Romantic relationships play a huge part in our physical, social and emotional well-being.  Having a good and successful relationship can promote better health (Cohen, Frank, Doyle, Skoner, Rabin, & Gwaltney, 1998), and even aid in faster recovery from illnesses (Kiecolt-Glaser, Loving, Stowell, Malarkey, Lemeshow, Dickinson, & Glaser, 2005).  Not surprisingly then, most of us seek to find a romantic relationship in which we can be happy.  However, should we resort to online dating for the purpose of this?  Here are seven reasons why maybe we shouldn't.

Alphasprit/Shutterstock
Source: Alphasprit/Shutterstock

1.  We make bad decisions

Internet dating sites offer us a vast array of potential date choices.  Furthermore, we sign up to several sites at the same time, then the choice increases.  The luxury of this may initially seem appealing, but in reality when faced with making decisions about which item to choose from a large number, we are more prone to make erroneous decisions.  This is because we invoke different and sometimes less cognitively taxing decision making strategies when choosing from a large array (as with online dating) than when we choose on a one to one basis in real life.  The consequences are that we may end up making the wrong choice.  Our decisions are also affected by the way in which choices are presented to us, and in online dating choices are certainly presented differently to how they would be presented in real life.

2.  We only get a part impression

In face to face interactions we form impressions of others based on their general demeanour and other more subtle behavioural characteristics.  The more information with which we are presented, the easier it becomes to form impressions of others.  However, dating profiles present us with only fairly superficial information about our potential matches, which means that we are not seeing or being presented with the person as a whole. Consequently, the information which we gleam from an online profile gives us very little to go on in determining how someone may actually behave in real life.

3.  Matching does not work

Despite the old maxim that opposites attract, the research evidence suggests otherwise, and we are more likely to become attracted to people who are similar to ourselves.  If this is the case, it would seem a good idea to use a dating site which catered for our specific interests and demographic group (for instance, there are now sites catering for very specific groups, Amishdatingservice.co.uk, Glutenfreesingles.com).  Some online dating sites go even further and purport to connect people by getting their users to complete batteries of psychometric tests with the objective of matching them on the characteristics where they may be compatible.  However, there is little if any real evidence that such matching formula actually work in practice.  Therefore the best we can hope for is to be matched in terms of our interests. 

4.  People are not what they seem

There is now abundant evidence that people quite happily and readily misrepresent how they advertise themselves in online dating sites.  For example Witty and Carr (2004) noted that people misrepresent characteristics such as their appearance, age, weight, socio-economic status and interests.  It was also reported that a staggering 13.3 percent of males and 6.7 percent of females even chose to misrepresent their relationship status, which rather points to the fact that we may end up meeting people who are totally different to how they have described themselves.  It has also been noted that males tend to over report their height in online dating, and consistently suggest that they are taller than they really are. 

More seriously, in addition to misrepresenting the truth in online dating, criminals actually set up spoof profiles with the intention of praying on and extracting money from vulnerable people who use online dating. 

5.  Be wary of online chat

Before meeting face to face, we may engage in a period of online chat.  Walster (1996) suggested that online communication can be hyperpersonal, meaning that we are more likely to disclose information about ourselves, and do so more quickly online.  Research has consistently shown that we like people more the more they disclose to us, and similarly we are more likely to like those to whom we disclose.  Because we disclose more and have others disclose more to us in an online environment, this can lead to more of an illusion of liking someone more than can realistically be the case.  The consequence of this is that our expectations are raised before a face-to-face meeting, where in reality we may end up being disappointed. 

6.  Online is not necessarily a quick way

People use online dating sites for one reason, which is to meet others.  Therefore we must have some expectation or hope that this will indeed be the case, and furthermore (especially if we are paying for the service) that results will be immediate.  Therefore individuals not only spend their money signing up to online dating sites, but they also invest considerable time on this activity.  For example, Mitchell (2009) suggested that Internet daters spend an average of 22 minutes each time they visit an online dating site, while Frost, Chance, Norton and Ariely (2008) noted that those who used online dating spent 12 hours per week on this.  Given all of this, if results are not forthcoming then it is possible that users may give up and stop using the site.  Even though it might take time to get results, typically some people sign up for a period of only one or two months and then lose interest.  There is also the question of a kind of ‘site shelf-life’  If you are on a site for  too long (not successful in meeting someone), then maybe people will start to wonder why.

7.  Will it work in reality?

It is quite likely that many of your matches on a dating site may be geographically distant.  Attraction research has repeatedly shown that proximity is a strong predictor of a sustainable relationship, therefore geographically distant relationships may be rather more difficult to sustain unless one person is prepared to move.  Baker (2002) reported that those people who went on to form long lasting and sustainable relationships with others after meeting online, were those who were prepared to compromise and possibly move house or job, presumably suggesting that those who weren't willing to do this, did not end up with more permanent relationships.  This finding presents a big question for the effectiveness of online dating.  

It may be argued that online dating companies really don't want us to meet our soulmates, they would rather us keep coming back again and again to use their sites, and this way they make more money.

Having said all of that, online dating sites may be of benefit for some good reasons.  For example, there are some individuals who may not otherwise have found partners had it not been for the services of the online dating industry (older individuals, those with mobility problems and those who may be socially phobic).

The choice is yours, but just note that online dating is no panacea.

References

Baker, A. (2002) What makes an online relationship successful? Clues from couples who met in cyberspace. Cyberpsychology and Behaviour, 5(4), 363-375.

Cohen, S., Frank, E., Doyle, W. J., Skoner, D. P., Rabin, B. S., & Gwaltney, J. M., Jr. (1998). Types of stressors that ncrease susceptibilityto the common cold in healthy adults. Health Psychology,17, 214–223.

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.

Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Loving, T. J., Stowell, J. R., Malarkey, W. B., Lemeshow, S., Dickinson, S. L., & Glaser, R. (2005). Hostile marital interactions, proinflammatory cytokine production, and wound healing. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 1377–1384.

Mitchell, R. L. (2009). Online dating: Analyzing the algorithms of attraction. PCWorld. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/159884-2/online_dating_analyzing_the_algo...

Walster, J. B. (1996) Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal and hyperpersonal interaction. Human Communication Research, 23, 3-43.

Whitty, M. T. & Carr, A. N. (2006). Cyberspace romance: The psychology of online relationships. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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