12 Dating Myths We NEED To Stop Believing

You’ve heard them all before: Opposites attract. You should play hard to get. Men want sex more than women do. So much about dating feels random and out of our hands that we grab onto clichés like these. Like Jack and Rose clinging to that frozen plank, we hope to ride out the waves and someday find a lasting relationship.

Well, it might be time to finally let go. In Great Myths Of Intimate Relationships, psychologist Matthew D. Johnson, PhD, tackles long-assumed assumptions about romance with cold, hard scientific study. And guess what? Most of them are far from the truth. Ahead, 12 myths about sex and dating, demystified once and for all.

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The myth: Hooking up in college is bad for women.

Is it true? Not particularly

Hooking up can be “bad” for college women for the same reasons as for any other woman: from the risk of contracting an STI or experiencing violence to facing a gendered double standard to just having bad sex. The downsides for young women are not to be taken lightly, though. As Johnson writes, almost half of all new diagnoses of STIs are among people under 25, and women between the ages of 18 and 34 experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner more than any other group.

The upside of hooking up? Hookups are less of a time-suck than serious relationships, and a casual encounter gone south is easier to shrug off than a messy breakup. As for the sex itself? While women report enjoying hookups less than relationship sex, likely because their partners aren’t as focused on whether it’s “good for them,” a majority of women said they still enjoyed the physical aspects of their last casual encounter “very much.”
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The myth: Being smooth is the best way to pick someone up.

Is it true? Sort of

Let’s not go overboard. General social skills and a willingness to risk rejection are definitely a plus when you’re making the first move, but contrived pickup lines are not your friend.

Research suggests that there’s something to be said for making a straightforward approach and simply being your imperfect self. A study of pickup lines among heterosexual singles found women were much more reponsive to direct or innocuous ones, while — good news, straight ladies! — men reacted positively to pretty much any type of opening line from a woman.
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The myth: Opposites attract.

Is it true? Nope

Sorry, Paula. Relationship scientists have been all over this one, and it just isn’t true. Johnson cites numerous studies supporting the theory that similarity, not difference — in personality, attitudes, values, and the like — leads to attraction.

So, why is this one so popular? From his own experience counseling couples, Johnson notes that “when people are in a relationship for a long period of time, their differences will stand out more than their similarities.” Likewise, new couples have been shown to grow more complementary even if they start out very similar — for example, shifting behaviors if both of them being “the messy one” turns into, well, a mess.
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The myth: Women should play “hard to get.”

Is it true? No

We won’t even ask where this one came from, but let’s put it to bed. Studies of opposite-sex courtship have shown that men often need encouragement to make an approach, and if a woman is unresponsive or unencouraging, he’ll more likely assume she’s just not interested. Research has also shown that men are particularly drawn to women who seem approachable to them, but “hard to get” for other men. It’s also been shown that men tend to be more attracted to women who they perceive are attracted to them. Go figure.
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The myth: People know what they want in a partner.

Is it true? No

What people say they want in a partner has very little correlation to their actual preferences, according to science.

Why? As Johnson speculates, “There are some aspects of how we think and feel that we simply cannot articulate.”
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The myth: Having access to innumerable online dating profiles increases the likelihood of finding a partner.

Is it true? No

Online dating has changed the game, but hasn’t really made it easier.

The good news? We seem to be as adept at making quick character judgements from online profiles as we are from briefly meeting someone IRL. The bad news? We’ve already established that people are pretty bad at predicting whom they’ll hit it off with.

Though the odds seem in our favor, having a huge number of relationship prospects doesn’t really help — in many ways, it’s a hindrance. As Johnson writes, online daters face shutting down from choice overload, becoming lazy in evaluating potential mates (filtering by height, for example, instead of giving people a closer look), and hesitating to commit to one partner because there are so many other potential ones out there.
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The myth: The first cut is the deepest.

Is it true? No

The idea here, as articulated by Cat Stevens, is that our first breakups hurt the most, leave us permanently scarred, and have lasting effects on our future relationships. It turns out, none of those things are true.

Adolescent relationships have by and large been found to be developmentally beneficial. If the pain of a first breakup feels severe, it’s likely because, well, it’s the first one. Also, teenage breakups have nothing on divorce, which has (obvious) proven effects on life satisfaction.
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The myth: Meeting potential partners electronically before meeting them in person decreases the chances of a successful relationship.

Is it true? No, but…

Overall, studies show that chatting online with a potential partner before meeting leads to greater intimacy — as people tend to disclose more personal information than they would face to face, strategize their messaging, and consider even ambiguous statements with a positive spin, all of which benefit connection.

The key, though, is how long to swap messages before meeting IRL. When someone has been so built up in your head from weeks of messaging, the reality rarely matches up to your imagination (or god forbid you’ve been catfished).

Believe it or not, researchers have identified the sweet spot: Meet someone within three weeks of exchanging that first message to optimize the positive vibes of chatting first.
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The myth: The gender to which people are attracted is stable.

Is it true? Yes and no

Women are far more sexually fluid than men. Johnson clarifies that this is a question of arousal, not of sexual orientation or sexual identity. Across men and women of different orientations, research has shown that women are more likely to be aroused by erotic scenes with varying gender pairings, while men’s arousal patterns more closely align with their self-identified orientation.
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The myth: Men have a stronger libido than women.

Is it true? No, but…

It’s been found that men do think about sex more often than women (and are more likely to pursue it even when doing so is dumb or against the law). But the cultural repression of female sexuality that led to this myth has also resulted in women often downplaying their own libidos, which have been shown to be more variable and at least as adventurous as men’s, according to Johnson.

In a series of studies Johnson cites, women were physically turned on by a wider variety of erotic images regardless of their orientation, but were much less forthcoming than men in self-reporting their own arousal. Another study found that “women are less likely than men to report how frequently they masturbate if they think someone — even a stranger — will see their answer,” Johnson writes.

As far as the biology of “strong libidos” goes, Johnson cites research suggesting that the female orgasm may have developed to encourage sex with multiple partners — even within a single session — given the tendency for women to need prolonged stimulation to reach climax.
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The myth: Living together before marriage is a good way to determine whether you're with the right person.

Is it true? No

Overwhelming evidence suggests that living together before marriage actually predicts divorce.

Why? Relationship scientists call it “the cohabitation effect,” and apparently it’s very real. Research points to a number of theories, including the “inertia factor” that suggests living together before marriage leads some couples to marry who otherwise wouldn’t, because of outside pressures and/or the investment they’ve already made in their relationship. Findings also suggest that people who don’t live together before marrying are less likely to think of divorce as a viable option.
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The myth: There is no difference between same-sex and heterosexual relationships.

Is it true? For the most part

We’re all human, people. There’s loads of evidence that same-sex and heterosexual relationships are substantially similar in a lot of ways. There are, however, studies suggesting more frequent sexual activity among couples of two men, and less among couples of two women, as compared to other-sex couples.
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