The Online Dating World: Research is Telling us to Enter with Caution
Updated: May 14
In western society, our day to day lives increasingly revolve around technology. Technology has even drastically changed our romantic lives by providing many ways to meet people. Through apps like Tinder, Grinder, and websites like Match.com, and eHarmony, individuals search for their soulmates (or temporary companions).
The once taboo idea of connecting with someone online has become the norm among millennials and even older generations. According to multiple resources such as this report, 10 percent of single Americans said they met their partners online. In Canada, according to a Leger Marketing survey, 36 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 use online dating.
But do our perceptions of online dating align with the realities? Is the wide array of options helping us find “the one” (or “ones”) or reducing our chances of happiness? Are there potential dangers in the online dating world?
Wider Access to Other Singles Can Reduce Your Chances of Developing a Long-term Relationship
Online daters have access to a wider array of potential mates — PlentyOfFish.com claims to have 50,000 new singles per day. As Sternberg, author of The Psychology of Love 101, says online daters are no longer restricted by geography. They do not have to limit themselves to their only available and barely compatible co-worker. You can avoid the secrecy of office romance, and the awkward small talk when it’s revealed that proximity isn’t a substitute for an actual connection, and things don’t work out.
Online daters may have more options, but because of the way these apps and sites are set up, they are forced to compare traits of one user over another. While it may seem like a fantastic opportunity to find exactly what you are looking for, people often cannot tell which factors will influence their happiness.
Furthermore, Sternberg highlights that just because someone says they are funny, witty, or easy-going, does not mean that they are. Humour and many other traits are subjective, and the truth can only be revealed once met in person.
Having access to a large pool of people may also make it difficult to stay happy and realistic in a relationship; the perception that you have all the opportunities if this one fails, makes one more likely to break off rather than develop and work on the relationship in hand. Having less options on the other hand, seems to create the “rose-colored glasses” effect — perhaps out of necessity, people tend to look beyond the flaws of their partner when facing with limited choices.
Screening Others Has Never Been Easier… You're Being Screened Too!
Unlike real life situations, online daters can screen other users without having to ask them for information. Often times, there’s information on people’s profiles that can be immediately accessed — their likes and dislikes, where they went to school, their occupation, etc.
Simply by being member in one website versus another, an educated guess can be made as to the type of relationship the person is looking for. Users of Fling.com may have a hard time hiding their intention behind the site's discreet name, whereas some sites like eHarmony promise more meaningful connections.
Once upon a time, you would have needed to ask your potential somebody where the relationship was going — or to DTR (define the relationship). We may have awkwardly brought this up in conversation, said what we thought the other person wanted to hear, or hoped that they would tell us what we wanted to hear. With online dating, this can be swiftly avoided. But beware: that adorable picture your mom tagged you in — the one where you first learned how to use a toilet — is easily discoverable with a quick glance at your Facebook page.
Attractive Individuals Still Have an Edge
Sternberg also addresses the myth that online dating gives less attractive individuals a chance. Some are led to believe that one can let their personality shine, and their appearance will be less important. In real-world dating, many of our judgements are colored by first impressions, this includes physical appearance. However, it has been found that these judgements translate to the online world as well.
A study revealed that attractive men, possibly due to their perceived confidence, tend to write profile text which was received more positively by women who judged the text without seeing the writer's photo. Less surprisingly, the study also shows that profiles with photos receive more interactions, and profiles with attractive photos are responded to in a more positive manner. As Sternberg writes, “it seems that even online, attractive individuals have an edge in the competition.”
A New Platform for Scammers
Lastly, while these findings may be considered a mere inconvenience, Sternberg cautions that online dating can be dangerous. It has provided a new platform for scammers. Some con-artists build deep emotional attachments through long term relationships, which can last as long as six to eight months. The scammers then invent financial troubles, and ask the victim, who now deeply cares for the scammer, to send money to ease their fake financial problems.
While the instances of these events aren’t very high (about 0.65%), when it does happen, the scam can lead to emotional trauma.
Another study on online dating doesn’t even question the presence of lies in profiles, it simply looks at who lies and how, another worrisome phenomenon in online dating. According to this study, men tend to lie about height and women about their weight — this lying is shown to be intentional rather than self-deceptive.
Online Dating is Here to Stay
Online dating has become more like internet shopping, a very customizable experience with an unpredictable outcome. Whether you have had good or bad experience with it, it's important to stay safe and be wary of benefits and drawbacks.