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The Downsides of Online Dating

Three factors to consider when seeking a relationship online.

The Internet has transformed the dating game. Many changes have been positive such as broadening the pool of potential partners and matching people based on preset characteristics. In fact, online dating is now responsible for approximately 20% of marriages! But this article isn’t about the positives; it’s about the negatives. Here are some pitfalls for online daters to consider, and my suggestions for addressing each one.

1) Overemphasis on physical appearance. Dating services that present a brief bio or profile for people to evaluate lead to an overemphasis on looks. Although valuing physical appearance is not new, traditional methods of meeting people such as through friends, or at school or work, afford the opportunity to observe much more than outward appearance before deciding whether to pursue a relationship. The rapid and sometimes shallow evaluations involved in online dating may cause people to overlook partners who would otherwise be a good match. How can you solve this problem? Expand your “type” to allow for a broader range of connections. Attraction can be more intense and long-lasting when a person’s character influences the degree to which you find them physically attractive. Give people the chance to show their character before they are discounted.

2) Disposable view of relationships. Let’s say two people make it past the initial swipe or message and actually end up on a date, the context in which they first met (online) sets them up for further scrutiny. Rather than focusing on a person's positive attributes, online daters are looking for turnoffs. One reason for this tendency is that online dating exposes people to abundant prospective partners. If one partner has too many flaws, it’s easy to move onto the next person. When people meet through traditional channels, they typically spend time getting to know one another before deciding to go out, which enables them to learn each other’s personality and make an informed decision about whether to pursue something further. But if you still plan to meet a partner online, how can you enhance the likelihood of building a strong connection? Seek to develop a friendship first. I would recommend putting “friends first” or “seeking friends” in your profile headline. When you take the pressure off of a romantic connection, you stop looking for flaws and focus instead on commonalities. This emphasis helps build a foundation of friendship, which is key to a long-lasting romantic relationship.

3) Risk of deception. The potential for deception exists in any relationship but the likelihood of misrepresentation is greater online, and some distortions are unique to online dating. For instance, although a person could lie about their marital status or sexual orientation in face-to-face contexts, lying about one’s gender and entire physical makeup is only possible online. One study reported that up to 90% of online daters have been deceptive, which is a huge number considering about 50 million people have participated in online dating (Epstein, 2009). Most online daters are aware of the risks including encountering fake profiles, meeting dangerous people, and experiencing emotional distress, but they continue using these forums anyway. How can you avoid being deceived online? Listen to your gut and pay attention to red flags. If a person refuses to video chat or meet in person, or if they seem too good to be true, they are likely hiding something. Don’t waste your time on someone who won’t give you the respect and treatment you deserve. If you are seeking a relationship and they can’t make the time and effort to meet you, it’s not a good match.


Epstein, R. (2009). The truth about online dating. Scientific American Mind, 20(3), 54-61.

I’m currently recruiting online daters to participate in a study. If you’re interested, please follow this link:

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