Sick of Online Dating?

You may want to give the real world another try.

Posted Jul 05, 2017

Thea Design/Shutterstock, used with permission
Source: Thea Design/Shutterstock, used with permission

By Alexandra Eitel, LP

Online dating is the norm these days, as it promises nearly endless choices, computer assisted matching, and seamless email contacts.  Despite all this, it has not solved the age-old problem of finding the right match and may even create some of its own unique problems.

According to the University of Chicago psychologist, John T. Cacioppo, “more than one-third of couples who married in the United States from 2005 to 2012 met online,” which is another way of saying two thirds met offline.  Among those using online dating, one of the most common words they used to describe their experience was “exhausting.”

Online dating is exhausting

Online dating requires a lot of effort. We have to weed through those who are not serious, or getting over their ex, or worse yet, already taken. Those currently dating online say it feels like a second job, more like a duty than a playful flirtation. Some spend up to two hours each day searching for and communicating with potential dates. And that’s just the beginning. The dates themselves are hard work. Imagine spending entire evenings with complete strangers only to get “ghosted” the following day.

And after all the hard work, online dating may be no more effective or successful. Having more options makes it difficult to make a choice and leaves us less satisfied with the choices we do make. We can’t help but wonder whether one of the other choices would have been better. We often don’t know what we want, and the sheer number of choices online only amplifies this.

Online dating creates false expectations and supports illusions

Online dating encourages us to believe that we can have whatever we think we want. An online dater and friend complains that the women he meets never live up to his expectations. He says he would be happy, if only he could find the “perfect” woman – Ivy League educated and drop dead gorgeous.

A woman I work with says it isn’t difficult for her to meet potential partners online. Her problem is that the minute they want to get serious she feels suffocated and immediately “ghosts” them. She states in her online profile that she’s looking for an LTR (long term relationship). She rationalizes to herself that she just hasn’t met the right guy yet.

Online dating encourages us to be obsessive

People put an enormous amount of time and effort into writing the perfect profile and retouching photos.  There is even a cottage industry of freelance profile writers and photographers who will help for a fee. These profiles are more of an idealized advertisement calculated to attract than an honest account of the people they represent.

It is common knowledge that it is the photos that are often the main focus, while the profiles get a perfunctory scan. On photo-oriented apps like tinder, some find that the search is more gratifying than in-person meetings. Swiping can be fun and quite addictive. We tell ourselves that maybe the next person will be even better looking, so why stop swiping now?

This addictive quality can encourage our obsessive tendencies. Every time we get an email or a “Like” we get a tiny surge of satisfying dopamine. Many online daters constantly check several apps to see if someone emailed, “Favorited” them, or visited their page. Most apps can notify us by alerts or emails — intruding on us even when we aren’t being obsessive.

Benefits of Offline Dating

Before online dating was so ubiquitous, people approached each other at bars, or asked a cute coworker out during a lunch break. Although the choices were limited compared with online dating, there were benefits too.

  • Our intuitive sense about people works quicker and more accurately, when we meet in-person — we usually know what type of person is sitting across from us at dinner.
  • Courtships may precede a first date, allowing us time to assess whether we want to plunge in deeper.
  • Knowledge of each other comes not only from direct contact but also friends, co-workers, family and the community at large.
  • Finding dates in the real world also helps us stay present and connected outside of the digital world — it helps keeps us engaged in our communities and with the people around us. 

Though there are advantages to online dating, like the sheer number of choices and access to people outside our social circles, the real world may deserve a second look.

Alexandra Eitel, LP, received her psychoanalytic training at The National Institute for the Psychotherapies ("NIP"). She is co-chair of NIP's Focus Series and Associate Editor of the journal, Psychoanalytic Perspectives. Alexandra works with children, adults and couples with special interests in relationship issues, anxiety, depression and addictions. She is in private practice in Manhattan. For more information email alexandraeitel@gmail.com.