Given our fast-paced technological times, online dating is perhaps the most popular avenue for finding a mate. It's also a perfectly suited format for replicating dysfunctional relationship patterns. As made evident in my book, Intrusive Partners-Elusive Mates: The Pursuer Distancer Dynamic in Couples, the pursuer-distancer cycle(p-d) is one of the most common yet challenging relationship patterns cited in the marriage and family therapy literature. This dynamic consists of one partner pursuing while the other distances; the more the pursuing partner pursues the more the other distances, and vice versa. While not a dysfunctional dynamic in and of itself, when chronic or fixed, intimacy is avoided and relationship trouble ensues. For example, if one partner pursues for sex and the other is rejecting or distances from it on a particular night, little may be made of it; but if this same partner is rejected consistently, the dynamic can then split a couple physically and emotionally.
Studies have found that the p-d dynamic was the pattern most responsible for divorce. I've found it to be prominent in dating sites around the world. Why? While all romance starts with a p-d dynamic, online dating usually begins with a great deal more distance. You pursue someone or they pursue you, but you each do it from afar and through a "machine." You're "somewhere in the swamps of Jersey" as The Boss sang, and he may be in New York or for some inexplicable reason: Idaho. No matter, even if he's around the corner he can disappear at any time in part, because you usually don't have any direct means of contacting him until deep into the relationship. You can pursue all you want, and many do, but usually to no avail. Clients who work these sites have told me that people disappear even after several e-mails and telephone conversations. Those shocked the most have had wonderful dates just prior to a disappearing act. It's just too easy for people to start something they can't, or won't finish, and to use the anonymity that these sites provide to "hit and run." I know this dynamic occurs in all forms of dating, but modern technology has made it all the more common. Unfortunately, some pursuers cross the line and actually harass or stalk their distancing counterparts—a scary dynamic that women are more prone to experiencing—although this did happen to a male I know.