Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., is known on Detroit's airwaves as "The Love Doctor." She offers relationship advice each week on FOX-TV and local radio, and she does it with humor, kindness, and sound science. When she's not on-air, Dr. Orbuch is a respected researcher and a professor at the University of Michigan and Oakland University. She's also a marriage and family therapist.
Dr. Orbuch specializes in making scientific research about love and relationships accessible to everyone. LoveToKnow asked her to tell us what science has to say about some common dating myths.
Interview with Terri
First of all, tell us how you came to be known as "The Love Doctor."
Years ago, I realized there's so much information about relationships that nobody knows about. This information is in academic books and journals, which most people don't read. And I realized that some of the other relationship experts out there don't have the research experience to really know what to tell people. I wanted to take all that research information and make it available to the public. To put it in words that people understand. So I became The Love Doctor.What I do is take my clinical experience, my research experience, and my teaching experience, and I use it talk about relationship challenges that we all have. I talk on the radio, I'm on Fox TV in Detroit every week, and I do many relationship columns, advice columns, and Q&A's.
What can you tell us about dating myths?
People have so many ideas about dating that just aren't true! There is a popular belief out there, although it's not as popular as it used to be, that the best place to meet someone is at a party or a bar, because you have lots of people to choose from. Actually, when we look at studies, those places are not the best places to meet someone.
So what do the studies say? Where's the best place to find a date?
In fact, there are three best places to meet someone. The first "best place" is to join a group activity that meets regularly. Like a book club, a volleyball team, a religious group, something that is an interest of yours.
It's important that the group meet regularly. There is a psychological principle called the mere exposure effect. What that means is that exposure increases liking. My students always say, "I can't find anybody!" And I say, the first thing you want to do it, go eat at the same spot every day. Go the same way from your house to school to the classroom. Get your coffee at the same place, at the same time, every day. Mere exposure means that when the same people see you every day, it will increase their liking for you and yours for them. The good thing about joining a group is that you'll already know these people share your same interests and maybe values, too.
And the second best place?
The second best place is a blind date. Let yourself be fixed up. There is a myth out there that blind dates are only for the desperate. Not true. When I talk to people who are married, in a relationship, living with someone, it's very common to learn that they met through a blind date. You might have to go through a lot of bad blind dates, but they can be successful! Because when you think about it, someone who knows you both thinks that you might have a common thread, something that you share. And it's the common thread that binds two people in a relationship.
What about Internet dating sites?
The third best place is Internet dating sites. The media would have us believe that people are going to take advantage of us, that people are going to assault us when we meet then, but those are the exceptions. From talking to people, and following people over time in my research, I've learned that the Internet is a very common way that people meet and develop long-term relationships and commitments.
It's a nice choice for people who are a little shyer and introverted, because you can sit at home and not have to go and meet twenty people in person. If you're recently divorced, not sure of what dating entails, it's a nice easy way to get back into the dating world. If you have children, you don't even have to get a babysitter.
I do encourage people to be safe, to meet in a public spot for the first several dates, and never give out information about where you live. You do have to remember that people aren't always honest, and that relationships develop faster online. Once you're aware of the safety tips, it can be a very good way to meet.
A lot of people complain about lousy first dates. If a first date isn't great, should the person get another chance?
Well, I agree that you can know if you're lusting after a person in the first few seconds! And you can tell if the chemistry is totally lacking. But studies show it's almost impossible to make a sound decision about someone on a first date. If you're looking for a relationship which has chemistry and emotional compatibility, it takes a few times.
We all have our insecurities about being evaluated immediately. It might be about your nose, or what you eat, or the first thing you say to someone, or your sense of humor. So people are anxious and nervous, and often you don't see the real person on the first date. It usually takes a while for people to unfold.
Aren't you supposed to tell all about yourself, though? Isn't that what first dates are for?
A lot of people think you should disclose your history right away on the first date. But there are plenty of studies about what happens when you disclose too much early on. Instead of making the other person feel closer to you, it actually makes them feel less trusting. It makes them uncomfortable, and they withdraw. I tell people that on a first date, you should not discuss your ex-spouse, your past relationships, or why your marriage did not work. I encourage people not to go into their legal woes, their money problems, their custody battles on the first date. You want to disclose things like that gradually, over time. It will make people want to know you more.
If somebody asks you a question about those things, be honest, but be as brief and as neutral as possible. Nobody likes to hear about the negative things, or how you're bitter. They like to hear about the attractive things. People are attracted to others who are upbeat and positive.
Is it true that opposites attract?
From my studies of marriage and dating relationships, I've learned that what really keeps people together, what people should be looking for, is similarity - similarity in underlying values. It's not interests, or hobbies, or even food preferences. It's underlying values about lifestyle or religion or children. That's what keeps people together after the first two or three dates. We may be attracted to opposites in the short term, but those are not the relationships that stay together over time.
Any other myths our readers should know about?
There are so many, I could go on and on! Probably the number one myth people believe is that their dating experiences are unique. What I know from scientific studies, study after study, and clinical experience, and teaching is that the woes and challenges are not unique. What I constantly tell people is, "You are not alone! Whatever you're going through, do not despair. What you're experiencing many other people are as well."
To Learn More from The Love Doctor
Dr. Orbuch teaches relationship seminars at locations around the country. Visit her web site, Dr. Terri The Love Doctor, to see if she'll be in your area. You'll also find her audio CD set, Relationship CPR: How to Breathe Life into Your Relationship. To learn about more dating and relationship myths, check out her Life Lessons book series.
If you have a relationship question of your own, Dr. Orbuch offers private question-and-answer sessions via email. Visit Ask The Love Doctor to see how it works.