Dating and the coming and going of parlors

Skimming through a conservative take on dating in the modern era, I ran into a part involving the physical spaces where couples interact:

As a result, courtship morphed into dating, with couples venturing from family parlors and front porches to dance halls and, yes, the proverbial back seat. The parlor courtship rituals had been, of course, dependent on one’s family actually having a home with a parlor. As a result of the industrial revolution, families increasingly lived in tenements and apartments that lacked such amenities, so the shift was as much forced by the demographic shifts in the U.S. as by changes in cultural mores.

I could quibble with the details and take interest in the larger issue. Regarding the parlor, I would guess that many Americans in the 1800s into the 1900s did not have access to a parlor. This formal living room was part of a larger home of a wealthier family. Until then, many people lived in a single room or a limited number of rooms where it would be a waste to have a formal entertaining space that could have only a single use. This was true in rural settings – think of the first dwellings in the Little House on the Prairie books – and cities – apartments and limited space. The parlor/living room was linked to the middle-class and the single-family home, something that became part of a consistent American Dream in the early 1900s and became more accessible to more Americans in the 1920s and then the 1950s. And the parlor lasted only so long: living rooms are on the way out with more emphasis on using kitchens and great rooms for social spaces.

The larger issue is worth pondering: how do physical spaces shape relationships and vice versa? Spaces matter for relationships to form and develop. The ideal that developed in the 1800s emphasized a nuclear family dwelling in a private home. Additionally, the middle-class private home was viewed as the domain of women. Thus, intimate relationships moved to this setting. With the invention and then spread of the automobile, people could pursue relationships in cars as well as more easily access other locations. Urbanization likely had a similar effect: by putting people into close proximity with more people and more spaces, couples could easily access more than just the family dwelling. Today, dating can take place in an online realm and the privacy of bedrooms, possibly bypassing any public settings.

Disapproval of a boyfriend who lives in a van/tiny house?

One letter writer to Dear Prudence thinks that her boyfriend’s life in “a pretty impressive tiny house” may not be approved by her loved ones:

Q. Man with a van: I met a guy online, and we’re far enough along that I’ve told some family and friends, but they haven’t met him yet. Here’s the rub: He is currently living in a van, which he has turned into a pretty impressive tiny house. He’s doing it for thoughtful and responsible reasons. I think it’s cool, but I know people in my life are going to find it off-putting and judge him negatively. I want them to meet him first before I explain this. I also don’t want him to know I’m overthinking this and freak him out about meeting people in my life. Should I get it over with and tell them?

A: I think this is an unnecessary burden you are taking on yourself. Let him tell people. He can explain his thoughtful and responsible reasons better than anyone else. If your friends have questions or politely worded judgments for you afterward, you can handle them as they come, but don’t feel responsible for managing other people’s perceptions of your boyfriend’s living situation. What he does is unusual, and your friends might have questions, and that’s fine. If you come across as desperate to justify his choices, you’ll mostly just come across as desperate.

Prudence suggests the letter writer should take it easy and let the boyfriend explain things. But, this sort of sidesteps the possible issues:

  1. Is the van/tiny house not really that nice? Or, is it simply hard to tell from the outside how nice it is?
  2. Perhaps the family members and friends would see living in a van or vehicle as a negative consequence related to not having a good job or education. If so, is the issue really not the van but rather what it might signify?
  3. I wonder if some people simply wouldn’t react well to tiny houses. They may not understand how or why someone wants such a space. Perhaps they view such housing as transitory, not a long-term solution.

My guess is the issue is #2: living in your van is not a positive status symbol. But, since it is a tiny house, perhaps the couple can throw a party at the van/tiny house to introduce everyone…

Both and claim to be #1 sites for marriages. Who is right?

After recently seeing ads from both and claiming they are #1 in marriages, I decided to look into their claims. First, from

Research Study Overview & Objectives
In 2009 and 2010, engaged research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey to conduct three studies to provide insights into America’s dating behavior: a survey of recently married people (“Marriage Survey”), a survey of people who have used online dating (“Online Dating Survey”),
and a survey of single people and people in new committed relationships (“General Survey”).
Key Findings Marriage Survey
• 17% of couples married in the last 3 years, or 1 in 6, met each other on an online dating site. (Table 1)
• In the last year, more than twice as many marriages occurred between people who met on an online dating site than met in bars, at clubs and other social events combined. (Table 1)
• Approximately twice as many recently married couples met on than the site that ranked second. (Table 2)

The data is from 2009-2010. And from

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – June 3, 2013 – New research data released today, “Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows eHarmony ranks first in creating more online marriages than any other online site.* The study also ranks eHarmony first in its measures of marital satisfaction.* Data also shows eHarmony has the lowest rates of divorce and separation than couples who met through all other online and offline meeting places.

eHarmony Ranked #1 for Number of Marriages Created by an Online Dating Site

The largest number of marriages surveyed who met via online dating met on eHarmony (25.04%)

eHarmony Ranked #1 for Marital Satisfaction by an Online Dating Site

The happiest couples meeting through any means met on eHarmony (mean = 5.86)…

*John T. Cacioppo, Stephanie Cacioppo, Gian C. Gonzaga, Elizabeth L. Ogburn, and Tyler J. VanderWeele (2013) Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (

Just based on these brief descriptions from their own websites, here is which number I would trust more: Why?

1. More recent data. Data that is a few years old is eons old in Internet time. People on dating sites today likely want to know the marriage rates today.

2. More reliable place where the study is published as well as the more scientific method. It looks like hired a firm to do a study for them while the data comes from a respectable academic journal.

When two companies both claim to be number one, it is not necessarily the case that one is lying or that one has to be wrong. However, it does help to compare their data sources, see what their claims are based on, and then make a decision as to which number you are more likely to believe. .

Should you study love in a sociology course?

I’ve seen multiple stories about a new sociology course on love at a university in India. Here is one such story:

The battle of superiority between natural and social sciences is being played out at one of India‘s oldest universities and good old Love may just become a casualty.

Among general education courses to familiarise humanities and science students with each others’ disciplines, Kolkata’s Presidency University is offering unique optional papers like “Digital Humanities”, “The Physics of Everyday Life”, and “Love” – likely to be option number 1 for most undergraduate students!

The subject of Love, hitherto the premise of departments of English and Philosophy, will be addressed for the first time by a department of sociology in an Indian university. The only other known precedent is the Sociology of Love undergraduate course offered at the University of Massachusetts in the US…

Roy hopes to cover several elements of Love – from Love-as-romance to Love-as-industry. He is hoping to bank on Love theorists like Anthony Giddens, Zygmunt Bauman and Eric Fromm, who have enriched sociological discourses with “The Transformation of Intimacy; Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies” , “Liquid Love” and “The Art of Loving” respectively.

My first thought is a line that I have provided to Introduction to Sociology students: if humans are involved in any way, sociologists can and will study it. Considering there is not a shortage of writing and commentary about love, sociologists should study it.

But, several articles, including this one, seem to hint at a different sort of issue: by applying social science methods to love, do social scientists change what love is? If it is shown to be influenced by social forces and norms, does this demean love? This sounds a bit silly to me: we know there is a more individual component to love (emotions, though this individualistic idea ), we know there is a physical dimension (the response of the body), and we know there is a social dimension (what love is and how it is expressed differs). Sociologists often “pull back the curtain” on social behavior but this doesn’t necessarily mean it ruins the experience of love. On the contrary, it may just enlighten people about the social dimensions of love.

Another idea. A number of social scientists have been behind the creation of popular dating websites (great phrase: “algorithms of love”): a psychologist is behind, a sociologist is behind, and an anthropologist developed the algorithm behind These social scientists have helped develop the idea that love can be scientific, that there are patterns that can be applied in a waiting market where plenty of people want such “Scientific” matching.

One of the new research frontiers: studying dating online

There are now a number of academics studying online dating sites as they allow insights into relationship formation that are difficult to observe elsewhere in large numbers:

Like contemporary Margaret Meads, these scholars have gathered data from dating sites like, OkCupid and Yahoo! Personals to study attraction, trust, deception — even the role of race and politics in prospective romance…

“There is relatively little data on dating, and most of what was out there in the literature about mate selection and relationship formation is based on U.S. Census data,” said Gerald A. Mendelsohn, a professor in the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley…

Andrew T. Fiore, a data scientist at Facebook and a former visiting assistant professor at Michigan State University, said that unlike laboratory studies, “online dating provides an ecologically valid or true-to-life context for examining the risks, uncertainties and rewards of initiating real relationships with real people at an unprecedented scale.”…

Of the romantic partnerships formed in the United States between 2007 and 2009, 21 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples met online, according to a study by Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford. (Scholars said that most studies using online dating data are about heterosexuals, because they make up more of the population.)

The rest of the article has some research findings about appearance, race, and political ideology derived from studies of online dating site members.

Researchers will go wherever the research subjects are so if the people are expanding their dating pools online, that is where the research to go. It would be interesting to hear if any of these researchers have received pushback from people within their own fields who scoff at online dating sites or ask them to demonstrate the worthiness of studying online behavior.


“Invasion of the Harry Hunters”

When reading a story today about the upcoming Royal wedding, I was reminded of a Newsweek piece from several weeks ago. While it may not be surprising that some young British women might be trying to catch the attention of Prince Harry, it is more interesting to read about young American women who have become “Harry hunters”:

Fleming is part of a small but resolute group of American “Harry hunters,” aspiring princesses who are crossing the ocean in hopes of capturing the redheaded royal’s heart (and the tiara that comes with it). Some rely on semesters abroad to lend an air of social normalcy to their excursions, while others simply count their pennies—or lean on their parents—to fund extended vacations in Britain. But the goal is always the same: to live happily ever after with a prince of the realm.

These days, their mission has taken on a distinct sense of urgency. Next month Harry’s older brother, Prince William, will wed Kate Middleton—a commoner herself, the Harry hunters note optimistically. But even as these earnest, young crown chasers devour royal-wedding news, the nuptials are a source of serious anxiety. When it comes to available slots on the Windsor family tree, explains author Jerramy Fine, whose 2008 memoir recounts her own unsuccessful efforts to marry into the monarchy, “Harry is now their last chance.”

This reality is not lost on Taylor McKinley, a sweet 21-year-old George Mason student who recently began a semester abroad at the University of Leicester (two hours outside London). McKinley takes her princess prep seriously. She reads magazines with names like Majesty and Royalty. She studies the historical monarchy. And in high school, she even abstained from dating, figuring she would “hold out for royalty.” Now, she spends her weekends dragging classmates to Harry’s favorite restaurants and waiting for fate to strike. Her parents are skeptical, but McKinley is confident she will one day find her prince. “I’m one of those people who only reads books with happy endings,” she says.

McKinley’s tactics are mild for a Harry hunter.

How come the story doesn’t include any reactions from family or friends of these girls? While these girls supposedly take heart that Kate Middleton is a “commoner,” in order to be a “Harry hunter,” it seems like one has to be rather wealthy and have time on her hands. Studying abroad is a clever tactic but the story also discusses a woman who works part-time and takes her summers abroad to try to catch Harry’s eye. I know “commoner” means “non-royal,” but it is not like just any American young woman could fly to Britain and attend the sorts of events that Prince Harry might be at.

I wonder if we will hear more about the story in the next few weeks as we get closer to the wedding date. I’m sure we’ll hear theories or ideas about why a good number of Americans seem to be fascinated by a foreign country’s royalty.

UPDATE 10:09 AM 4/13/11: One more thought came into my mind about this story:

The news story gives us two examples of American women that are doing this and then says little about how many people are actually doing this. We get two small clues. Regarding the American women, we are told these two are  “part of a small but resolute group.” Regarding British women, we are told that “London’s Daily Mail frequently chronicles the exploits of young British socialites who spend weekends trolling the prince’s favorite bars.” While this may be an interesting story that grab’s people attention (like me), if there are only 5 or 15 or 25 people doing this, does it matter?

This is an example of a type of story that bothers me as a social scientist. It is interesting but it seems to be based on two cases with little attempt to ascertain whether this is a broader trend or not.