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As a kid, I once heard my older sister say to her friend, "Shall I go out with this guy because he has a car, that guy because he has money, or some other guy because he makes me laugh?" Lucky her! Rarely are we presented with the luxury of several such date choices at the same time. In real life, we generally meet potential dates one at a time, and make a decision on whether we like them or not. However, online dating sites offer people access to a vast number of potential matches, each of whom are likely to vary across an array of physical and personality characteristics. Further, the potential dates are presented more or less simultaneously.

While on its face, such an abundance of choice may seem appealing, the sheer number of people presented can often turn out to be problematic. 

First, when attempting to choose from numerous items at the same time, we tend to make our decisions in different ways. Engaging in comparative evaluations as on dating sites, we prioritize different qualities, as opposed to when we make a judgment on one individual as is most often the case in face-to-face interaction. Second, when we are asked to select one from a large set of items, as on online dating sites, we tend to employ less cognitively taxing (lazier) decision making strategies. The consequences are that we may make imprudent choices, assessing individuals on characteristics and attributes that are ultimately irrelevant to determining relationship satisfaction.

For those considering online dating, here are five simple tips to follow in order to maximize your chances of procuring a successful match. "Successful" here means meeting someone with whom you can have a sustained and meaningful relationship. The suggestions are drawn from a paper by Finkel et al (2012):

  1. Limit your Potential Choices

    We should limit ourselves to a relatively small and manageable number of profiles within a certain timeframe. In the light of the above evidence, choosing from a smaller set of potential dates should aid our decision-making process, allowing us to select on criteria more likely to predict our satisfaction with someone once we meet them face-to-face.
  2. Don’t Assess Using a Point System

    Because we may be exposed to or inundated with requests from a vast number of online daters within a small unit of time, we should avoid making decisions about potential dates using points or tally-based systems or strategies (for example, awarding points for each desirable attribute). Rather, we should make assessments by imagining how we might have an enjoyable face to face interaction with a potential date, which is probably more like the way we'd evaluate one person in a face-to-face encounter.
  3. Be Open-Minded

    Even though online dating sites offer an abundance of choice and access to a multitude of potential dates, it is important not to be overwhelmed by the luxury of this choice and to start to eliminate people who do not necessarily fulfill all of our desired criteria. This also may involve us taking a reality check from time to time to avoid adopting a superior attitude resulting in the elimination of otherwise potentially desirable dates. Further, we should also avoid developing too many preconceived ideas about potential dates before meeting face-to-face.
  4. Look for what is Distinctive

    Many people using dating sites tend to advertise generic criteria in their profiles, such as general appearance, career, achievements, or sense of humor. These generic descriptions really tell you very little about the actual person—for example, it is unlikely that you will find many people who don’t tell you that they have a good sense of humor. Therefore it is important to try to tease out the rather more distinctive attributes which online daters advertise, and identify those features which tell you more about the person more specifically.
  5. Develop your own Profile Carefully

    Following from the above point, it is equally important that online daters create their own dating profiles carefully, emphasizing their more distinctive rather than generic qualities, and how they differ and stand out from the multitude of others. For example, rather than just saying you have a good sense of humor (which can mean many things), specify something particular about your own brand of humor, or what makes you laugh.

Online dating can take time and effort, leaving less time to engage in real life social interaction. Mitchell (2009) noted that online daters spend an average of 22 minutes each time they visit an online dating site; Frost, Chance, Norton, and Ariely (2008) observed that daters spend 12 hours per week engaged in computer-based dating activity. It may take some time to find the "right" person using online dating; therefore we shouldn’t take early failure personally or give up too easily. If we accept that online dating can take time, and follow the above guidance, then our online dating endeavors can be more successful.

References

Finkel, E. J.,Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., and Sprecher, S. (2012), ‘Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science’ Psychological Science in the  Public Interest 13 (1) 3 –66.

Frost, J. H., Chance, Z., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2008). ‘People are experience goods: Improving online dating with virtual dates.’ Journal of Interactive Marketing, 22, 51–61.

Mitchell, R. L. (2009). Online dating: Analyzing the algorithms of attraction. PCWorld. Retrieved from: http://www.pcworld.com/article/1598842/online_dating_analyzing_the_algor... attraction.html

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