Dr Sarah Hill Shares Dating Tips

Women's Dating

Psychologist Dr. Sarah Hill Shares Dating Tips 

Sophia Peyser

Written by: Sophia Peyser

Sophia Peyser

Sophia Peyser studies English and Creative Writing at Emory University. She has read extensively about dating, written passionately about love, and imparted friends with unsolicited (but well-researched) dating advice. With a background in journalism and content writing, Sophia loves writing about the tools singles can use to ensure both happiness and safety in their relationships.

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Discuss This! Discuss This!

The Short Version: Psychologist Dr. Sarah Hill specializes in women, health, and sexual psychology, and she has a ton of dating tips to share. From choosing a first date location to avoiding situationships and backing out of a relationship, Dr. Hill has got you covered. 

With hot girl summer approaching and the dating world evolving, it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on today’s dating patterns. Understanding how different sexes and age groups tend to behave in relationships can help you achieve whatever type of relationship you’re looking for, whether it’s a casual fling or something more long term.

Being transparent about what you’re looking for in a relationship can often be difficult. What if your goals don’t align and you have to say goodbye? Is a cool person worth embarking on a relationship you never really wanted? 

Dr. Sarah Hill has the answers. She’s a psychologist and professor who specializes in women, health, and sexual psychology. Her research aims to help people understand the role that hormones, our immune system, and the environment play in relationships for women. Dr. Hill is also a consultant for Cougar Life, a dating website meant to help mature women meet younger men. She appeared in the 2022 Netflix documentary, “The Principles of Pleasure,” and conducts research at the Department of Psychology at Texas Christian University. She has an arsenal of dating advice to share, on topics that span from age-gap relationships to bad first-date spots. 

Stay Away From These Bad First-Date Destinations

Choosing a destination for your first date can be a lot of pressure. The environment you choose can have a direct impact on the success of the date, so it’s important to consider everything from lighting to noise level to general vibe. Luckily, Dr. Hill has some advice. She did a survey with Cougar Life on the best and worst date spots and found that a movie theater is the number one worst spot for a date. 

“Overwhelmingly what we find, and this is confirmed in lots of other research,” Dr. Hill said, “the worst thing you can do when you’re choosing a date spot is to choose somewhere where you can’t talk.” This was surprising to me, as somebody who loves watching movies with others and then spending hours dissecting the plot. Movies are an intimate place where you and a date can bond over a shared interest. While Dr. Hill agrees that movies are great in that they provide intimate lighting and potentially a romantic experience, getting to know your partner on the first date is vital. Save the movie for the fourth or fifth date!

Dr. Sarah Hill
The best first date spots facilitate conversation.

While movies block conversational intimacy, other date spots can provide too much intimacy too soon. Dr. Hill urged against taking a first date to a beach or a pool because swimming puts you and your date in an incredibly vulnerable position.

It’s best to stay away from any dates that require minimal clothing, especially early on, since you don’t want your body to take the spotlight when you’re trying to emotionally connect with somebody. 

Dr. Hill advises sticking with the classics when it comes to choosing a date destination. “Restaurants, bars, coffee shops,” said Dr. Hill, “these are all good opportunities to get to know somebody.” Together, you and a partner can check out a new neighborhood spot and bond over ordering a meal together. Best of all, a date at a restaurant or bar doesn’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want it to. Not feeling it? Just tell your date that you’re feeling tired and have to go home. 

Avoid Confusion by Setting Relationship Expectations 

In the age of the situationship, it’s more important than ever to communicate relationship expectations with your partner — and to understand what your own expectations are. “Decades of research finds that there tends to be differences between the sexes, in particular with what the dating expectations are,” Dr. Hill said. Specifically, women tend to date more for the purpose of forming a relationship, whereas men are more oriented toward short-term hookups.

Age also tends to inform relationship patterns. As women age, there is an increased interest in short-term casual relationships. For men, interest in long-term relationships increases with age. But there are exceptions to these patterns, which makes it even more essential that you check in with your partner early on. 

“If you aren’t brave enough to articulate what your own intentions are, be brave enough to ask what the other person’s are, and then have them show their cards first,” Dr. Hill advised. “That way, you can actually begin to have the conversation about what expectations are, and if somebody doesn’t meet your own expectations, then you can slowly back out of the room.”

Dr. Hill advised prompting the conversation before any kind of sexual encounter. “If nothing else but for sexual health,” Dr. Hill said. “Like okay, if we are going to do this, does this mean we are not doing this with other people?” It’s essential to set boundaries and parameters around sleeping with other people and exclusivity because that reveals a lot about what somebody’s expectations are.

Young beauty woman splitting up with husband
Setting the expectations of your relationship will help you feel secure and avoid miscommunication.

As a college student, I’ve had far too many conversations with friends who want to commit to their partner but wind up settling for an emotionally taxing situationship, in which one person gets to sleep with whoever they want and the other wishes things were different. A situationship is a chance to do everything you’d do in a relationship without reassurance that your partner can see a future with you. Setting clear boundaries in a relationship can help you avoid fruitless, and often painful, situationships. 

To put it simply, we aren’t wired for situationships. “Evolutionarily, it’s like our brains are wired from having survived millions of years in a context in which if we weren’t in a committed relationship with a sexual partner, that could be death,” Dr. Hill said. “We have a brain that’s very much wired for this idea that we might get pregnant and we would have to care for a child.” While we don’t live in that universe anymore and most women have access to birth control, we can do things to protect ourselves from that setup — Dr. Hill calls this a “stone-age mind.” 

Dr. Hill believes that the stone-age mind will protect women as situationships become the norm and men retain the upper hand in dating. “We have this major education and achievement gap that’s happening right now, where you have a lot of women who are doing really well and performing really well, and men aren’t going to college as frequently,” Dr. Hill said. “So there’s a lot more women competing for fewer eligible men.” This means that men have a wider pool of partners to pick from … hence the rise of the situationship. 

If you and your partner want different things, it’s time to go. While leaving a relationship or situationship can be emotionally taxing, it can also be awkward and difficult to convey. Dr. Hill’s advice is to “be direct, be polite, be on your way.” You don’t actually need to be totally honest about why you’re ending things; you just need to clarify that things are ending. “Sometimes honesty isn’t the best policy,” Dr. Hill said, “Especially when it comes to ending a relationship.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Expand Your Dating Pool

Even as situationships and dating apps complicate the dating scene, our generation has been blessed with endless access to a larger dating pool. “You’re allowing yourself to cast a wider net, and you’re getting yourself exposure to a greater number of potential partners,” Dr. Hill said. Thanks to the internet and increased access to other people, it should be much easier to find a genuine connection with a potential partner. “We can find people who have the same hobbies we do, or different hobbies, or people who like skydiving … you can find an age gap relationship, and you can try all of these ways to expand our pool,” said Dr. Hill. 

If apps aren’t your thing, there is no need to feel limited. Dating apps aren’t the only way to expand your dating pool. Dr. Hill mentioned a friend who decided to go to conferences in different fields to meet people, and wound up in a happy relationship with an attorney. I even met a boyfriend in a Trader Joe’s. There’s something romantic about an old-fashioned meet-cute, when you and your future partner lock eyes in a public place and feel an immediate spark. 

woman and man sitting on deckchairs and flirting during afternoon yard party.
This summer, seek out relationships with people who share your relationship goals.

While dating in the internet age can feel scary and uncertain, it has its benefits. “We’re starting to see things change as people become a little bit more open minded about things that don’t necessarily conform to our pre-existing cultural scripts about what a relationship looks like,” Dr. Hill said. People are becoming more open to dating others outside of their education level, or people who don’t fit traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity. 

As we go into summer, heed Dr. Hill’s advice, and seek out people whose interests align with yours and who share your relationship goals. You can find them online, at a conference, or even at the grocery store. A summer fling is perfect because it gives you a few worry-free months to test out a relationship with somebody, while still giving you the option to make things official down the line. 

I still talk about the relationship I had in the summer before I went to college, when we only had three months together and had to make the most of our limited time. That summer remains in my memory as an idyllic time with somebody else that ended before the dreaded three-month mark, when relationship problems usually begin to arise. 

Use summer 2023 to go on dates and learn about yourself. Internalize Dr. Hill’s advice and you’ll be prepared for whatever this summer may bring you.