We asked a behavioural psychologist how important shared values really are in creating a healthy relationship – and whether it’s ever a good idea to date someone we disagree with.
We all have a mental list of criteria we’re looking for in a potential partner. Sometimes, those things happen to be physical – you’re attracted to brown, rather than red, hair, for example – and other times, they’re more of a personality preference, such as a good sense of humour or a shared group of values.
And in the world of online dating, it’s become more acceptable than ever to be specific about the type of person we pursue. With lots of dating apps at our fingertips, we’ve got access to more types of people, personalities and looks than ever before – and it’s shaping the way we date in 2020.
According to a new survey of 12,000 millennial and Gen Z men and women conducted by the dating app Bumble, 64% of people think dating apps are a way to meet people they otherwise would not have met – a true sign that technology is diversifying the people we date.
It’s great that we now have the chance to meet and socialise with people who match most of or all of our criteria, but have dating apps made us too selective when it comes to our potential partner?
Consider this: the survey also revealed that 61% of women say they look for a partner who shares their values. Now, perhaps more than ever before, politics and personal values are becoming an integral part of the dating scene – from climate change to Brexit, what our other half thinks and says about the world is a significant part of dating. But is our increasing obsession with personal values shutting us off from potential relationships? Could dating someone with different values to you ever be *winces* a good idea?
To find out more about how the dating scene is being shaped by politics and personal values, we asked behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings to give us the lowdown on why values are so important to us, and how much we should rely on them when we’re making those initial romantic connections.
“There are a number of key reasons why we look for a partner who shares our values,” Hemmings explains. “Firstly, there are core values that are inherited and instilled by our parents, formed at an impressionable age, and even if you go through a rebellious phase or two, will tend to ultimately stick with us. These impact everything from selecting a career, lifestyle decisions and of course, relationship choices.
“Secondly, we currently live in a politically polarised society. Recent events have shaped our opinions and beliefs, making them firmer and more important to us than ever before. Thirdly core values, such as wanting children or marriage – or not – are very rarely open to compromise.”
It’s clear that, in the current political climate, the headlines and stories we read on a daily basis are slipping into our dating lives. But is this a good thing? Are we putting too much pressure on sharing values and missing out on potential connections?
“I think sometimes we are,” Hemmings admits. “Some situations move on eventually and so become less important than when we were in the eye of the storm and actually had a choice, while other subjects – perhaps our secondary values, which are much more variable than our core or primary values, and change as we go through life – we don’t always need to agree on.”
She continues: “If you chose to be vegetarian while your partner remains a meat eater, that can be overcome with accepting and respecting each other’s personal choice. Even politics can be a moveable feast – we tend to lean a little more to the right of the centre as we get older, even if we don’t choose to admit it, often losing a little of that active fire and passion for righting every wrong in the world that we had when we were younger.
“It’s also good to be open minded, to have debate, and to be an effective listener, as your partner may give you a perspective on a topic that you hadn’t really considered before. All of that is much healthier and more exciting in a relationship than being mirror images of each other, agreeing on everything at all times, which ultimately can get a bit stale and dull.”
With this in mind, then, it’s clear that relying too heavily on the political attitudes of a potential partner to make that initial connection could be a bit of a problem. As Hemmings says, as long as we keep an open mind and remain open to debate, it can even be beneficial to not see eye-to-eye with our partner, because it helps to keep our relationship interesting – and healthy.
So when it comes to starting a new relationship, what’s the best way to go about communicating and navigating our own personal values with those of the other person? There’s no denying that values are, as Hemmings have pointed out, still an important part of any relationship – so when should we broach that subject?
“While on the one hand we’re encouraged, quite rightly, to keep first and many second dates light-hearted and fun and avoid a number of contentious issues such as exes, money, whether we want to be married and have children or not, politics – and our beliefs – has probably become something that maybe while not ideal for a first date, should probably be raised on a second,” Hemmings explains. “It’s become increasingly important to know what your date thinks about the things that matter to you.”
She adds: “There’s a fine balance between oversharing at too early a stage, which may scare off a date who isn’t yet ready to disclose their opinion or perhaps feels under pressure too soon, and making it clear that your core values matter to you and that knowing that you have them in common early on, can save a lot of time and anguish further down the line.
“It all depends on how much they do matter to you; how much you might be willing to compromise or be open minded to alternative views. It also depends on situation – probably not the easiest thing to discuss in a crowded, noisy bar on a Friday night – and whether you think you might want a second date with someone. There’s no point in getting heated over something if you’re unlikely to want to see them again.
“If in doubt, use your instinct to guide you.”