Bad Surveys and Worse Relationships

Tim Boden


Benjamin Franklin once said that ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. These days, if you have even the vaguest involvement with the media, you can add to that list of unpleasant inevitables ‘getting spammed by PR types’. Though Vada is but a minnow in the roiling sea of online journalism, we often get correspondence from people hoping that we might name-drop their company or product in an article.

One of the most popular kinds of promotional press release is the statistically dubious survey. You know the sort – pick up any paper, tabloid or broadsheet, on any given day, and chances are you’ll find some article or other along the lines of ‘study finds that 75% of women are secretly worried they smell of wee’, with a final paragraph that mentions that the ‘study’ was an online survey commissioned by Tena Lady. They’re popular because they reliably grab readers’ attention and the PR company does the survey and writes a template article which only needs a little rewriting to fit the house style. With the print media in particular under high pressure to fill more pages with fewer staff and resources, such articles are a quick fix whenever there’s space that needs filling.

Which is all by way of explaining why, the other day, I received an email from something describing itself as an ‘infidelity dating website’, containing a pre-written article about the ten things people find most annoying in a relationship. This raised all sorts of questions, from ‘since when have people needed specific websites in order to cheat on their partners?’ to ‘why should I take relationship advice from people who don’t even have the moral backbone to ditch a partner before looking for a new one?’ to ‘why would you email a gay magazine with a survey entirely based on the opinions of heterosexual people?’. But then I decided that maybe this was a valuable learning opportunity. Assuming these few hundred cheats-in-potentia constitute a representative sample of the general public – which they probably don’t – what advice can be taken from this data?


The lists are divided up by gender, with men’s reasons for growing dissatisfied with their girlfriends and vice versa, but whether due to a limited range of options from which to pick or because the sexes have more in common than sometimes supposed, there’s a great deal of overlap between the two. Men and women alike listed laziness, whininess, cheapness and poor personal hygiene as major annoyances, which really should go without saying – if you need a magazine article to tell you that being a grumpy, smelly, tight-fisted slacker is unlikely to endear you to your partner, you have problems that reading lifestyle publications won’t fix.

More revealing, perhaps, are where the lists differ. The second most popular complaint from the guys surveyed is that their girlfriend is unattractive, which rather begs the question of why they began dating her in the first place – and a little lower down, ‘too much body hair’ is considered so abhorrent it rates an entire list entry to itself. Meanwhile, looks don’t even feature on the women’s list, but telling embarrassing jokes and talking too loudly does. The overall impression one gets from these lists is that men just want someone pretty who’ll pick up after them, and women want someone to talk at.

And is any of this applicable to you and me, dear reader? The cheap hack in me is inclined to suggest that a list compiled by gay men would include annoyances such as ‘doesn’t match my new duvet set’ or ‘disagrees with me about who was the best Doctor Who’, with the top reason for being tempted by infidelity being ‘I was bored’, but that would be stereotypical and nasty. More likely, the resulting list would be somewhere between the two for straight men and women, and if you want to be a keeper, then it’s best to be generous, friendly, and scrape the lichen off your genitals every once in a while.

But surely that’s something most people could have worked out already. Instead of illuminating the human condition, this survey instead raises one big question: if these people are so dissatisfied in their relationships, why don’t they just leave?

That’s where I run out of answers. Truth is, what I know about relationships could be written on the back of a postage stamp. In thick pen. For years I’ve watched from the sidelines as my friends have gone through the ups and downs of love – and when things go wrong, I’m not the guy they pour their hearts out to, because as I said, I don’t know anything about relationships.

Conversely, I get the impression that people who are usually in relationships don’t know anything about singleness. That’s the only reason I can gather for why it’s treated as such a horrible fate. Society is obsessed with love. We’re brought up with stories where the hero or heroine gets a relationship as a reward for defeating whatever bad thing it is that drives the plot, and then it’s all ‘happily ever after’ without any mention of the hard graft it takes to really make a relationship happen or sustain it once begun. We stigmatise singleness to the point at which it’s seen as downright bizarre to do things like dine out, visit a cinema or go on holiday by yourself – though I’ve done all of these things, and let me tell you, it saves a whole lot of trouble when you don’t have to care about what anyone else wants to eat, watch or visit, and can indulge your own tastes without any tedious argument or compromise.

Being single is fantastic. You don’t have to care about what someone else’s opinions of you are – you can be as untidy, lazy and cheap as you want when it’s just you. Your days are entirely your own, open to any opportunity that comes your way, whether that be spontaneously deciding to hitchhike to Morocco, or staying in bed all day eating chocolate digestives and watching repeats of the Crystal Maze. Yet even as I write this, I wonder if I’m really just lying to myself to make me feel better; the feeling that to be single is somehow to have failed is so deeply ingrained in me that I can’t even be entirely sure whether I like it or not.

So that would be my uneducated guess to explain how someone can make a living running an ‘infidelity dating website’, and why people stay in relationships they’re clearly dissatisfied with – because some people would rather be unhappy but partnered than run the risk of being alone for a while. Which, frankly, is sad. Life’s too short to spend with people who are getting you down; if you feel yourself reaching that point, just get out. And if it really bugs you – well, hey, I’m available. And I’ve got all these chocolate digestives going spare. How about it, fellas?

About Tim Boden

Tim Boden has been a grumpy old man since he was about 13. Born and raised in the darkest East Midlands, he now lives in Australia as part of an ongoing project to avoid getting a proper job and settling down for as long as reasonably possible. His interests include comics, beer, rugby league, 20th-century history and other things mostly favoured by middle-aged men who spend a lot of time in sheds. He has very strong opinions on vegetables.