This photo taken on February 3, 2013 shows divers putting plastic letters into a post box set up at a depth of 18 meters (19 ft) on the bottom of the sea off the coast of Ito, Shizuoka prefecture, 120 kms west of Tokyo. Lots of female divers visited the underwater post box as they dropped their love letters to their boyfriends or spouses for the upcoming St. Valentine's Day.(Photo credit: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)
Whether it's a first date or potential partner, singles have clear "must haves" and "deal breakers" in mind.
And according to a broad national survey of almost 5,500 unattached adults 21 and older, those qualities, attitudes and expectations illustrate cultural shifts in how singles approach relationships.
Among the findings:
-- 38% would cancel a date because of something they found while doing Internet research on their date.
-- 42% would not date a virgin.
-- 65% would not date someone with credit card debt greater than $5,000; 54% would not date someone with substantial student loan debt.
-- 49% would consider getting into a committed relationship with someone who lived at home with parents.
Among the "must haves," women want respect and men want someone in whom to trust and confide; both rate a sense of humor as key qualities for a partner.
When judging a potential date, both men and women rate teeth at the top, followed by grammar.
The online survey of 5,481 individuals was conducted by MarketTools Inc. for the Dallas-based dating website Match.com.
The survey aims to paint a clearer picture of the approximately 100 million unmarried adults age 20 and older, about one-third of the U.S. population, according to 2012 data from the U.S. Census. However, because Census data indicate only who is not married, there's no clear count on those who are in a relationship or those who aren't seeking one.
Joe Vaillancourt, 24, is "newly single," following the end of a relationship that lasted a couple of years. He recently moved to Chicago and has not done online dating nor has he gone on blind dates.
Vaillancourt, who works in public relations, did not participate in the survey, but agrees that "teeth are very important" in a potential date. "Taking care of your teeth is a good indicator of hygiene."
Such feelings don't surprise biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, a research professor at Rutgers University and a Match.com adviser who helped develop the survey.
"From a Darwinian perspective, good teeth are a real indication of your health -- how much you drink, smoke, what you're eating," she says.
Unlike several of his friends, Vaillancourt says he's "very, very fortunate" not to have student loan debt, even after earning a graduate degree last year.
"Credit card debt has different implications than someone who has student loans ... It would throw up a warning flag for sure and would also depend on whether she told me or whether I discovered it," he says.
In their intimate relationships, 47% of singles reported a "friends with benefits" relationship. And those surveyed last year were more than twice as likely to say it turned into a longterm relationship (44%) compared to 20% the previous year.
Relationship blogger Chiara Atik of New York, author of the new book Modern Dating: A Field Guide, due out May 1, says having a sexual relationship with a friend that is not intended to be romantic is "ever present" among those in their 20s and 30s.
"It's very tempting. ... Here's somebody I like and get along with and like spending time with them. Why not have a physical relationship without the complications of a romantic relationship? I imagine if the foundation is there, it could easily become something. If your friendship isn't ruined and the physical relationship is good, I can totally imagine a lot of couples saying 'maybe we should embark on a more formal romantic relationship,' " Atik says.
As for one-night stands, the singles survey found that 44% of women and 63% of men had ever had one. Of those, 33% said it had turned into a relationship.
Almost one-third (28%) say they've had sex by the third date; almost half (46%) by the sixth date.
The survey also asked new questions about technology and social networking. Among those findings:
-- Almost 28% say they've dated someone they met online; 20% met their most recent first date that way; almost half (48%) of gay men and lesbian women have dated someone they met online;
-- 36% have sent a sexy photo or explicit text;
-- 48% of single women and 38% of men research a date on Facebook before the first date;
-- 6% of singles say they have broken up with a significant other due to Facebook; for men it was mostly because of pictures (55%), while for women it was posts on another person's wall (48%).
"People are jealous and insecure by nature, and Facebook definitely exacerbates that," Atik says. "Facebook has become such a part of millennial dating and how we communicate and how we learn about each other."
Fisher isn't surprised some will cancel a date based on something they saw while researching that person.
"There are breaking points all through the beginning of a relationship," she says. "You have very few pieces of data, so those pieces of data become so big. What you've got to go on can be monumentally good or monumentally bad."
Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY