“The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.” – Andy Warhol
Most agree that online dating offers people a larger pool of romantic candidates. But is it easier to find long-term profound love online versus off? To examine this question, I will first describe what I mean by profound love and then consider the value of online dating in finding it.
“I date this girl for two years—and then the nagging starts: ‘I wanna know your name.’" – Mike Binder
Profundity and Superficiality
Profound activities are essential for our development and wellbeing; they have an enduring influence on our life and may also shape our personality. Superficial activities affect only the surface of our lives—they are more limited in their scope and immediate impact and they can have a negative influence on our lives, if we engage in them too frequently.
The distinction between profound and superficial phenomena is expressed in the romantic realm in the differentiation between romantic intensity and profundity, a distinction that is seldom made. Romantic intensity is like a snapshot of a given moment, whereas in romantic profundity the temporal dimension of love has greater significance. Romantic intensity expresses the momentary measure of passionate, often sexual, desire. Romantic profundity embodies occurrences of intense love over long periods of time, along with meaningful experiences that help the individuals to develop and flourish. Time is destructive for romantic intensity, and constitutive of romantic profundity.
The centrality of the connection and the dialogue
"Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new." – Ursula K. LeGuin
In her excellent new book, Zwischen Ich und Du: Eine dialogische Philosophie der Liebe, Angelika Krebs (2015) argues that romantic love is not about each partner having the other as his or her object; love is about the connection between the partners. Loving somebody implies being deeply satisfied with the experiences and activities you share with the beloved. She further claims that at the basis of profound love there is a dialogue, which constitutes the nature of the connection. Several empirical studies confirm that the quality of romantic relationships increase with shared participation (e.g., Aron, et al., 2000; O’Leary, et al., 2010).
“Happy people plan actions, they don't plan results.” – Dennis Wholey
In light of the centrality of the connection and dialogue in long-term profound love, choosing a romantic partner should focus on the value of the individual as a partner (more than as a person). Many of the qualities of the individual as a person can also be discerned by others who are superficially observing the individual; the agent has no privileged status in this regard. Revealing the value of the individual as a partner typically requires longer and more profound acquaintance with the individual.
The most relevant criterion for long-term romantic love is whether we prioritize the superficial or the profound in our search for romance, as well as whether we focus on the negative or the positive. There are 4 major ways of choosing a romantic partner:
1. The checklist manner: rejection at the first meeting (superficial, negative);
2. Love at first sight: falling in love at the first meeting (superficial, positive);
3. “There is nothing wrong with him”: detecting profound flaws (profound, negative);
4. Bringing out the best in each other: accentuate profound positive advantages (profound, positive).
The checklist manner
"Some people think having large breasts makes a woman stupid. Actually, it's quite the opposite: a woman having large breasts makes men stupid.“ – Rita Rudner
Establishing a checklist of the perfect partner's desirable (and undesirable) qualities is a common practice. Having compiled such a list, you mark next to each quality whether this is an attribute of a prospective partner. This kind of search, which is most common in online dating, has two major flaws: (a) it typically lacks any intrinsic hierarchy that would accord each quality a different weight—hence, it ignores the issue of romantic profundity; (b) it focuses on the other person’s qualities in isolation—hence, it ignores the centrality of the connection between the agents in profound love and therefore fails to consider the value of the other person as a partner.
The above flaws are particularly evident in online dating where such a list is compiled by each person in her self-description and is typically discussed at length in their first interactions. The checklist is a fast and efficient way of evaluating the other’s qualities, making it an initial useful tool in online dating, where there are many alluring candidates from whom to choose.
Love at first sight
“She was funny and sexy and cute, and I was immediately attracted to her personality. We may speak here about ‘Net chemistry.'” – A man describing his first chat with his woman
Love at first sight is essentially intense love. The great (typically, physical) attractiveness strikes you like a flash of lightening and you want to prolong the time you spend with the other person. Love at first sight can be the basis of long-term profound love, provided that characteristics revealed in later acquaintance enhance—or, at least, do not contradict—those attributed at first sight. Love at first sight cannot be profound as there has been no time for creating such profoundness.
Falling in love in cyberspace is similar to cases of love at first sight: we do not have all the required information, but we fill in the gaps with idealized assumptions. In light of this similarity, we can speak about “love at first chat.” For example, one may detect in the first chat a sense of humor and wittiness and instantly fall in love with the sender. It should be noted that, although beauty has a powerful impact at first sight, the weight of this impact decreases as time passes, when we get to know the person’s other characteristics. Likewise, wittiness has a powerful impact at first chat, but its impact may be reduced once we the person’s other characteristics begin to surface. When wittiness is perceived to be superficial, and more profound characteristics, such as kindness and wisdom, are found to be wanting, the weight of the initial positive impact of wittiness will likely diminish.
Although love at first chat can reveal more profound qualities than those involved in love at first sight, those qualities may still be superficial as the agent has no way of knowing whether the prospective partner is representing himself accurately. However, when the first chat turns into an online, and then offline, relationship, the likelihood of finding profound love increases.
“There is nothing wrong with him”
"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." – William James
Unlike the two previous ways of choosing a romantic partner, this way takes into account profound qualities, and when no profound negative qualities are detected, the prospective partner may be given a chance (Gottlieb, 2010). Compared to the checklist way, the way of detecting profound flaws is more sophisticated and realistic. It assumes the presence of flaws in each of us, and hence it focuses merely on the very profound flaws. Focusing upon profound flaws is valuable, but it involves a more complex search, since detecting profound qualities, such as kindness, is more difficult than detecting superficial qualities, such as external appearance.
In online dating, it is even more difficult to detect profound flaws. People can learn to present themselves in many positive ways that hide their deeper flaws. Offline interactions over a long time are required for such flaws to be exposed.
Bringing out the best in each other
“I’ll let you be in my dream, if I can be in yours.” – Bob Dylan
Although detecting negative qualities is typically more valuable than detecting positive qualities, detecting positive qualities is of great value in establishing a long-term profound loving connection. A positive quality that is particularly significant for this purpose is bringing out the best in each other. Research has demonstrated that when a close romantic partner views you and behaves toward you in a way that is congruent with your ideal self, you move nearer toward your ideal self. This has been termed the "Michelangelo phenomenon." Just as Michelangelo released the ideal form hidden in the marble, our romantic partners serve to "sculpt" us in light of our ideal self, enabling the best in us to emerge. In such relationships, personal growth and flourishing is evident and is typically demonstrated in claims such as: “I'm a better person when I am with her” (Drigotas et al., 1999).
This way can hardly be used in the fast and superficial world of online dating. The ability to bring out the best in each other requires ongoing shared experiences and activities that are clearly absent in online dating.
“Online sex is a wonderful invention. Now, if only everyone could type faster.” — Unknown
Matchmaking online sites promise to expedite two different types of romantic activities: identifying romantic partners, and developing long-term profound love. There is no doubt that these sites can successfully fulfill the first task; it is disputable if they also fulfill the second.
The algorithms used by these sites can be highly predictive in avoiding pairings that are unlikely to succeed (which constitute the majority of possible pairings) but they still leave a considerable minority from which to choose. Furthermore, matchmaking sites claim that their main aim is to predict profound love, but this is very difficult to do when the joint activities underlying such love have not yet taken place (Finkel et al., 2012).
Since profound love is generated by many and various joint activities, the limited types of such activities available online reduce the likelihood of generating profound love. It is very hard to accurately identify the major profound flaws and advantages of a partner through online dating alone. One cannot bring out the best in the other when the relationship lacks diverse mutual interactions and hence what Krebs considers as a profound dialogue. According to Finkel and colleagues (2012), though matchmaking sites’ claim that the essential qualities of a relationship can be predicted from two potential partners' pre-existing characteristics, this is contrary to substantial scientific research indicating that pre-existing personal qualities account for a very small percentage of the variance in relationship success.
In addition, the need to engage in mutual time-consuming activities in profound love is contrary to the prevailing attitude of contemporary high-speed cyber society (Ben-Ze’ev, 2004; Rosa, 2013) where timing is more significant than time. Fast changes are the ultimate model of our cyber society; we are addicted to the fast and the new happening in the constant flux of cyber society and are averse to investing time, including in romantic relations. Indeed, empirical evidence indicates that spouses’ investment of time in their marriage has decreased over time (Finkel et al., 2014). The lack of this investment further impedes romantic profundity, which is based upon spending meaningful time together. Although the reluctance to invest time and resources in romantic relationships characterizes both online and offline romantic relationships, it is much more evident in cyberspace, where everything happens faster and is expected to be easier.
Integrating online and offline dating
“Nobody in his right mind would call me a nymphomaniac. I only have cybersex with witty men.” — Unknown
Often, integrating the advantages of two different activities can be beneficial. In online and offline dating, there are both beneficial and harmful types of such integration.
Beneficial integration occurs when online dating is used to locate possible suitable candidates with whom to start a romantic relationship, after which the partners meet and then establish a relationship offline. In these cases, the properties essential for profound love can be more reliably detected. This subsequent offline relationship should not eliminate online communication between the two—on the contrary, such communication may reveal significant information about each other.
Harmful integration between online and offline dating occurs when, together with the offline relationship, each person also continues his activities on dating sites, in order to further examine other possible candidates. Continuing to use online dating services is a major cause of failing to achieve profound love, as it is very difficult to maintain a long-term committed loving relationship when available romantic options are easier to explore. Persistent and active searching for a "more perfect" partner constitutes a major threat to achieving long-term profound love. Continuing to use dating sites after they provided you with a suitable candidate has a significant negative impact upon the likelihood of developing profound love with that (or any other) individual.
To sum up: Online dating sites are excellent tools for locating possible romantic candidates but much less useful or effective in establishing long-term profound love.
Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., Heyman, R. E., (2000). Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 273-284.
Ben-Ze'ev, A. (2004). Love Online: Emotions on the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Drigotas S.M., Rusbult C.E., Wieselquist J., Whitton S. (1999). Close partner as sculptor of the ideal self: Behavioral affirmation and the Michelangelo phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 293–323.
Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychology Science in the Public Interest, 13, 3–66.
Finkel, E. J., Hui, C. M., Carswell, K. L., & Larson, G. M. (2014). The suffocation of marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen. Psychological Inquiry, 25, 1–41.
Gottlieb, L. (2010). Marry Him, The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough. New York: New American Library.
Krebs, A. (2015). Zwischen Ich und Du. Eine dialogische Philosophie der Liebe. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
O'Leary, K. D., Acevedo, B. P. Aron, A., Huddy, L. Mashek, D. (2012). Is long-term love more than a rare phenomenon? If so, what are its correlates? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 241-249.
Rosa, H. (2013). Social Acceleration: A new theory of modernity. New York: Columbia UP.