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The Short Version: Shane Co., America’s largest privately owned jeweler, recently released a study on the so-called Box Theory phenomenon. Box Theory started as a speculative concept proposed by influencer Christina Najjar, who claimed that daters put each other in one of three boxes – the dating box, the physical box, or the ‘I never want to see you again’ box. Shane Co.’s study showed that Box Theory is definitely real and guides many broader American dating trends.
There isn’t much to say about first impressions that hasn’t been said before. We all know there’s just one chance to make a good one, especially regarding dating. And in the era of digital dating, this first impression can happen before two people even meet face-to-face. I think it’s fair to say no one would feel entirely comfortable with a potential romantic partner judging them solely on their dating profile.
Christina Najjar, also known as Tinx, is a content creator who’s risen to popularity on Instagram and TikTok. Endearingly dubbed “The Internet’s Big Sister,” Tinx became well known for one of her most popular dating theories, which she coined Box Theory.
Tinx claimed that, within minutes of meeting a date, each person is categorized by the other into one of three boxes. There’s the ‘I want to date you’ box, the ‘I just want to hook up’ box, and the ‘I never want to see you again’ box. One of the most important aspects of Tinx’s theory is the inescapability of each box – she claims that once someone has been placed in a box, it’s doubtful they will ever move to another one.
Shane Co., one of the leading jewelers in the United States, investigated Tinx’s Box Theory. They conducted a state-by-state survey of over 2,000 Americans, asking survey participants their thoughts about Box Theory and measuring their responses against that of other participants. The study asked respondents questions about how they feel on first dates.
Audrey Small is a research assistant who partnered with Shane Co. to complete this study. She talked to us about the study and reflected on Americans’ attitudes toward Box Theory, first dates, and quick judgments. As it turns out, the Internet’s Big Sister appears to be onto something.
Box Theory’s genesis was in May 2021, when Tinx posted a TikTok explaining Box Theory. As she reclined on a couch, Tinx began the short video with a clever smile and a quick – “OK, here’s my theory.” Tinx continued to claim that when men meet women in romantic settings, the men instantly categorize the women into boxes.
Tinx said that once this box placement is established, it’s unlikely it will change. She said that if a man has decided a potential romantic partner is in the ‘date box,’ the potential partner could “puke on [his] shoes” and it wouldn’t really matter; the box had already been established.
TikTok seemed to resonate with this theory, with comments that touted its accuracy. One commenter even noted that she actually threw up on a date’s shoes on their first date, and it didn’t stop him from asking her out again. One wise comment read: “If it’s right, there’s nothing you can do wrong. If it’s wrong, there’s nothing you can do right.”
Box Theory may have started as an anecdotal concept, but Shane Co.’s study proved it has statistical backing. First, exploring the methodology equipped to complete the study is important. Shane Co. surveyed 2,180 U.S. residents from 44 states throughout March 2023. The company surveyed a representative sample across age, gender, and dating app usage.
The survey asked several questions about attitudes toward Box Theory. Is it real? How quickly do respondents put a first date in the box? What about box mix-ups? One of the key takeaways from the survey was that the vast majority of American daters say Box Theory is not only a real thing, but that they have put first dates into boxes.
Shane Co. sampled Gen Z, millennial, Gen X, and baby boomer singles across all genders and nearly all states. This allowed Shane Co. to size up trends both by state and demographics. Audrey explained some of the study results, delving into gender, age, and dating app usage as she reflected on the survey.
The average respondent said they put their first date into a box within 37 minutes and 14 seconds. Daters in Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, and Tennessee apparently categorize their date even faster – in less than 20 minutes. Massachusetts is the only state where respondents said it took them over an hour to put their first dates into a box.
Millennial study participants put first dates into a box faster than any other generation, taking only about 35 minutes. Gen Z respondents took a little more time at almost 37 minutes, while Gen X and boomer daters said it took them about 40 minutes. While there’s no significant gender gap regarding belief in Box Theory, there’s definitely a disparity in how quickly daters across generations use the box.
There’s not a huge gap among genders when it comes to how quickly respondents put their date into a box. Women, on average, appear to assign a box four seconds faster than men. “Women and men are pretty neck and neck when it comes to how quickly they’re sizing up first dates,” Audrey said. However, there is a significant gender gap in terms of box confusion.
Box confusion is when someone thinks they’re in a different box than they actually are. A resounding 60% of women in the study reported they had found themselves in a box mix-up, believing they were in the relationship box when they were actually in the physical box. On the other hand, only 46% of men in the study said the same. Audrey noted, “This indicates that women may be receiving some mixed messages from the people they’re dating.”
Dating apps have transformed 21st-century dating, so it’s no surprise that there is some statistical variation between dating app users and daters who don’t use apps. About 60% of dating app users say they have put someone in a box based solely on their online dating profile before ever meeting them. This stat is even higher among Gen Z dating app users, 67% of whom said they assign boxes before a face-to-face meeting.
Shane Co. broke down the insights it gathered from the study by the respondents’ age, gender, and dating app usage. The study found that, while Box Theory is a dating phenomenon that is alive and well, daters mustn’t let it discourage them. It can be upsetting to be categorized in such simplistic terms, yet many daters find they do it themselves.
Box Theory doesn’t necessarily limit daters. Instead, it may be a call for clearer communication. Being put into a box is most upsetting when there’s a box mix-up. As long as folks are honest with each other and openly communicate what they want and don’t want from the relationship, the box doesn’t have to be limiting.
Good intentions and good communication are key to operating within Box Theory. Relationships, whether dating or only physical, all benefit from good intentions. Keeping good intentions prevents box mix-ups, as both parties should aim to inflict as little emotional damage as possible.
While daters may quickly size up potential partners, this doesn’t mean they can’t find a real connection. In many ways, quick judgments, especially on potential romantic partners, are simply an aspect of human nature. We’re actively synthesizing new information to help us better understand new people and what a relationship with them may look like.
Audrey said that while this survey didn’t collect information on which key criteria help daters make their box decisions, she assumes it’s the most likely factor. “It’s all the standard dating requirements,” Audrey said, “we’re talking personality, body type, shared goals, and shared values.”
While Box Theory may feel like a relatively new phenomenon, daters have actually been doing this for a while. Before it had a name, daters were deciding what kind of relationship they wanted with a potential partner. If daters maintain good dating practices, Box Theory can help them discover their preferences and relationship desires, and find love.