Where Do We Meet Potential Partners?

It's the question of the ages, and science has the answer.

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.

Where do we meet potential partners?

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.

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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?

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