Saturday, August 31, 2013

Social Network Support and Mini-Matchmaking: A Challenge

Good afternoon LOVEanese, and happy Saturday! As you may have seen this week via the LOVEanon Facebook Page, LOVEanon's 2-year anniversary was on Tuesday, August 27. Thank you all so, so much (3anjad, kteer, kteer!) for making this blog such a success! I didn't quite hit 50,000 page views (yet), but I did get about 4,000 for the month of August according to Blogger's stats, and two couples sent me a photo and some information about their love story for #TheWorldNeedsMoreLove campaign. So, thank you for that and for sharing the blog! Of course, you never need to have a reason to spread the love, especially because the world STILL needs more love!

With all of that said, I want to get into today's post. The title may be a bit intriguing, but let me explain what influenced it:

The first was watching 500 Days of Summer for the first time a few weeks ago (I know, I know, I'm about six years too late, but better late than never, right??). Anyways, what I thought was interesting about it was that, aside from the fact that it was done really well (e.g., good acting and directing, engaging plot, etc.), I appreciated that, as a romantic-dramatic-comedy, it took on more of a male perspective. It made me think: how many times have you missed a good opportunity because you didn't know you need to look? Because life isn't about the answers, it's about asking the right questions. Seriously though, moral of the story: we get so hung up over someone who is SO blatantly wrong for us, that we miss out on other opportunities (plus I loved the subtle, unintentional allusion to Inception in it as well).

FYI: Autumn > Summer

The second instance was a recent conversation I had with a good friend about potential dates. When I asked if she had met any potentials lately, she gave a disheartened yet sarcastic, "Haha, no." So, my follow-up response was to encourage her to be patient and I said, "never underestimate the power of meeting someone through a friend."

That's when it hit me. As you might recall, dating and courtship are hardly new topics on LOVEanon. I've blogged about online dating, how chances for meeting a potential partner is limited, and earlier this year, I did a three-part series on dating: part I addressed changing courtship norms, part II attempted to provide an answer for what a date is and what it consists of, and part III includes dating ideas as well as outlined the "rules" of dating. 

I realize too that even two years ago when I started LOVEanon, the conditions for meeting people among the majority of this readership might have been a lot different than it is today. At least, I know for myself, I was in grad school at AUB, so I definitely had ample opportunities to meet new and interesting people. But now, two years later, we go to work, we're tired, we hang out with our single and non-single friends, and many of us are asked almost all the time about our love-life (we're not going to go there). Especially as most of us get out of our early and mid-20s, the entire model of courtship that we may have become accustomed to in high school, college, or elsewhere almost completely changes.

Coming back to the conversation with my friend, it got me thinking. I joke all the time that I wish I could just become a professional matchmaker (I doubt that it'll happen, though haha). But I started thinking about how, as I have blogged about many times before, social network support is incredibly, incredibly important--especially in the Arab world (and South Asia too).

And no, social network support has nothing to do with writing an attention-seeking Facebook status.

On the contrary, social network support, or just simply social support, "is the perception and actuality that one is cared for, has assistance available from other people, and that one is part of a supportive social network." Now, I know an issue for many is that we're being increasingly isolated. In fact, just watch this short video, and see if you can identify with its message:

Does it resonate with you? The fact is, whether it's because of the rise of individualism, the fear of intimacy I've blogged about in the past, the increasingly fragmented nature of both our communities and our idea of community, or as the video describes, the increase in shallow, non-intimate relationships that leave us feeling lonely, alienated, or isolated, we tend to think meeting a romantic partner is something only we can do individually.

What does all of this have to do with love and romantic relationships? Well, social support is a very important indicator of relationship success and satisfaction (Parks, Stan, and Eggert, 1983; Julien and Markman, 1991; Sprecher and Felmlee, 1992, 2000; Bryan and Conger, 1999; Felmlee, 2001; Parks, 2007; Sprecher, 2011). In other words, the more supportive your friends, family, coworkers, teammates, etc. are of your relationship, the bigger chance it will have to be successful and satisfying. Bear in mind that it's not the only indicator of relationship satisfaction, nor does it mean that supportive friends or family will mean everything will always be perfect or it'll work out. But research shows that it definitely helps.

Cue the friends: this is where you come in! While I've been writing, I've been scouring Science of Relationships (SoR) looking for clues and answers as well. What it revealed was tons of interesting information:

1. Friends are VERY important and helpful for helping you to find a mate. According to a SoR article citing Ackerman and Kenrick (2009), "Are friends helpful when meeting potential partners? Or do they compete with you for mates? It turns out that males receive help from friends (of both sexes, but especially male friends who are not single themselves) in attracting desirable mates, while women receive help from friends in avoiding undesirable mates."

Wingmen/Wingwomen: That's your cue!

2. In another SoR article entitled, Where's the Best Place to Meet Someone?, Dr. Benjamin Lee writes (citing Parks (2007)), "Don’t overlook the role of social networks in introducing you to others. Roughly half of all relationships begin when individuals are introduced to each other by a mutual acquaintance, and two out of three people know members of their partners’ social networks prior to meeting. Social networks also take an active role in selecting particularly suitable mates. The moral of this story is that if you don't like your current pool of dating partners, it might be time to get some new friends." 

In another article (Love is Blind. Your Friends Aren't), he reinforces the importance of friends and family and trusting their insights, specifically because "friends, especially female friends, have a pretty good sense of what is going on in your relationship." (also included is a very nice Daily Show with Jon Stewart clip (from 2001 too!)).

3. Dr. Tim Loving communicates clearly that, "Individuals in romantic relationships are happier with their relationships when they think others like the romance and the partner. Our relationships also last longer when family and friends are supportive of our romantic lives." 

Moreover, he also gives research-supported advice on how to approach friends with an opinion about their relationship, as does my friend Lindsey Rodriguez in this article (hint: "So, if your best friend is dating a jerk, what should you do? If you and your friend are close, be honest, but let him or her know you support them no matter what decision they make. Good friends know there is a fine line between being constructive yet also respectful and supportive.")

Moral of the story: no matter what you think of the TV series, friends are very important

Before I conclude this post, I just want to remind you that I did look at the perceived influences of peer groups and parents on the conceptions of love of the individuals I surveyed in my thesis. Interestingly enough, while this SoR article reviewed a study that found that peer approval and opinion was more important than parental approval and opinion, this may only be applicable to Western or American individuals--but not for long. 

Concerning peers, parents, and extended family, what I found was that almost half of the survey participants (96 out of 193) indicated that their parents approval of a romantic partner is important to them, and many of the interviewees desire this as well. 

The survey participants were also not keen on keeping a relationship hidden from their parents, as 104 (54%) indicated they either disagreed or strongly disagreed that they would hide their relationship from their parents if they did not think they would approve of the relationship.

Differences did emerge when comparing between genders. The female participants were more likely to indicate their parents' approval was more important to them than the male participants, with 69 female participants (59%) either agreeing or strongly agreeing compared to 27 males (36%). Female participants were also more likely to indicate they would hide a relationship from their parents with 33 female participants (28%) agreeing or strongly agreeing they would do so compared to male participants (15, 20%).

However, when asked about the importance of extended family approval of a romantic partner, 118 individuals (61%) strongly disagreed it was important, and 44 (23%) disagreed that it was important (162 participants (84%) in total either disagreed or strongly disagreed). Only 13 (7%) individuals stated they either agreed or strongly agreed it was important.  

Moreover, when asked to rank a number of items in terms of their importance in choosing a romantic partner, both males and females ranked parental approval over peer approval, but only slightly--perhaps indicating that, over time, peer groups will transform to being the most salient influence in their lives, or merely indicating it is important among college-age individuals in the Arab world, but not necessarily older or younger individuals.

"Bas, then again, what Teta thinks is important too, mazboot??"

SO! I will once again come back to the original question: what does this all have to do with you, and what does it have to do with matchmaking!?

Well, clearly if friends have such a potentially powerful impact on our romantic and interpersonal lives, then you need to ask yourself, "how can I incorporate them more?" Think about it: I've mentioned it many times in the past, one of the best ways to meet someone is to have a mutual, trusted friend introduce them to you. And while it does somewhat reflect more traditional aspects of Arab culture and society, I think that it is a custom/practice that can be modernized and adapted to fit into our own lives (that being that those around us help us find a romantic partner). If you trust OkCupid or another online dating service more than your friends, then fair enough. However, it might also be indicative that it's time to get new friends. They should be helping you meet new people and potentially even meeting a romantic partner. Of course, in the Arab world but other places as well, when I say friendship, I also include siblings, but especially cousins in that equation as well. 

However, I also caution you: when I say think about matchmaking, remember the tools I have written about over the past two years:

And really think critically about the question, "I know this friend/sibling/cousin, would they really go well with that friend/sibling/cousin?" Remember: it's not a game, nor should you necessarily be hooking up your friends on blind dates because you think it's fun. But you should actively try to take a bigger role in facilitating a good match for a friend, not in a condescending way or one that communicates pity or sadness, but in a caring and also subtle way. This is especially true if you are both single, because then you are each tapping into the other's social networks--and they are bound to be different, no matter how close you are (attended different universities, work at different jobs, like different pubs, etc.).

Are you up for the challenge? Or do you think friends and family members like siblings and cousins shouldn't invade into your life? Let me know! Tell me in the comments! I just hope that this post can inspire, or at least motivate you to be more proactive in helping your friends meet someone nice for them!

Good luck, and spread the love,
-Ogie, MA

Ackerman, Joshua M., and Douglas T. Kenrick. 2009. "Cooperative Courtship: Helping Friends Raise and Raze Relationship Barriers." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(1): 1285-1300.

Bryant, Chalandra M., and Rand D. Conger. 1999. "Marital Success and Domains of social Support in Long-Term Relationships: Does the Influence of Network Members Ever End?" Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(2): 437-450.

Felmlee, Diana H. 2001. "No Couple is an Island: A Social Network Perspective on Dyadic Stability." Social Forces, 79(4): 1259-1287.

Julien, Danielle, and Howard J. Markman. 1991. "Social Support and Social Networks as Determinants of Individual and Marital Outcomes." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 8(4): 549-568.

Parks, Malcolm Ross. 2007. Personal Relationships and Personal Networks. Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Parks, Malcolm Ross, Charlotte M. Stan, and Leona L. Eggert. 1983. "Romantic Involvement and Social Network Involvement." Social Psychology Quarterly, 46(2): 116-131.

Sprecher, Susan. 2011. "The Influence of Social Networks on Romantic Relationships: Through the Lens of the Social Network." Personal Relationships, 18(4): 630-644.

Sprecher, Susan, and Diana H. Felmlee. 2000. "Romantic Partners' Perceptions of Social Network Attributes With the Passage of Time and Relationship Transitions." Personal Relationships, 7(4): 325–340.

----. 1992. "The Influence of Parents and Friends on the Quality and Stability of Romantic Relationships: A Three-Wave Longitudinal Investigation." Journal of Marriage and Family, 54(4): 888-900.


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