systems. So I do think that, culturally, we've gotten scared, but physiologically, the dopamine and the testosterone systems have gone down. They'll be back. But I do think that it's biological as well as cultural, and they don't want to hop into bed with somebody instantly.

MARTIN: And both men and women - this is true of both men and women?

FISHER: Men are less interested than women are. It's quite remarkable. But, you know, men are actually leading the way. All 11 years of this Singles in America study that I do with Match, we've found men fall in love faster than women. They fall in love more often than women. And, in fact, when we asked, you know, are you ready to find a long-term partner? Today, 42% of men say they are ready, as opposed to 29% of women. So men and the young are leading the way towards a desire for emotional security, financial stability and a long-term committed partnership.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, you said that you think men and younger people are leading the way, and obviously, some of these reactions are reactions to a very unique set of circumstances. So you have to assume that this has kind of - this has shocked the system in some ways. But are there aspects of this - just based on your knowledge of relationships and how people behave, are there elements of the way people are resetting that you think will last...

FISHER: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Beyond this crisis? What are those?

FISHER: The first thing is that we've now really turned to video chatting before the first date. That's No. 1. No. 2, it is actually the continuation of a trend that I've been writing about for several years that I call slow love. You know, people used to marry in their early 20s. Now they're marrying in their late 20s or early 30s. The courtship process is slowing down, giving singles the opportunity to know more about themselves, to try things out and marrying later. And the reason that that is so important is the longer you court and the later you marry, the more likely you are to remain together. And this data's supported by the Match study, but also, I've looked in the demographic yearbooks of the United Nations for 80 cultures from 1947 to 2011. And everywhere in the world, the longer you court, the later you wed, the more likely you are to stay together. And in fact, this pandemic is slowing courtship down even more.

MARTIN: That was Helen Fisher. She is an anthropologist and a senior research fellow with the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. She's the chief science adviser for Match, the online dating company. Helen Fisher, thank you so much for sharing this information with us.

FISHER: Thank you very much, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.