The Curious Ways Dating Apps Make It Harder to Find Love
Dating apps make it easier to meet new partners, but harder to fall in love.
Posted Nov 27, 2019
Dating apps have become the most common way for couples to meet in the United States (Rosenfeld et al., 2019). Although using dating apps may make it easier to meet new partners, these apps may also make it more difficult to fall in love and to stay in love.
Too Many Options
Dating apps present us with hundreds of potential partners and most users want a large variety of mate choices (Lenton et al., 2010). We reason that having many options will make it easier for us to find a good match. However, choosing from among too many options makes us less satisfied with the choices we make. Researchers have shown that individuals who chose dates from a large set of potential partners (in this case just 24 options, many fewer than available on most dating apps) were less satisfied than those who had chosen from a smaller pool (only 6 options).
Moreover, individuals who chose from the larger pool were more likely to change their minds and to choose a different partner within one week (D’Angelo and Toma, 2016). The researchers suggest that having a larger number of choices makes us less likely to want to commit to one person. Conversely, those who chose a date from the smaller pool were slightly more satisfied with their choice over the course of the week. The perception that there are other high-quality partners available is also linked to the likelihood of dissatisfaction with a current relationship (D’Angelo and Toma, 2016).
My friend Louise has recently stopped using her dating apps. She finds sorting through the options to be time-consuming and exhausting. Psychologists suggest that choosing from a large pool of potential partners causes “cognitive burden” and “choice overload" (D’Angelo and Toma, 2016). When there are too many choices for our brains to process, we begin to focus on factors which are quickly and easily evaluated such as physical attractiveness, height, and weight (Lenton and Francesconi, 2010).
Choosing a partner based on physical factors may make it more difficult for us to find satisfying long-term relationships. Physically attractive individuals are more likely to end their current relationships in order to pursue new relationships, perhaps because they have so many choices for alternative partners (Ma-Kellams et al., 2017).
When we meet one another in person, we very quickly take in a wide variety of information about one another, including factors like scent, nonverbal behavior, and voice characteristics (Fugere et al., 2015). By contrast, when we meet one another via dating apps, very little information is conveyed—usually a first name, a geographic location, and a few traits or pursuits from a profile. In the absence of detailed information, we tend to replace the missing information with positive expectations (Bargh et al., 2002). We may project the characteristics of an ideal close friend onto our lesser-known interaction partners (Bargh et al., 2002) or even assume that our potential partners will have characteristics which are similar to our own (Norton et al., 2007).
This assumed positivity or similarity may lead to increased liking in the short term, but upon meeting in person, the characteristics actually shown by our dates may lead to disappointment if they fail to match our expectations.
My friend Marcie expressed frustration with dating apps because many men whom she had met in person had lied about their height on their dating profiles. However, after a few more minutes of conversation, she admitted to me that she had lied about her age on her profile. Many people who use online dating services admit to lying about some part of their profile (Toma et al., 2008). While men tend to lie about their height and women tend to lie about their weight, people also tend to lie about their age, occupation, education, and relationship status. Both men and women reported being the least honest about their photographs (Toma et al., 2008).
While dishonesty may make us seem temporarily more appealing, honesty and trustworthiness are cited as essential traits when individuals consider long-term partnerships (Fugère et al., 2016) and these traits are associated with better relationship outcomes such as long-term stability and commitment (Brunell et al., 2010; Wickham, 2013).
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