Online dating is one of the most widely used ways that people search for a relationship today, but does it offer advantages over other methods of meeting new potential partners? Maybe not…
A new research study conducted by Northwestern University was just published in the Journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. The study found that the main advantage of dating Web sites is access to a huge pool of potential partners. But the sites also reduce daters into two-dimensional profiles and often overwhelms them with too many choices.
Is More Choice Better?
The researchers found that online dating is especially good for those who might otherwise have a hard time meeting people — single parents, workaholics, those who are new in town, recently divorced, those with special interests, etc. Today, more than 25 million people are dating online…so you can have quick and easy access to a huge pool of potential partners.
However, the findings also indicate that the concept of creating an online profile is not entirely useful. Browsing through profile after profile “can result in the objectification of potential partners,” the study says. And the average online dater spends 12 hours a week scouring those profiles and staring at photos. The report shares, “people become cognitively overwhelmed” as they scan dozens of profiles. The researchers compared it to shopping at ‘supermarkets of love’ and said psychological research shows that people presented with too many choices tend to make lazy and often poor decisions.
“You end up a bit less satisfied with the thing you choose — like your chocolate or romantic partner. And you’re less likely to commit to that option,” lead author Eli J. Finkel says. “It’s like, ‘Eh, there’s something better out there,’ or ‘I’m overloaded.”
Add to this, the fact that people are rarely 100 percent honest in their profiles – stretching the truth or exaggerating in order to put their best foot forward and attract the most interest possible. Who hasn’t been on a date with someone they met online only to later find that they are older than they said, shorter than they said, heavier than they said, not as single as they said….
I personally used to get frustrated with online dating because I felt that the men I was meeting never felt any urgent need to commit to anyone. It was like there was a faucet of women that they could turn on or off any time they chose. (I’m sure this goes for some women as well.) The attitude seemed to be that there might be something “better” still out there. To me, this sounds very similar to what the researchers are saying above.
Imaginations May Lead Expectations Astray
Online dating also differs from traditional courtship in that people get to know one another before they meet, trading e-mails and photos. When people exchanged e-mails for three weeks before meeting, the study says, they had a stronger attraction to their date in person, but if the correspondence went on for six weeks, the attraction level fell when they met. “When it goes on too long you get too lofty an impression of what a person is like, or too particular,” Finkel says.
I personally call this entering a “fantasy relationship”…where it’s nearly impossible to live up to the exciting and lofty expectations set by long-term correspondance and imagining what the person will be like. Been there, done that myself, and I bet you may have too. It’s better to meet sooner rather than later so you can see what a person’s like in real life, not in your imagination.
Similarities Don’t Equal Love
Finally, the study also found that sites like eHarmony and Chemistry that match you to partners using scientific algorithms for compatibility may not be any more predictive of long-term relationship success. “At the end of the day, similarity predicts very, very little,” Finkel says. The algorithms may reduce the number of potential partners from thousands to a few, but they may still be as incompatible as two people meeting at random.
In full disclosure, I met my husband on eHarmony after dating for several years on Match.com. So, I personally had a great experience with that website. I also have at least 4 friends who met their husbands on Match.com. I also know plenty of people who met their spouses through friends, in college and in bars.
So, what does this all mean really? Online dating…like all dating…is a crapshoot…a numbers game. My takeaway is this: in order to play you have to get in the game, and online dating offers you one way to do that..but it’s certainly not the only way. Just make sure you’re off the bench and on the field if you want to find “the one”.
What do you think about the results of this new study?
Read more about the study:
Photo credit: MissTurner’s Flickr photostream