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A real relationship

Are the British now multiple daters rather than serial monogamists?

Once British singles would go out find someone special, fall in love and settle down. Now there seems to be a new norm - and it's called Manhattan-style dating.

Paula Hall Paula Hall

According to a new survey, unless you've said the words "exclusive", don't expect monogamy from day one. One in four UK men and over a third of women would openly date two, three or four people in the early stage of a relationship. In the classic style of British courtship, your eyes might meet across a crowded pub, you'd have a chat and you might exchange mobile numbers.

Over the next few days you'd swap a few text messages, speak on the phone and arrange to go out for a drink or a bite to eat. Then came the (possibly drunken) snog at the end of the first date and, if you still liked each other, you'd arrange another few dates, same pattern, plus or minus sex. At first you'd just be "seeing each other" and after a few weeks you'd somehow drop into conversation that you were boyfriend and girlfriend. And hey presto, you were a couple.

New York state of mind

In Manhattan it's a whole different game, as viewers of Sex in the City will have seen. You exchange phone numbers ... He might not call for a few weeks and then it's "Do you want to hang out some time?" It might well have taken him all this time to phone because he's busy with the three other women he's dating at the moment. But you're not too concerned ... Until you're exclusive, it's not really any of your business. You meet for a coffee or a drink - after all, you don't want to risk wasting a whole evening if it's going nowhere.

As for snogging, it appears that nice girls in New York don't do that on a first date. You might arrange another date or you might not get another phone call for another two weeks. By which time you've probably been on dates with two or three other people. But this is all OK because you're both been regularly dating different people and there's no need for expectations until you've had the official "I want this to be exclusive" conversation.

Atlantic crossing

To cut a long story short, the latest surveys from PARSHIP show that we're becoming more New York-like in our dating patterns. The average single person in Britain has been on six dates in the last 12 months. The same statistic three years ago was just two.

So we're getting out there more. But are we quite at the point of feeling comfortable with dating several different people at once (during the bit where you're just "seeing each other")?

Well the answer is that more single people in the UK now think it's ok - that's 25% of men and 36% of women, but not quite yet the majority.

Taking it online

Quite apart from any possible Mahattan influence as seen in Sex and the City, the real driver behind this trend is probably the huge growth in online dating over the last five years. 55% of single people looking for a relationship intend to use the Web to find love over the next 12 months.

And with the Internet comes a greater choice of people to date. Everyone is giving it a whirl, from celebrities to doctors and lawyers, but it's no short cut to a relationship. You might even find you're up against some competition. While the Web provides a great opportunity to meet other singles, you might typically have to date several different people before you meet "The One". Basically, no-one wants to put all their eggs in one basket on the first date - especially if you've been emailing a couple of other potential dates.

So now we go on more dates than ever before, and frequently date non-exclusively, but the explanation probably lies more with the rise of online dating than with a shift in core values - or the effect of Sarah Jessica Parker.

by Paula Hall

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