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From breaking couples up to creating them: IKEA is an unexpected paradise for first dates

The Swedish furniture giant’s stores are not just an economical option for strolling and dining with a date; they also allow you to get to know a person much more deeply than you could over a sushi platter

Two youths lie on the bed in one of the display apartments at an IKEA in Shanghai.
Two youths lie on the bed in one of the display apartments at an IKEA in Shanghai.AFP Contributor (AFP via Getty Images)

-Darling, I don’t know how to tell you this, but there’s a Chinese family in our bathroom.

Tom (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) says that to Summer (Zooey Deschanel) in the movie (500) Days of Summer. The reason that neither character gets upset about it is because they are at IKEA, where the characters in this romantic comedy are on a date. The idea was inspired by the experience of one of the film’s screenwriters, Michael H. Weber. “I went to an IKEA with my girlfriend at the time, and when we were there the first time, it was fun; we were playing house,” he told Entertainment Weekly. He added that it wasn’t as much fun the second time.

For many couples, IKEA is an emotional hellhole ripe for fights, the moment when romance gives way to the abyss of discovering that the person you thought you loved has bad taste. However, what can be hell for an established couple can be paradise for lovebirds who are just starting out together. It is increasingly common to go on dates in that endless space of minimalist aesthetics, where everything seems to be under control and budding couples can fantasize about a perfect life together without anyone panicking about the fear of commitment.

“After a first date in a public place [has occurred] and trust has been built, we can expand our meeting places to be more fun and unique. Creative ideas give us the space to show our personalities and offer fun activities to bond over,” Caroline West, a psychologist and sexologist at Bumble, tells ICON. The dating app notes that playing house is closely linked to a certain romantic idea of love, especially in a place where we find many things to do and to discover about our date or partner. IKEA itself knows that. Last February, IKEA Netherlands organized 10,000 dates at its Utrecht store. “IKEA hopes to have been a matchmaker for the many singles seeking coziness this winter,” the company announced on its website.

Inflation-proof dates

When discussing dating at IKEA, it’s important to mention so-called infladating, a trend in which singles are opting for more affordable dates to combat the high prices of absolutely everything, particularly leisure pursuits. The dating app Meetic has observed this phenomenon and notes that Spanish singles have significantly altered their dating habits as a result. According to studies provided by the application, 32% admit to having a lower budget now than they did six months ago. Previously, dates at shopping malls were the norm; these were inexpensive dates where people could stroll, take refuge from cold or hot weather and eat a meal at an affordable price. Now, such dates take place at IKEA.

A couple holds hands in front of an empty living room at a Chicago IKEA.
A couple holds hands in front of an empty living room at a Chicago IKEA.Star Tribune via Getty Images (Star Tribune via Getty Images)

That’s precisely what Lucia C., a 39-year-old musician, just experienced in her new relationship. “I had been with my current partner for a couple of weeks when they suggested that we go to IKEA together. I confess that at first it was a shock, because looking at furniture makes you think of a common life [together], and you think: but we hardly know each other! But I must admit that it was a lot of fun. We got to know each other better, and over the course of those hours between the unintimate lighting and happy couples, we talked about things I don’t think we would have talked about in a bar. We ended up eating meatballs… While I don’t know whether or not the relationship will progress, and that was not the most romantic date of my life, it was the most constructive and, in a way, the strangest,” she explains.

Psychologist and couples therapist Amabel Bardera Rojo believes that we have reached a point where many have grown tired of the superficiality of classic dating and conversations based on the same old questions. “That’s why it’s not uncommon for some people to decide to go on dates where the context lets a person’s true identity come out to really connect with the other person and get to know them a little more deeply.” However, she warns that “love goes through different phases and if we go directly to re-creating a dynamic of coexistence, we are skipping some key steps for that coexistence to really come in a satisfactory way. When we learn to live together, it is because there is love.”

Too intimate for you?

On TikTok, the hashtag #ikeadates has 29 million videos, so it seems that Swedish meatballs are the new sushi and that candlelit dinners are being left behind in favor of a stroll through the sofa-bed department. Beyond being fun, the latter also inspires a sort of reverie. “IKEA is a place that reflects building a home,” Amabel Bardera Rojo points out. But that’s not always a positive thing, she says. “If you decide to take a date to IKEA, the other person may perceive it as an invasion of their privacy. They may need to get to know you first in other ways. That can lead to rejection and cause the other person to close off and put up walls and barriers because they feel totally invaded,” she warns.

Love among the FRAKTA bags is certainly suggestive, but you have to bear each other’s timing in mind. If all goes well, though, you too can have the headline The New York Times dedicated to an engineering couple whose wedding was featured in the newspaper’s famous coveted wedding and engagement section: “They Passed the Ikea Test.”

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