How The Wrong Music Can Ruin A Date

Many couples have their own version of “our song” — but the wrong one can be a romance-killer. Learn why music has such an emotional impact (for good or bad) on the way people form their relationships.

By Diane Mapes

few months ago, I went out with a guy I met on Things started off well as we enjoyed drinks and appetizers at a swanky bar; the chemistry was good, the conversation flowed, and laughs were flying back and forth. When we left the bar to check
Studies have shown that music can be a powerful force…
out some live music, though, things went south (we were hoping for R&B, but the club had — shudder — bluegrass instead). Suddenly, the conversation flagged… and our chemistry took a nosedive.

Had the wrong music soured our date?

Measuring the emotional impact of music
Maybe so, says Shara Sand, Psy.D., a New York psychologist with a private practice in Manhattan who asserts that loud music, bad music (or even warring musical tastes) can indeed put a damper on your date. “The wrong music could potentially result in your having a less enthusiastic reaction [to a date],” says Dr. Sand, who’s also an associate professor of psychology at LaGuardia Community College. “The more distracted and uncomfortable you are in the environment, the less attention and emotional energy you have for paying attention to the person you’re with.”

Studies have shown that music can be a powerful force that affects both our brains and our bodies. It can improve our health and moods as well as easing the perception of pain. Listening to music can even help heal a broken heart — both literally and figuratively. “When we’re in a good mood and getting revved up to go out, we’ll put on some tunes to get us going,” says Sand. “And when we go through a breakup, we’ll put on those songs that tear at our heartstrings. Those songs communicate that someone else knows what we’re feeling, and it feels good to know that we’re not alone. We often seek affirmation and confirmation of what we’re feeling through music.”

Joined together in not-so-sweet harmony
Van W., a 55-year-old corporate communications maven from Westport, CT, says he still holds bad music responsible for a dud date that happened to him more than 20 years ago. “She wanted to hear a rock group called The Golden Palominos, which I knew nothing about,” he recalls. “The music was supposed to start at 9:30 p.m., but the band didn’t come on until 12:30 a.m. The seats were uncomfortable, the background music too loud, and we quickly ran out of things to talk about. It was a long three-hour wait for what turned out to be unappealing music. That was our last date.”

Sand says the secret lies in each person’s comfort levels. “What bad music can do overall is make a person feel less comfortable in some regard,” she explains. “If I’m trying to meet someone new, and the music is so loud and pounding that I have to shout just to hear myself, I’m generally going to start feeling some negative emotions. And if you’re in an environment that produces negative feelings, those feelings are likely to spread.”

But here’s the good news: the same thing happens when you hear music that you enjoy. “If you like the person you’re with and the music is right, it enhances your overall mood,” Sand says. “If I meet someone and classic rock and roll is playing, I’ll think: ‘Oh yes, I like this music,’ which makes me feel that the people I meet while I’m in in this environment are also there because they enjoy the music. Unconsciously, I’ll automatically be predisposed to like certain people simply because the environment is one that I like.”

Couples and love playlists go hand-in-hand
Rasheda K., a 33-year-old marketing/PR consultant from Detroit, says that music has played a huge role in her own love life recently. “My boyfriend and I
It depends on how rigid the person is in his or her preferences.
have been dating since August, but didn’t get into a committed relationship until December,” she says. “He invited me over for dinner on Thanksgiving and we slow-danced for an hour to some wonderful music — which has since become the soundtrack for our relationship.” And Rasheda means that literally; the couple’s actually compiled their favorite songs into a “love playlist” they share together.

“He’d send me an e-card, and then I’d send him a YouTube video that I thought expressed where we were in the relationship,” she explains. “He saved everything, and we’re putting it together in a list.” Sand agrees that listening to music is definitely an emotional experience — and a sentimental one at that. “We tend to have music we like to listen to on different occasions — romantic music, exciting music, the perpetually popular ‘our song,’ and so forth,” she says. “We also remember the music that was playing when we meet someone. Music has very powerful associational properties.”

Hitting the wrong note on dates can equal disaster
Having the same taste in music doesn’t guarantee a harmonious relationship. Karen B., a 49-year-old from Manhattan with a penchant for Wagner, says she still regrets going out with a fellow opera singer she met during an audition. According to Karen, the man was very handsome, albeit a bit affected (he wore his hair like Prince Valiant — complete with bow — and carried a walking stick). Worse, though, was his unconventional seduction approach. “During dinner on our first date, he took my hands and started singing this aria at full blast in the middle of a crowded restaurant,” she recalls. “I know in the movies it’s supposed to be romantic, but it was really embarrassing.”

Clashing musical tastes caused another relationship to go awry for Karen, only this time, it was with a man who hated opera but loved listening to Rush, particularly when they were in bed together. “He’d be lying there laughing like Beavis and Butthead, feeling so great and charged up. As a classical musician, it was just not right for me at all,” says Karen. “Somebody who likes opera and classical music has a different type of soul than someone who wants to listen to something like dark heavy metal.”

And the stories of bad musical matches go on…

How much are you willing to tune out for love?
Dorothy T., a fortysomething librarian from Seattle, remembers kicking a guy to the curb over his preference for a particular artist. “I went out with a guy who played Gordon Lightfoot’s greatest hits in his car — and sang along,” she says. “There was no second date.” Now-married Steve V., 56, from Olympia, WA, says that he also ended a prior relationship over a particular song. “That insipid hummingbird song by Seals and Crofts was the last straw,” says Steve. “I still hate the damn thing whenever I hear it, along with the one about ‘blowing through the jasmine in my mind.’”

While some people would rather listen to fingernails on a chalkboard than a partner’s favorite hip-hop, country or folk artist, Sand stresses that opposing musical tastes doesn’t have to be a stumbling block for any good relationship. “It depends on how rigid the person is in his or her preferences,” she says. “I know couples who have vastly different musical tastes. It’s just like couples who have differences in other realms, like their political beliefs: They learn to make compromises. In my own relationship, there’s music that I tend to play when I’m at home by myself — or I’ll use headphones.”

Diane Mapes is a Seattle freelance writer and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. Check her out at/em> or follow her on Twitter: @Single_Shot.
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