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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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News and Events

Okay Cupid, what’s occupation got to do with it?
February 14, 2018

On Valentine's Day 2018, dating coach, occupational therapist and USC Chan alumna Karen McCarthy shares insights from her qualitative study on the habits and occupations of dating. Learn more about McCarthy at karenmccarthycoaching.com.

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By Karen McCarthy MA ’04, OTD ’08 with Kimberly Kho

A little over six years ago, I made a major life-changing decision: I left my comfortable life in Manhattan Beach, California, and moved to Ireland. I took a major pay cut for my new job, but I did it for love, certain that I would find my future husband on that little island across the Atlantic.

While in Ireland, I continued teaching and practicing as an occupational therapist and working as a dating coach, which I had also done back in L.A.  Working with my dating clients taught me a lot about dating perceptions and practices in Ireland, so I decided to conduct a qualitative occupational science study on the subject.

Although my clients weren’t exactly in a rush to return to a time of exchanging cows for vows, they did long for a time when dating seemed more straightforward than it often seems today.

Fun fact: In ancient Ireland, strict courting rituals included herbal remedies, magic, songs and superstitions like placing wedding cake under a pillow for sweet dreams of your future betrothed!

While my study was focused on women ages 24-34 who identify as heterosexual and live in urban Ireland, these three insights from the study are comparable to many dating trends in the United States:

1. The digital impact: Dating is now digitally driven and dating apps abound, from Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, PlentyofFish and even Bristlr (connecting those with beards to those who love to stroke beards). With more accessible information, dating activities have also become more creative and personalized, like seeing a concert or going rock-climbing.

2. Pre- and post-date activities: Today’s dating process, as described by my clients, generally follows three steps. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as needed or return to Step 1 if it doesn’t work out.

  • Step 1: Pre-dating activities (e.g., browsing online profiles)
  • Step 2: Actual dates (short and liquid-fueled, typically 30-60 minutes over coffee or drinks)
  • Step 3: Staying in touch between dates (e.g., texting and Snapchat)

3. Marriage is not always the goal: While participants in my study were seeking a long-term committed relationship, they were not all aspiring to marriage. Many participants reported merely wanting a partner with whom to do activities and share life experiences. Could the primary motivation of dating be finding a partner to share occupations with?

As for me, I moved back to California a little over two years ago . . . with my wonderful Irish husband, Tom. The results of my study and my own life experiences reinforce the fact that the occupation of dating will always involve a certain amount of personal risk. Whether you are looking for marriage or just someone to play Frisbee golf with, you have to be willing to put yourself out there.

Happy Valentine’s Day!