Where Do We Meet Potential Partners?

In my last column, we learned about the power of “mere exposure”: repeated exposure to a person makes that person seem more familiar, which in turn increases our liking for her or him.But knowing this doesn’t really tell us very much about where exactly we meet our potential partners.Fortunately, scientists have put their minds to this question and have come to rather interesting conclusions. Some of the best work on this issue was conducted by the French sociologists Michel Bozon and François Héran in the 1980s. These researchers studied the places where people met their potential partners in twentieth-century France.In their work, they distinguished between three types of places. The first are “public” meeting places—these are places open to anyone, like bars, shops, and parks. The second are “closed” places, where admission is granted only to people who fulfill certain criteria. This includes workplaces and universities, which are generally only open to people who work or study there. And the final type is “private” places, such as our circle of family members or friends.One of the things that Bozon and Héran examined in their studies was changes in the places where people met their partners over the course of the twentieth century. At the start of the last century, for example, most people tended to meet their partners very close to home—through their families, church, or friends. In other words, most people met their future partners in “private” places.But beginning in the 1960s, Bozon and Héran noticed a decline in the number of meetings with future partners that took place at family gatherings. Instead, more people were meeting their partners through their friends and, more often, in “public” places, particularly in nightclubs, parties, and on holidays.MORE: Why the creepy guy hitting on you can’t take the hint.The most recent research suggests that, since the 1980s, meetings in “private” places—that includes family, friends, and acquaintances— have remained steady, accounting for about a fifth of meetings between partners. Intriguingly, however, the number of people meeting in “public” places appears to have declined since the 1980s. You might think that nightclubs and bars are where most people find their partners, but in fact recent studies suggest that chance meeting in places to drink, eat, or socialize account for only about two-fifths of meet-ups.So, if most people aren’t meeting their partners in private or public places, then where are these couplings taking place?Well, the big change since the 1980s has been the number of meetings that take place in what Bozon and Héran called “closed” places. In fact, a recent large survey in the U.S. indicated that about 40 percent of people met their partners in “closed” places, like workplaces, college or university, school, church, and sports clubs.This fact often surprises people: when we think of places where we meet potential partners, we often think of places that are geared toward that kind of activity, like bars and nightclubs. But the evidence suggests that we’re more likely to meet our potential partners in places we often discount. But if you think about it from the perspective of “mere exposure,” it makes sense that we should find love in the places we frequent.QUIZ: What relationship personality are you?What explains this shift? Most researchers now think that the trend toward relationships being formed in “select” places has to do with the number of people in higher education. Over the last couple of decades, the number of people with a higher education qualification has increased and this group are more likely to meet their partners at university or at work.The lesson for anyone looking for love is to keep your eyes open and not to discount the people you know in your workplace or college. Though these places may seem like unlikely places to meet potential partners, there are good reasons why so many people meet their partners here, as we’ll see in my next column.Until next, time, remember that chances are the partner you’ve been waiting for is a lot closer than you think!

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