What a Girl (and Boy) Wants

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Scoping the singles scene for the road rules of dating.

When it comes to finding the perfect mate, there's a widely held belief that men and women are looking for completely different things. Not so, according to the findings of an exclusive Quick Query survey conducted for American Demographics by online market research firm Harris Interactive. In fact, when nearly 1,500 single men and women were asked to rate the characteristics they most desire in a partner, their final lists were a perfect match.

“Intelligence� beat out all other traits, as being an extremely or very important characteristic in a significant other, with 79 percent of total respondents in agreement. Next on everyone's list is “funny� (70 percent), “attractive� (34 percent), “athletic� (12 percent), and “wealthy� (6 percent). This hierarchy holds true across not only sex, but every other demographic segment, including age, income, level of education, race, and ethnicity.

Because what single Americans look for in a future mate is so uncannily similar, we consulted noted psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers for her expert opinion. Is she surprised at the findings? “Not in the slightest,� she says. While she admits that — island or no island — men and women are both prone to give in to temptations of the flesh, “it's that feeling of mutual intelligence that is most important for the long term.� What she does find interesting is the fact that “wealth� scores so low among women. “Ten years ago — when it was more important for a woman to have money to bring up children — ‘wealthy’ and ‘attractive’ might have switched places,� says Dr. Brothers. “Now that women have status, they can look for attractiveness, just like men.�

So now that we know what singles are looking for in a future mate, where do they look for their future date? According to our survey, which allowed for multiple answers, 65 percent of singles say they commonly meet potential dates through friends, co-workers, or family. Other notable venues for hooking up are: work (36 percent); school (27 percent); online (26 percent); and bars or coffee shops (26 percent). Fewer than 20 percent of all singles meet at church (or another place of worship), in line at the grocery store, at libraries or bookstores, or at the gym.

Not surprisingly, there is little difference across gender lines where singles meet — typically, where a man meets a woman, a woman also meets a man — yet there are some remarkable differences across other demographic groups. For instance, a significantly higher rate of blacks than whites meet other singles in church (28 percent vs. 16 percent), waiting in line (21 percent vs. 12 percent), and at the gym (13 percent vs. 4 percent). Those making a second go of it (divorced or widowed singles) are significantly more likely than singles who've never married to meet dates on the Internet (42 percent vs. 22 percent). But this group tends to shy away from romantic encounters at libraries and bookstores, where only 4 percent of them meet potential dates, compared with 12 percent of the never-marrieds.

When it comes to prepping and primping for a date, men and women have slightly different agendas. Dabbing a little eau de toilette behind the ear is more of a girl thing — 76 percent do so, compared with 58 percent of men. Women are also significantly more likely than men to buy new clothes before a date (38 percent vs. 12 percent), put on special undergarments (33 percent vs. 13 percent), and clean their house or apartment (58 percent vs. 52 percent). As for the gents, 69 percent stop off at the bank or ATM for some extra cash prior to a date. But so do 54 percent of women (you can't make any assumptions these days). Forty-two percent of men wash their car, and 25 percent buy flowers or candy. If after all that the guy is still left waiting for his date, it could be because she's plotting an escape route: 22 percent of women develop a plan to get out of a bad date, compared with only 11 percent of men.

Important differences also exist between racial and ethnic groups when it comes to getting ready for a date. For instance, Hispanics and blacks are considerably more likely than whites to buy new clothes, 35 percent and 43 percent, respectively, compared with 21 percent of whites. Hispanics are also more likely than whites to buy flowers or candy before a date (21 percent vs. 14 percent).

When it comes to who should call whom after a good first date, the etiquette jury is still out: 71 percent of women say they've no qualms about making the first call. But even those who decide to play coy won't have long to wait. The majority of guys (64 percent) say they'll call within a day, 29 percent will call two to three days afterward, and 2 percent will wait a full four days before calling. Still it's better (emotionally) to play it safe than sorry. As Dr. Brothers points out, “Many men who have no intention of calling say they will, thinking that's being polite. But if the woman really likes the man, that's the worst kind of torture.�

Shall we?

Which of the following would you most prefer to do on a special date?

Eat at a nice restaurant 43% 46% 39%
Go to a concert, movie, theater 23% 21% 26%
Make dinner at home or go on a picnic 16% 18% 13%
Go to an amusement park, mini-golf, go-carts, or arcade 10% 6% 14%
Go to a bar or coffee shop 4% 4% 3%
Go watch a live sporting event 3% 2% 4%
Participate in a physical activity (hiking, tennis, biking, etc.) 3% 4% 1%
Source: Harris Interactive
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