Psychology and Relationships

63% of men use dates to become ‘a better version of themselves’—for the other person, it can feel like a therapy session

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The experience of dating is more rewarding for men than it is for women, according to recent data from Match. 

The report surveyed more than 5,000 singles between ages 18 and 98 during the last year.

A whopping 63% of men said dating helps them be a better version of themselves, but only 46% of women said the same.

And 44% of men said dating over the last year helped them grow and improve as a person. Just 35% of women had that same sentiment. 

Why are men leaving dates more self-actualized than women? Perhaps because they are using their date as free therapy.

And women are noticing.

Seeing dating as an opportunity to grow isn't always a bad thing, says Pamela Larkin, a therapist who specializes in relationships. 

"Sometimes we engage in social activities to practice a new or different way of being," she says. "Wanting to grow, and being open and curious about yourself is attractive and shows a great deal of humility." 

But, the intention should be to get to know the other person, too, she says.

Men don't struggle with 'taking up space'

A few reasons explain the discrepancy between how men and women approach dates.

For one, men aren't as self-conscious about dominating a conversation, Larkin says. 

"Many men do not struggle with taking up space in a conversation," she says. "They may not be wrestling with thoughts of 'do I belong here, does my voice matter, will I be heard' in the same way that women's narrative historically shows." 

Sometimes we engage in social activities to practice a new or different way of being.
Pamela Larkin

Men also have less intimate friendships: Only 30% of men reported having a private conversation with a friend during which they shared a personal feeling in the last week, according to a 2021 survey by the Survey Center on American Life. For women this number was 48%. 

It's not surprising, then, that they also report being more lonely than women, according to a 2021 study.

Plus, less men have sought professional help, according to data from Statista. In 2020, more than one-fifth, 22.2%, of women in the United States reported receiving mental health treatment or counseling in the past. Only 11.3% of men said the same. 

For a person with many friends in whom they can confide who also goes to therapy, a date probably serves a very different function than it does for a person with no close friends and no mental health counseling. 

Men are 'trying to get understanding'

Loneliness has few academic definitions. 

One is an experienced lack of empathetic understanding, says Manuela Barreto, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Exeter who specializes in loneliness. 

This means that you don't feel understood. It can be because you don't have enough people with whom to connect or because you don't connect with the people who are around you. 

"[Men] are trying to get that understanding not by having you speak to them but by them speaking to you," she says. 

Women tend to be more affirming during social interactions.

"Nodding and smiling are things women do a lot and are received as signs of acceptance and approval," she says. 

All this is a "recipe" for a specific type of date, one women feel like they should be paid to be on.

Like Larkin said, using a date to open yourself up to new experiences isn't always bad. But, it shouldn't stop there, she says: "I think it's important to share that you are interested in getting to know the person and that you also want to learn or grow as a person."

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