Professional therapists of all stripes are just looking at a piece of the overall exchange that is dating and relating. In any satisfying relationship, intimate or otherwise, both your wants and those of your partner matter.
Social Exchange Theory. Social Exchange Theory is a perspective within social psychology describing human relationships (Kelly & Thibaut, 1978; Thibaut & Kelly, 1959). According to the theory, the stability of all relationships results from each individual making decisions about the following:
- The cost-benefits ratio: the balance of what we put into the relationship versus what we receive from it.
- The satisfaction level: how the relationship compares to our expectations of what we each think we should have.
- The dependence level: our chances of having a better relationship with a different person.
So, we form relationships with those people who give as much to us as we give to them (ratio), treat us in accordance with our expectations (satisfaction), and are our best alternatives at the time and place (dependence). But, others are clearly making the same calculations about us back. So, their ratios, satisfaction, and dependence influence whether a relationship happens too. In the end, the wants and needs of both partners matter.
This scenario may sound unromantic but that’s just the point! All relationships (from friends-with-benefits to marriage) are an exchange process at the core. When a relationship is a good deal for both partners, they stay and trade together. When it isn’t, one of them will eventually opt to go elsewhere.
Now going back to the debate above, we can now see where the best dating advice fits. The notion of what you want fits both in the benefits you’d like to receive from a relationship and the satisfaction you expect to derive from it. The notion of what they want fits in the costs that you can expect to put into a relationship and your chances of picking up different partners (your dependence level).
The beauty of scientific research is that it infuses a solid element of common sense into all the unstable emotional fluff.
6 Tips for Dating Success
The following tips for successfully relating and enjoying a satisfying dating life is based on social exchange theory
- Figure out what you want. It all starts with you. Some people do indeed miss this step. They get so wrapped up in finding true love or pleasing others that they forget to figure out what they want out of the deal. For the record, you do have a choice. You need not just pick whoever will have you nor obsess about every tiny detail. A general idea of what you would like from a partner is best.
- How would you like them to act?
- What would you like them to do?
- How should they treat you?
- What type of relationship are you looking for?
Take a few moments to figure it all out, then write it down on a paper as a reminder.
2. Decide what to give in return. Nobody ever gets something for nothing in this world and dating and relationships are no exception. So, what are you planning to bring to the exchange? Be honest here; don’t undersell or oversell yourself. Think about all the strengths, benefits, and positive qualities you have to share with a partner. Develop a clear sense of what you are going to give back to them.
3. Check your expectations. Study what you want versus what you’re willing to give. Does it match up? Is it a realistic trade? It is unrealistic to expect to buy a mansion with a piggy bank. But, it’s also silly to spend a million dollars on a shack. So, make sure the exchange you’re planning is equitable and fair, for both you and your prospective partners. Make it a good deal on both ends.
4. Know your dating market (what “they” want). Take into account what your potential partners might want. But, don’t be too vague or generalize that all men and women want the same thing. YOU know what you want so search for those who match that and find out what they want. For example, if you want to connect with bright, upwardly mobile businesswomen, then talk to a few in your area and find out what they like. If you’re seeking creative men who are also athletic, then check out what they are into. Shop around. Get to know your intended dating market and what those players are looking to “buy” in return.
5. Assess your options. Once you know your dating market, you can see who might be interested in an exchange. Find the partners that fit with what you want. Qualify and assess them. Then see whether what you’re willing to give matches up with their wants too. Negotiate a bit and see what works. Is it a good fit? Can you strike a deal? Is it a win-win for both parties? See what your options for “trading partners” look like.
6. Pick an option or reassess your plan. If you find a good deal, go with it, especially when the relationship is fair, satisfying, and the best alternative for both of you. Yet, if you dislike your options, then rethink the steps above. Go through them again. Is what you want unrealistic? Do you need to give a bit more to get who you truly want? Are your expectations unrealistic? Would it be wiser to try a different dating group, time and/or location to find a more suitable connection?
Conclusion. In the age-old dating debate, it turns out that what you want and what they want both matter. So, take that into account for successful dating and relating. Figure out what you want. Decide what you will give in exchange for it but ensure that it’s a fair trade. Search for potential partners to trade with. When you assess your options, you will eventually come to a point where you can enjoy a mutually-satisfying relationship.