Sociological terms for dating
July 23, 2007 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Help me find the sociological terms for some ideas related to dating.

I have some ideas that I want to do research on, but not really sure where to start:

1. A term to describe the process of determining who you will approach/reject immediately. For pursuers, this is about choosing who in the club you'll hit on, or whether or not to try to flirt with someone you know. For the pursued, this is about determining who you will and will not give a chance.

2. A term to describe the winnowing process that occurs when you're still vetting a relationship, i.e. dating. For example, at what point, or upon noticing what trait you determine you stop returning the other person's phone calls.

3. A term to describe people's paradigm or ruleset. Some people, for example, have certain rules, such as, "Well, I try to search for a good guy." or "I go with the flow and let fate take care of it." or "Meet as many women as possible, eventually one will like you.

We all have these three things either explicitly or implicitly. Some are more effective or appropriate than others. I'm curious to know what studies have been done in those areas.
posted by philosophistry to Science & Nature (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm....I've been out of Sociology for a bit, but I would start by looking into social psychology. There's definitely been some research on the economics of relationships...ah, Social Exchange Theory. You could look into that first.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 5:42 PM on July 23, 2007

You are describing an ethnomethodological project. The precise terminologies are not as important as your hypothesis that these sorts of decision processes are generalizable (you don't specify the context limitations very carefully) from "common sense" descriptions of pickup/dating activity with which you are personally (it sounds like) familiar. You propose an extremely complex project, here, with multiple dependent variables and not very well specified independent variables.

An ethnomethodological approach would turn your assumptions into hypotheses to be tested against real world descriptions of the thought processes of would-be mates. But remember that sexual activity is a basic biological function, necessary to the continuation of the species, and the prime function of the organism. We were choosing potential mates long before we had language or culture. The lowliest animals often have complex mate-seeking behaviors. The idea that conscious, rational thought plays a *significant* role in this process, and can be accessed and retrieved and reflected upon to provide an adequate description of anything other than the processes of *rationalization* involved, strikes me as problematic in the absence of more contextual specificity.

The great Howard Becker memorably said that the outcome of any complex social process can be described as resulting from a series of decisions made by actors for whom each individual decision (shoot that needle in my arm, wear women's clothes) "seemed like a good idea at the time," which most social actors will tell most ethnographers if asked to reflect upon why they did something as basic yet complex and unconscious as "choose" a potential sexual partner. I'd have a look at Becker's *Tricks of the Trade* for some help with the frameworks here.
posted by spitbull at 5:53 PM on July 23, 2007

And from where do you gain the idea that "we all have" these three "things" -- by which you mean terms, apparently? I would not at all parse my own experience of mate-seeking in your tripartite terms.
posted by spitbull at 5:56 PM on July 23, 2007

the questions you pose are more related to communications and psychology then sociology. look there for answers, as many of those theories will have different names for the procedures associated with choosing a mate.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:10 PM on July 23, 2007

How hard is it really?

1. ugliness
2. interestingness
3. level of desperation
4. money!

The terms with high numbers may affect your scoring for the terms with lower numbers. Someone being interesting might make them less ugly but you being desperate doesn't make the other person any richer.
posted by uandt at 6:21 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

These terms all come from decision theory (psychology).
1) forming a "consideration set"
2) estabilishing "cut-offs" for certain decisions attributes (bad breath) and "trade-offs" for others (he has no car but that's okay b/c he has nice eyes)
3) all different decision-making strategies. I would say "maximizing," "satisficers" and I don't know what the third would be called, but it seems you don't have control of the decision, so maybe "not deciding at all." For an easy-to-understand intro, try this e-book by J.F. Yates.
posted by Eringatang at 6:34 PM on July 23, 2007

Game theory is an element here, too, as is economics (surprisingly enough). By "economics" I don't necessarily mean "money"; economics is much broader than that, and has to do with collective decision making processes and the emergent results which derive from them.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:43 PM on July 23, 2007

A term to describe the winnowing process that occurs when you're still vetting a relationship, i.e. dating.

If you're after the technical jargon, yYou'd have to include the Taquito Moment as a particular form of vetting.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:15 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Context is always relevant. Or as Willie Nelson once said, "last night I came home at 2 with a 10, and woke up at 10 with a 2."
posted by spitbull at 8:25 PM on July 23, 2007

And from where do you gain the idea that "we all have" these three "things" -- by which you mean terms, apparently? I would not at all parse my own experience of mate-seeking in your tripartite terms.
I think I'm not communicating something properly here.

Anytime you flirt with someone, a choice has been made whether or not to flirt with him/her. How is that choice made? It's some sort of process. We all make a choice, either consciously or subconsciously.

People have patterns of choices, some people make bad choices consistently. Why? How can they reform that? What IS a smart heuristic?
posted by philosophistry at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2007

What IS a smart heuristic?

Are you enjoying the exchange?
posted by porpoise at 8:39 PM on July 23, 2007

Thanks UbuRoivas, that Taquito story was a good read. I'll probably check out Jillian Straus's book "Unhooked Generation" which seems to have prompted the article.
posted by philosophistry at 8:49 PM on July 23, 2007

"Bad" is relevant to context, as I keep saying.

And now you talk of "reforming" bad choices, adding a whole 'nother level to the problem.

We all make a choice, either consciously or subconsciously.

Again, you toss off a huge variable here. If it's "subconcious," how do you suppose you will access it through surface level verbal rationalizations?

And Jillian Straus is not a sociologist, I don't think. Pop sociology/social psychology is usually wrong. But maybe by "research" you mean something different than what I thought.
posted by spitbull at 3:23 AM on July 24, 2007

I think there's a poverty of research in the area. The best I've encountered in the past is statements to the effect that people are most happiest with mates who are the most like them. Another thing I read is that people go for the best that the market can give them. They compare alternatives, and try to maximize along a few vectors (economics, good looks, intelligence, etc..)

I vaguely recall reading some studies done on British personal ads. But I've encountered little research on efficacy of certain attitudes in finding good mates.
posted by philosophistry at 3:40 AM on July 24, 2007

1. Selection
2. Disqualification*
3. Dating Strategy

* This is just a continuation of Selection -- you just have more information now. I don't think it's distinct enough to warrant its own category.
posted by LordSludge at 8:52 AM on July 24, 2007

Those are nice words, LordSludge. But are you saying they are the attested labels for actual phases in your mate selection process? (Apparently not, from your disclaimer.)

Anyone can label the three phases described in the OP. But the question is, who does, and what do they call them? And I am saying the preceding question must be, why do we think such a complex process can be described as three unwavering decision frames, each with a folk taxonomic term.

I do this shit for a living, sometimes.
posted by spitbull at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2007

spitbull, I'm more interested in what sociologists tend to label these processes so that I know what search terms to use when hitting up the library.
posted by philosophistry at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2007

spitbull is correct in that the question presupposes an over-simplification. But it's a model. (Or at least three aspects of one.) Newtonian physics is a flawed model, an oversimplification of reality, but it works well for building bridges, designing airplanes, etc. Where would we be if early physicists & engineers just threw up their hands and said, "It's all way too complicated!"

Can philosophistry get useful results from his model? Probably so. It's better than nothing, anyhow. Consider it a a starting point -- a hypothesis, to be tested. But it doesn't directly reflect any hitherto formalized work AFAIK.

But, then, I'm just a simple caveman engineer.
posted by LordSludge at 11:17 AM on July 24, 2007

philosophistry: e-mail me (in profile)
posted by LordSludge at 11:20 AM on July 24, 2007

hmm, having trouble finding how to contact you.
posted by philosophistry at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2007

Oops, I'd unchecked that silly "display e-mail" box. Try again -- just omit the capital letters for the correct address.
posted by LordSludge at 12:12 PM on July 24, 2007

There are models and hypotheses implied in the question, but the question does not propose the "model" as a hypothesis. It assumes the existence of the model in the minds of actors.

The analogy to physics is oversimplified. Humans are indeed concsious, rational actors with free will -- to a point. That is not true of particles or waves.

Anyway, I think we've established that this homework assignment isn't striving for the condition of actual sociological theory.
posted by spitbull at 5:33 AM on July 25, 2007

You wouldn't expect physics to have much to say on this subject, but check out this and this
posted by euphotic at 1:03 AM on July 27, 2007

game theory, the study of strategic interactions between agents is what you want to be looking at I think. Although I cant help you with any specific terms. I'd suggest reading wikipedia articles, the nature of connectivity there leads to things you might not have considered.
posted by browolf at 7:16 AM on October 21, 2007

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