Boston is considered the best American city for the heterosexual, single male primarily because of the unbalanced male to female ratio. One MIT researcher even developed an algorithm showing that if each single male in Boston were to eliminate all undesirable matches, he is still left with about 2,500 female options.
In other disappointing news, the results from a 2012 survey by Glamour Magazine and Match.com named Boston the worst major city for single women trying to date. One out of every eight men in Boston expects to have sex on the first date, according to the survey, more than any of the other 10 cities on the list. Boston also ranked first in another category with more than a quarter of women reporting that they were unhappy with their dating lives in Boston.
With statistics like these, it makes sense that women would be anxious about dating. But when you look closer at both men and women, it becomes clear that both genders deal with some anxiety about dating in Boston.
Mo’ Choices, Mo’ Problems
According to social psychologists, too many options can decrease a person’s contentment. This theory says that more options can cause people to become “maximizers,’’ where they review every available option from fear of making the wrong choice, resulting in that person feeling fatigued and having heightened sensitivities for disappointment, ultimately leading them to not fully engage or enjoy their choice.
Then, after a person feels frustrated with their chosen option, they tend to disengage, imagining that the other passed up options may be better. Remember the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side?’’
I would argue that it psychologically beneficial for Boston men to feel like they have a plethora of choices when dating. Dating can arouse the most euphoric feelings and also evoke intense emotions of insecurity, helplessness, and vulnerability.
But on the other side, Boston men may actually be burdened by their plethora of choices. Instead of preserving their energy to engage one lovely woman, pursue emotional intimacy, and negotiate the necessary conflicts associated with developing a relationship, Boston men are more likely to be distracted by hopes of an escape route of 2,500 women who they imagine might be emotionally easier or a more perfect match.
For Boston women, dating is like a Black Friday Sale
Have you ever heard about how retailers use the concept of scarcity to increase revenue for events like Black Friday sales? Retailers are able to create and control an environment of “perceived scarcity,’’ making people focus on short-term possibility of losing out on a deal and acting impulsively to save money, even though in reality they will likely have other opportunities to receive the same or better deal at some point down the road.
In Boston, women’s choices are likely motivated by perceived scarcity. I say “perceived’’ because the gender ratio, while in men’s favor, is still only slight. Boston men are more scarce than women, but there are still plenty for her. However, this perceived scarcity manifests so much anxiety that Boston women tend to be more fearful of taking risks in dating such as letting a man know about their interests, sharing their intentions for seeking a long-term commitment, or withholding emotions to try to be “cool.’’
The emotional costs of uneven supply and demand
Boston is home to many high-achieving individuals. High achievers tend to want to “get it right,’’ and struggle with feelings of perceived failure, disappointment, and helplessness.
A man in Boston may experience anxiety driven by not wanting to make the wrong decision. He may experience discomfort with his or his partner’s normal, vulnerable emotions needed for intimacy and commitment, making it more likely for him to disengage and consider other options, rather than push through in his current circumstance.
Boston women, also high achievers, feel that they have limited opportunities to “succeed’’ in the dating game. She may interpret someone’s unmatched interest as a failure on her part. Therefore, she may engage in placating behaviors and withhold her needs for fear of losing what she imagines to be her last opportunity, only increasing her frustration and sense of hopelessness around finding a long-term commitment.
Regardless of the environmental challenges of Boston, singles here can still enjoy and gain more confidence in the process of dating. It is not a lost cause if you find yourself experiencing these types of anxieties and worries. Just the act of noticing them empowers you to be able to make changes in your dating behavior, such as improving your communication of your needs and expectations.
What are your thoughts about this psychological explanation of gender differences in the Boston dating scene?
Dr. Monica O’Neal is a Harvard-trained, licensed clinical psychologist with a diverse clinical background. She currently maintains a private practice in the Back Bay in Boston where she specializes in treating adults with anxiety, depression, body image disorders, trauma, and relationship challenges, to name a few.