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The power of a well-placed ‘but:’ How grammar can lead you to your perfect match

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Can finding love turn on the difference between “a” and “an?” According to communications expert Molly Ireland, the answer just might be yes. Ireland led a team of researchers who analyzed language used by people participating in a speed dating event to assess what role language plays in attraction. What they found is that people who use the same function words like he, she, and it are most likely to be attracted to one another. The same is true for people who use the same articles such as a, an, the, as well as people who use the same conjunctions like and, or, but and nor. Daters who spoke a common language were more likely to go on a second date, and were more likely to still be dating 90 days following the speed dating event.

Ireland theorizes that the reason that language use influences attraction between two people is that men and women spend a lot of time talking to one another in romantic relationships. Having a dialogue is part of what creates intimacy in a relationship, particularly when a couple engages in mutual self-disclosure. The process of getting to know someone through verbal communication can help strengthen the attachment bond between two people as they fall in love with one another. But, as Ireland noted, the content of the conversation may not matter as much as the couples’ style of speaking in predicting whether or not they would be mutually attracted to each other. This suggests that in the initial phase of a romantic relationship the individual dating partner’s attention turns to cues about similarities between themselves and their partners.

First date conversations tend to follow the same pattern in terms of content. People discuss their interests, hobbies, careers, etc. The individual dating partners may allow their minds to wander to matters of superficial concerns about their partner’s wardrobe choice or hairstyle, or they may focus their attention on their own anxiety about the date and how their partner may be perceiving them. These first date encounters can be pleasant enough, but Ireland argues that partners should focus their attention on one another and concentrate on figuring out if they share a similar frame of mind. After all, long-term mutual attraction is based on two people sharing similarities; not on two people who are at odds with one another.

On your next first date pay less attention to the topic of conversation and more attention to the words that your partner is using to communicate with you. This could be one instance in which style truly does trump substance.

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