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Pandemic shifts priorities of singles toward commitment, stability

The nation's largest scientific study on dating and human sexuality reveals that people have reprioritized what they want in a partner during the era of COVID.

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. — Singles are "growing up," according to one of the nation's leading researchers on dating and human sexuality. 

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and senior researcher at the Kinsey Institute, has studied love and human sexuality for around four decades and says her latest research shows that during the pandemic, "stability is the new sexy."

Dr. Fisher, along with Kinsey Institute executive director Justin Garcia, conducted the 11th annual Singles In America study in conjunction with data firm Dynata, a survey funded by Match.com. The study, published in November, collected data from 5,000 singles ages 18 to 98 and surveyed attitudes and behaviors related to dating.

Among the most significant changes in dating patterns, Fisher noted, is a "historic" shift towards commitment. Dr. Fisher says the number of singles desiring marriage jumped from 58% in 2019 to 76% in 2021.

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"It's really remarkable," said Dr. Fisher. "This pandemic has created what I call 'post-traumatic growth.' They're now looking for something different."

Eleven percent of singles surveyed say they are dating casually, which Fisher says is typical year-to-year. 

"What we don't find every year is this enormous swing towards people wanting to find a long-term committed relationship," she said.

Along those lines, the study also found singles desire a partner who is "emotionally mature" (83%) over a partner who is "physically attractive" (78%). In 2020, the year before, those desiring physical attraction was 90%.

"They’re less interested in what you look like and more interested in whether you’re financially stable and fully employed," Fisher said.

One of the ways Fisher says singles are screening their potential dates for less-superficial qualities is by trying out a video date before meeting in person. It's something 48% of Millennials and 51% of the Generation Z population tried during the pandemic. 

"The young are leading the way, and what’s important about this video chatting is - what they report is that they’re having more meaningful conversations, longer conversations, conversations with more honesty and more transparency, more self-disclosure, this is men as well as women," Fisher said.

You can read the full study here.

Callie McMillan, a marriage and family therapist at The Relationship Therapy Center in St. Louis Park, said the findings are unsurprising.

"When we’re going through a really stressful time as in this pandemic, the relationship can either be a greater source of stress, or if it’s healthy, it can be a source of support," McMillan said. "So if there’s more emotional maturity in both partners, there’s going to be a lot greater likelihood that not only are they going to be able to support each other, but they’re also probably going to be more willing to look at their part and do their own healing or growth, seek their own support so that they can continue to show up for each other."

McMillan, whose patients range from couples, new and old, to singles seeking to improve their dating life, says nearly everyone can benefit from relationship therapy.

"Even if a couple is pretty healthy, there’s always things that can be worked on," she said. "[Going to therapy is] being able to have a party who’s really on the team of your relationship. Helping you see things a little bit differently and helping you navigate as you’re going through that difficulty."

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Posted by The Relationship Therapy Center on Wednesday, January 20, 2021

McMillan added that the pandemic has created more "intentional" dating.

"You have to be a lot more focused and serious with dating, especially if there are some health concerns with the pandemic," she said. "So it does really require people to put a lot more effort and intention into who they’re seeing, how safe is that for them based on their own needs, how frequently are they seeing that person, how many people are they dating at once."

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