What is it about sharing a meal with a potential mate that brings us closer? How does sharing food bond us? What is it about the experience of tasting, smelling and touching food that directly affects one’s perception of another person?
There are three top reasons our “go-to” move is to share food and dining experiences with a potential mate:
- Food is a message.
- Eating and sex both stimulate the reward center of the brain, the limbic system.
- Feeding and being fed builds trust and rapport.
The Message of Food
The choices we make are a reflection of who we are, what we value and a way to identify ourselves as unique from the crowd. Our choices are personal, including the food we eat and the food we share with others.
When hosting a meal, or dining in a restaurant with a potential mate, we are saying “I can do more than satisfy your hunger. I want to take care of your needs, satisfy you, show you what I know and who I am.” What and how much we eat is a reflection of our status, style and well-being.
Given this, eating with and essentially feeding a potential mate is highly intimate.
We are attempting to do more than satiate someone’s hunger; we are intending to have a shared satiety experience, or sharing the feeling of being content. We are saying, “This is my world and I want you to experience it. Out of every person, I chose to share this with you. How you react tells me something about you, and I’m curious about you.”
Stimulating the Reward Center of the Brain
Our basic human drive is to seek out pleasurable experiences that satisfy our mammalian brain’s need to be satiated, along with the biological drive to procreate. It is no wonder that the conflation of eating with a potential mate comes so naturally. In other words, the limbic system is the third wheel on your date, and the Hedonic response is crashing the party as well. The Hedonic response is responsible for sensory activity, where taste, texture, sight and smell come from. It also influences judgement around palatability, stemming from the memory of a past experience having eaten a food (or associated food).
However, the attraction to food isn’t that much different from the attraction to a person. Positive attraction to a potential mate releases oxytocin and dopamine — those feel-good chemicals — in the brain. Satiety also releases these neurotransmitters. Fundamentally, we are driven towards that which we perceive to be pleasure-inducing. We crave the resultant rush.
Building Trust and Rapport
Love is contingent upon trust and rapport. Why do we share meals? We get to learn about our potential mate and share things about ourselves when we share meals. We get to learn about likes/dislikes, allergies/sensitivities, culture, taste preferences and so on.
The first shared meal is oftentimes not even a meal; it’s a food-involved meeting — for coffee, desert, a drink, appetizer, etc. It is this first meeting that we are allowed a glimpse into who the other person is. We assess from this interaction if we are compatible, and if we could potentially trust this person.
We build trust when we begin to interpret unexpected actions as reliable. We build rapport over several interactions, when we begin to harmonize and feel close with our potential mate. There are times when we will be surprised at how quickly rapport is established with someone we just met. This always involves the desire to continue on in a relationship with the other person. Drinks might turn into dinner.
Developing a Bond Through Food
Meals become a conduit to discover how another person might fit into our lives. The more rewarding the initial experience, the higher likelihood that we will seek out future interactions. Dining together is a prelude toward potentially developing an affinity for another person. It helps us build a bond that is intimate and may just last a lifetime.
We get all of this thanks to the initial sharing of some tasty nibbles and libations.