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8.5: Dating Relationships

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    Learning Outcomes
    • Define the term “date” and the supracategories associated with the term.
    • Describe the importance of scripts in dating relationships.
    • Differentiate among the five types of love.

    We talk of dating as a single construct a lot of the time without really thinking through how dating has changed over time. In the 20th Century alone, we saw dating go from a highly formalized structure involving calling cards and sitting rooms; to drive-in movies in the back seat of a car; to cyberdating with people we’ve never met.27 The 21st Century has already changed how people date through social networking sites and geolocation dating apps on smartphones. Dating is not a single thing, and dating has definitely changed with the times.

    So, with all of this change, how does one even begin to know if someone’s on a date in the first place? Thankfully Paul Mongeau, Janet Jacobsen, and Carolyn Donnerstein have attempted to answer this question for us.28 The researchers found that there are five of what they called “supracategories” that help define the term “date”: communication expectations, date goals, date elements, dyadic, and feelings. First, dating involves specific communication expectations. For example, people expect that there will be a certain level of self-disclosure on a date. Furthermore, people expect that their dating partner will be polite, relaxed, and social. Second, dating involves specific date goals, or people on dates have specific goals (e.g., future romantic relationships, reduce uncertainty, have fun). Third, there are specific date elements. For example, someone has to initiate the date; we get ready for a date, we know when the date has started and stopped, there are activities that constitute the date, etc. Fourth, dates are dyadic, or dating is a couple-based activity. Now, this doesn’t necessarily take into account the idea of “group dates,” but even on a group date traditionally there are dyadic couples that are involved in the date itself. Lastly, dates involve feelings. “These feelings range from affection (nonromantic feelings or behaviors), attraction (physical and/or emotional attraction toward the partner), to romantic (dates have romantic overtones).”29

    Dating Scripts

    All of us are going to spend a portion of our lives in some kind of dating relationship. Whether we are initiating dates, dating, or terminating relationships, we spend a great deal of time dating. publishes an annual study examining singles in the United States ( According to data from 2018,30 here are some of the realities of modern single life:

    • 55.8% did not go on any first dates, while only 12.6% went on one first date.
    • Of those who went on a first date, 20.3% met the person on an online dating site/app while 15.6% met the person through a friend.
    • When it comes to being passionately in love, 19.4% have never been in love, 27.3% have been in love once, and 27.7% have been in love twice.
    • 25.1% have a “checklist” when it comes to finding a long-term romantic partner.
    • 66.7% believe that loving someone is hard work.
    • 75.2% believe that love is a possibility for them.
    • 83.5% believe that love is hard to find in today’s world.
    • 32.4% of dating partners have disagreed on how to label their relationship, and 23.0% have left a relationship over this disagreement.
    • When it comes to first dates, participants preferred either quick and easy (36.0%, e.g., coffee, drinks) or more formal (21%, e.g., dinner, brunch).
    • 38.1% had been in a “friends with benefits” relationship.
    • 28.3% had a friendship that turned into a significant romantic relationship.
    • 41.1% have dated someone they met online.
    • 48.9% had created at least one profile on a dating website or app.

    Admittedly, this study is probably pretty heterosexist because the data were not broken down by sexual orientation. Furthermore, we don’t have similar data for bisexual, gay, and lesbian couples. Dating is one of those things we will spend a lot of time doing before we ever settle down and get married (assuming you ever do or have a desire to do so). So, one must imagine that with so much dating going on in the world, we’d have a pretty good grasp of how dating works.

    Robert Abelson originally proposed the idea of script theory back in the late 1970s.31 He defined a script as a “coherent sequence of events expected by the individual, involving him as either a participant or an observer.”32 According to script theory, people tend to pattern their responses and behaviors during different social interactions to take control of that situation. This does require an individual to be able to imagine their past, present, and future behavior to create this script.33 In 1993, Suzanna Rose and Irene Frieze applied Abelson’s notions of script theory to dating. They had college students keep records of what they did on a date. Ultimately, two different scripts were derived: one for men and one for women. The male script consisted of 15 different behavioral actions (all initiated by the male):34

    1. Picked up date
    2. Met parents/roommates
    3. Left
    4. Picked up friends
    5. Confirmed plans
    6. Talked, joked, laughed
    7. Went to movies, show, party
    8. Ate
    9. Drank alcohol
    10. Initiated sexual contact
    11. Made out
    12. Took date home
    13. Asked for another date
    14. Kissed goodnight
    15. Went home

    Women’s scripts, on the other hand, contained both behavioral actions for themselves and behavioral actions they expected of the man during the date: 35

    1. Groomed and dressed
    2. Was nervous
    3. Picked up date (male)
    4. Introduced to parents, etc.
    5. Courtly behavior (open doors–male)
    6. Left
    7. Confirmed plans
    8. Got to know & evaluate date
    9. Talked, joked, laughed
    10. Enjoyed date
    11. Went to movies, show, party
    12. Ate
    13. Drank alcohol
    14. Talked to friends
    15. Had something go wrong
    16. Took date home (male)
    17. Asked for another date (male)
    18. Told date will call her (male)
    19. Kissed date goodnight (male)

    Take a second and go through these two lists. Do you think they still apply today? How do you think these scripts differ? Once again, these dating scripts were created only using heterosexual college students. Do you think these scripts change if you have people dating in their late 20s or 30s? What about people who date in their 70s, 80s, or 90s?

    There has been subsequent research in the area of dating scripts. Table 1 demonstrates some of the other dating scripts that researchers have found (this is not an exhaustive list).

    Table 1: Dating Scripts
    First Date36 Gay Men37 Lesbians38 Deaf College Students39
    • Get ready
    • Pick up date (M)
    • Feel nervous
    • Go to movie
    • Pay (M)
    • Talk
    • Hold hands
    • Go to café/party
    • Nonverbal closeness
    • Talk
    • Drink alcohol
    • Touch/hug
    • Deep conversation
    • Mingle with others
    • Talk
    • Leave party
    • Invite the other in
    • Walk/drive home (M)
    • Polite leave-taking
    • Kiss
    • Future Plans
    • Part for the night (M)
    • Discussed plans
    • Was nervous
    • Groomed/dressed
    • Went to date's house/picked up date
    • Met at a pre-arranged location
    • Left on location for another
    • Got to know/evaluate date
    • Talked/laughed/joked
    • Talked to friends while on date
    • Went to a movie, show, etc.
    • Ate/drank non-alcohol
    • Drank alcohol/used drugs
    • Initiated physical contact
    • Made out
    • Had sex
    • Stayed over
    • Made plans for another date
    • Went home
    • Discussed plans
    • Was nervous
    • Groomed/dressed
    • Prepared (cleaned apt., bought flowers, etc.)
    • Went to date's house/picked up date
    • Left
    • Got to know/evaluated date
    • Talked/laughed/joked
    • Went to a movie, show, etc.
    • Ate/drank non-alcohol
    • Positive affect
    • Drank alcohol/used drugs
    • Initiated physical contact
    • Kissed/hugged goodnight
    • Took date home
    • Went home
    • Evaluated feelings post-date
    • Initiation/meeting
      • Talk
      • Shared interest
      • Family and friends
      • Meet in public
    • Date activities
      • Group activities
      • Dinner
      • Movie
    • Outcomes/conclusions
      • Good night kiss
      • Take date home
      • Hug
      • Relationship development

    We often think of dating as something that occurs purely among young people before they get married, but we know people in all age groups date and are looking for romantic relationships of all shapes and sizes.

    One other facet of script theory that is very important to consider is how we learn these scripts in the first place. As you read through both the male and female dating script, did you consciously think about how you learned to date? Of course not! However, we’ve been conditioned since we were very young to date. We’ve listened to adults tell stories of dating. We’ve watched dating as it is fictionalized on television and in movies. Dating narratives surround us, and all of these narratives help create the dating scripts that we have. Although dating may feel like you’re making it up as you go along, you already possess a treasure trove of information about how dating works. Thankfully, because we have these cultural images of dating presented to us, we also know that our dating partner (as long as they are from a similar culture) will have similar dating scripts.

    Research Spotlight

    Research Spotlight.PNGOne area that has received a decent amount of attention in script theory is sexual scripts, or scripts people engage in when thinking about “who can participate, what the participants should do (i.e., what verbal and nonverbal behaviors should be included and in what order they should be used), and where the sexual episode should take place.”40 In 1993, Timothy Edgar and Mary Anne Fitzpatrick proposed a sexual script theory for communication.41 In 2010, this script was further evaluated by Betty La France. In La France’s study, she wanted to examine the verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors that lead to sex. Starting with Edgar and Fitzpatrick’s sexual scripts, La France narrowed the list down to the following:

    Public Setting Script Private Setting Script (Her Apartment)

    Craig was standing at the bar when he noticed Sarah.

    She also noticed him.

    There was eye contact between them.

    She glanced away.

    He approached her.

    “Hi, my name is Craig,” he said.

    “I’m Sarah. How are you doing?,” she replied.

    “Can I buy you a drink?,” he asked.

    Craig asked, “Are you alone?”

    “No, I came with some friends,” she replied.

    Craig asked her questions about herself, such as where she was from and what her major was.

    She responded to his questions.

    In return, Sarah asked Craig similar questions about himself.

    She brought him a drink.

    “Want to listen to some music?,” asked Sarah.

    She put on the music. Craig asked, “Are your roommates around?”

    “This is a great apartment,” said Craig.

    He sat next to her on the couch.

    They engaged in casual conversation.

    There was eye contact between them.

    He moved closer to her.

    “You are so beautiful,” said Craig.

    He put his arm around her.

    Bedroom setting

    He undressed her.

    Craig started to undress himself.

    Sarah helped him to undress.

    They discussed whether they should use protection.

    Craig put on a condom.

    As for the results of this study, La France found that people predicted that as the sexual scripts progressed, the likelihood that Sarah and Craig were going to have sexual intercourse increased. Overall, La France found that the sequence of both verbal and nonverbal sexual behaviors could predict the likelihood that people believed that Sarah and Craig would have sex. For example, in the public setting script, when Sarah says, “No, I came with some friends,” this caused people to think that sex could be off-the-table because the statement indicates that the likelihood of the two leaving alone is less likely.

    La France, B. (2010). What verbal and nonverbal communication cues lead to sex? An analysis of the traditional sexual script. Communication Quarterly, 58(3), 297–318.

    Love Styles

    An individual’s love style is considered to be an attitude and describes how love is perceived.42 Attitudes toward love and perceptions of love may change throughout an individual’s life. College students may perceive love very differently from their parents or guardians because college students are in a very different stage of life. College students are living among people their age who are more than likely single or unmarried. These two factors mean that there are more prospects for dating, and this may lead the college student to conclude that dating any number of these prospects is necessary or even perceive that “hooking up” with multiple prospects is acceptable. In contrast, individuals with children who are financially tied may view romantic relationships as partnerships in which goal achievement (pay off the house, send kids to college, pay off debt, etc.) is as important as romance. These differences in perceptions of love can be explored through John Lee’s love typology in which he discusses six love styles: eros, storge, ludus, agape, pragma, and mania (Figure 8.5.1).43

    Figure 1: Love Styles


    Eros is romance and emphasizes love and physical beauty, immediate attraction, emotional intensity, and strong commitment. Eros love involves the early initiation of sexual intimacy and consecutive monogamous relationships.


    Storge love develops slowly out of friendship where stability and psychological closeness are valued along with commitment, which leads to enduring love. Passion and intense emotions are not valued as they are in the eros love style. One of the author’s uncles was in his 60s and had never been married. However, he employed a woman who cooked and cleaned for him for over 20 years. His family was very surprised to receive an announcement that he was marrying the individual who took care of him for so long. The formation of their love is a great example of love that arises slowly out of friendship.


    Ludic lovers view love as a game, and playing this game with multiple partners is perceived to be acceptable by individuals with this love style. As such, this type of lover believes that deception and manipulation are acceptable. Individuals with this love style have a low tolerance for commitment, jealousy, and strong emotional attachment.


    In contrast, agape love involves altruism, giving, and other-centered love. This love style approaches relationships in a non-demanding style with gentle caring and tolerance for others.


    Pragma love is known as practical love involving logic and reason. Arranged marriages were often arranged for functional purposes. Kings and Queens of different countries often married to form alliances. This love style may seek out a romantic partner for financial stability, ability to parent, or simple companionship.


    Mania is the final love style characterized by dependence, uncertainty, jealousy, and emotional upheaval. This type of love is insecure and needs constant reassurance.

    These love styles should not be considered to be mutually independent. An individual may approach love from a pragmatic stance and have found love that provides financial stability. However, they still feel insecure (representative of mania) about whether their romantic partner will remain with them, thus ensuring continued financial stability. It is important to remember that individuals engage in each of these love styles, and it is simply a matter of how much of each love style a person possesses.

    Research Spotlight

    Research Spotlight.PNGIn 2015, Alexander Khaddouma, Kristina Coop Gordon, and Jennifer Bolden set out to examine the relationship between mindfulness and relational satisfaction in dating relationships. The researchers predicted that mindfulness would lead to a greater sense of differentiation of self, which would then lead to greater relationship satisfaction. Differentiation of self has two basic components:

    1. On an intrapsychic level, differentiation of self refers to an individual’s ability to distinguish between thoughts and feelings and purposefully choose one’s responses to these thoughts and feelings in present situations.
    2. On an interpersonal level, differentiation of self refers to an individual’s ability to balance intimacy and autonomy in relations with others.44

    The concept of differentiation of self stems out of a body of research called family systems theory, which we’ll discuss in more detail in Chapter 11. For now, it’s important to understand that highly differentiated people have healthier levels of personal autonomy in their interpersonal relationships. Conversely, “less differentiated individuals are considered to be more automatically and emotionally reactive in stressful situations and have difficulty maintaining a stable, autonomous sense of self in close relationships.” 45

    In this study, the researchers found that mindfulness led to greater differentiation of self, which in turn, led to greater overall relationship satisfaction.

    Khaddouma, A., Gordon, K. C., & Bolden, J. (2015). Zen and the art of dating: Mindfulness, differentiation of self, and satisfaction in dating relationships. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 4(1), 1-13.

    Key Takeaways
    • Mongeau, Jacobsen, and Donnerstein defined the term “dating” by identifying a series of “supracategories” that help define the term: communication expectations, date goals, date elements, dyadic, and feelings.
    • The idea of script theory was originally proposed by Abelson who defined the concept of scripts as sequences of events expected by a participant or an observer. Dating scripts, therefore, are patterns of behavior that are expected during a “date.”
    • There are six different love styles. Eros is romance and emphasizes love and physical beauty, immediate attraction, emotional intensity, and strong commitment. Second, storge love develops slowly out of friendship where stability and psychological closeness are valued along with commitment, which leads to enduring love. Third, ludic lovers view love as a game, and playing this game with multiple partners is perceived to be acceptable by individuals with this love style. Fourth, agape love involves altruism, giving, and other-centered love. Fifth, pragma love is known as practical love involving logic and reason. Lastly, mania love is characterized by dependence, uncertainty, jealousy, and emotional upheaval.
    • Compare a current or past romantic relationship to the definition of romantic relationships provided in this chapter. What are the similarities and differences in your romantic relationship?
    • List the physical features you find attractive. List the personality factors you find attractive. Would you have a romantic relationship with someone who possessed the personality characteristics you find attractive, but not the physical characteristics? Why or why not? Now, consider whether you would have a romantic relationship with someone physically attractive, but who did not possess the personality characteristics you find attractive. Would you have a romantic relationship with this individual? Why or why not?
    • List and define each love style. List the love style of each of your parents and grandparents. Explain how your love style developed and whether it was learned from a family member or innate.

    This page titled 8.5: Dating Relationships is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jason S. Wrench, Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter & Katherine S. Thweatt (OpenSUNY) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.