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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

How Stereotypes Affect Dating

According to Wikipedia, Stereotypes are ideas held about members of particular groups, based solely on membership in that group. They are often used in a negative or prejudicial sense and are frequently used to justify certain discriminatory behaviors. More benignly, they may express sometimes-accurate folk wisdom about social reality.

Anyone who has been a victim of stereotypical profiling, or prejudice, as it actually is, will most likely say that it was a most unpleasant and unfortunate experience. Whatever the reason, whether it be race, gender, religious or sexual preference, stereotypical viewpoints can negatively impact interpersonal relationships in many ways. The most obvious, of course, is that having a negative opinion about a certain “type” of individual, can actually prevent one from engaging in social interaction with a person, simply because of an “idea” that one may have about that person, developed without ever having taken the time to meet or get to know them. And that’s a shame, really, because negative stereotypical profiling, ultimately can limit us in ways that are even more far-reaching.

Stereotypical attitudes on the dating scene, can include all of the same aspects of the usual profiling that our society engages in, from race, to age, to even hair color. The reasons that stereotypical attitudes get developed in the first place, can range from our own usually unfounded considerations, to those instilled in us from friends, associates, and family, to those portrayed in the media by way of news, information, gossip and entertainment.

Stereotypes with regard to interpersonal relationships, can involve ageism, race, religion, socio-economic level, and, one of the most common, physical appearance. Often, stereotypes are invented with no basis in fact, and are made to seem reasonable by association with other tendencies that have only a kernel of truth.

"Ageism" – coined in 1969 by Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, is likened to other forms of bigotry such as racism and sexism, defined as a process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old, more broadly defined as any prejudice or discrimination against or in favor of an age group (Palmore, 1990).

Ageism is manifested in many ways, some explicit, some implicit, such as the presumption that older persons are undesirable, because of the values embraced by society that youth is better and more flattering, in terms of looks, ideals, freshness, etc. Part of the problem that people who are confronted with ageism face, almost mirror the terms “has-been,” “stale,” and “out of date.”

Ageist attitudes are perpetuated in popular culture with birthday cards, lamenting age advancement, as well as the negative images of older adults in advertisements and on TV programs, and the widespread use of demeaning language about old age. Simply the word “old,” connotates unflattering colloquialisms such as "geezer," "old fogey," "old maid," "dirty old man," and "old goat."

In the workplace, institutions frequently reinforce ageist stereotypes by not hiring or promoting older workers. In our society, The American health care system focuses on acute care and cure rather than chronic care which most older adults need. The government engages in ageism by way of federal laws such as a higher federal poverty standard for older persons, job training targeted for younger age groups and the use of state welfare funds which are often targeted at children and adolescents.

Underlying the attitudes, are myths and stereotypes about old age which are deeply entrenched in American society.

On a social level, in terms of dating and relationships, it is unusual that a male, for example, finds much worth or value in “older women.” And when they do find that an older woman is appealing, she usually resembles a woman much younger than she actually is, or there is some financial or other type of gain, associated with the younger man’s interest in the older woman.

And yet, of course, the ultimate double standard, since time began, of men dating, involving themselves, and marrying, women young enough sometimes, to be their granddaughters, continues, without so much as an eyebrow raise.

Aside from ageism, the other broader stereotype involving interpersonal relationships, involves gender-based communication. Patterns of communication in close relationships, concerning women and men are found in people's perceptions of communication styles in relationships. Research has shown that the gender stereotypes, while not altogether false, tend to be elicited by specific situational factors rather than just because one belongs to a specific sex.

In a series of studies examining dating couples, when talking about difficult topics with a partner, individuals tend to exhibit increased stereotypical attitudes and behaviors that they did not exhibit during non-difficult conversations.

There are many ways that gender stereotypes affect interpersonal relationships, and dating. The most prevalent, of course, are the gender-specific qualities that we have, which distinguish us from the people that we choose to date, or socialize with based upon the intention of later becoming intimately involved, or partnering with.

One of the underlying, and less obvious factors involving gender-based stereotypes, actually more directly involves ourselves. For example, failing to accept ourselves for who we are can cause enormous problems. Desiring to be physically like someone else, for example, when, in fact, our body type doesn't conform to those images, can cause a plethora or problems, such as eating disorders. And the fact that masculine and feminine images are portrayed in media, projecting their own psychological mystiques, is no help. Our culture influences us through the images, usually without us ever even realizing it.

Some of the beliefs are so ingrained in our consciousness, so as to become so natural, that we don't even question them. The fact is, that even if we don't consciously subscribe to them as part of our own belief system, our culture bombards us with messages so continually and flagrantly, about what it means to be men and women, that we usually become brainwashed.

The ever-present reminders that are so prevalent in our society, may never be addressed sufficiently in order to replace them with the more healthy ideals associated with focusing on what is on the inside, rather than so much as what is on the outside. Age and gender will most likely, continue to perpetuate the stereotypes associated with them. But we, as individuals, can help to dissolve some of the negative impact associated with them by refusing to embrace and live by the standards presented to us. While it is not an easy task, it can begin with how we look at ourselves, which will in turn, help us to more fairly view those around us. And by doing that, there is a much stronger possibility, that we will broaden our sphere of social contacts, such that we will attract a higher quality of people in our own, individual worlds. All the better to increase the odds of meeting the types of people we wish to become romantically involved in.

It is in this way, that we can begin to take a pro-active, positive approach to dispelling the negative impact of stereotypes in our society.

Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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