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3 Reasons We Can Get Overwhelmed by Online Dating

Too many choices can make it harder to find love.

Key points

  • Having so many online dating options can make it harder to choose someone to date.
  • Faced with so many potential partners, you're often less satisfied with whoever you choose.
  • You may imagine that your failure to find a mate is because you're picking the wrong people and a better option is out there.
Overwhelmed by Online Dating?
Source: MangoStar_Studio/iStockPhoto

Are you overwhelmed by online dating? Do you find the number of dating sites and potential partners makes you want to just give up and dive into another Netflix binge? If so, you’re not alone. And psychological research on choice can help you understand why.

Too Many Choices

We have easier access to potential mates than ever before in history. Apps and websites give us instant access to thousands—even hundreds of thousands—of dating partners in seconds. But having more apps and people to choose from doesn’t necessarily help you find a mate. It’s in part because of something psychologists call the choice paradox (Schwartz, 2016).

When you start dating online, the process can be tedious and time-consuming. First, you have to pick a dating site, app, or service. There are so many: Tinder. Match. Zoosk. Plenty of Fish. eHarmony. Jdate. Our Time. Bumble. Which should you pick?

If you haven’t given up on the process already, at some point, you pick one. Next, you have to create a profile that perfectly sums you up—or at least describes the person you believe yourself to be, or who you want to be.

What do you share? How do you present yourself? Do you share only the great things or are you going to put some of your real blemishes in your profile? What pictures do you upload? Do you even put up a picture? This process can take hours because there are many choices to make.

After you’ve finally uploaded something, you can finally begin searching for people you might want to date. Scrolling through an endless barrage of photos and biographies of potential partners, you have high hopes. There must be a person in there who would be great for you. Someone who is unbelievably good-looking. Has the same values. Is smart and successful. Likes what you like. The person you’re looking for just has to be on this site somewhere because there are so many options.

Eventually, you start interacting with people. Maybe you even meet in person. Turns out they’re really nice. But then you undoubtedly see something that you don’t like about them. They aren’t really your perfect mate. And you think back to the thousands of online profiles—you must have picked the wrong one. I mean, with all of these options, someone has to be exactly what you want in a partner, right?

How the Choice Paradox Affects Your Dating

We often think that having a lot of choices is great. We believe the more options we have, the more likely we are to find the ideal one. But that’s not necessarily true. In fact, having a multitude of options to choose from doesn’t necessarily lead us to greater satisfaction—especially when we’re dating online.

When you have too many options, the following three things are likely to happen to you:

1. It’s harder to make a choice.

Psychological research suggests that when we have too many options, it becomes incredibly difficult for us to make a choice. It’s called choice overload. It’s like standing in front of a massive grocery store aisle of cereal you’ve never tasted and trying to figure out the one you’re going to like the most. There are hundreds of kinds—everything from granola to oatmeal to boxed cereal. Imagine you’ve never tried any and have to pick one—how do you know which is going to be the best for you?

This same applies to dating online—the more options you have for potential dating partners and sites, the harder it is to choose. Even if you find a couple of potential partners of interest, you may give up without contacting any of them because the sheer number of options makes you feel overwhelmed. The pressure to make the right choice seems more important than just making any choice and seeing how it goes.

2. You’re less satisfied with your selection.

When we have a lot of choices, we actually end up being less satisfied with whatever we actually pick (Schwartz, 2011). That sounds strange, so let’s break it down a bit using our cereal example. After you pick a cereal out of the hundreds of available options, you’re less likely to be happy with it—even if you like the way it tastes—because you imagine that there was probably a different cereal that you might have liked more.

Applied to online dating, after you pick a dating site, or someone to go out with, you’re less likely to be satisfied. Why? Because you’re probably going to think that another site or partner would have been better—even if you really like the person you’re on a date with—because there are so many other people you could have picked.

3. You think that your failure to find a mate is because you picked the wrong person and a better option is out there.

When we have too many options, we think that there is one option we could have picked that would have been the best: We could have maximized our choice potential. Your failure was due to your own bad choice. We could have had the perfect bite of cereal, if only we had picked a different kind.

When you start dating online and realize the people you’re meeting aren’t perfect, you think that the perfect person is out there. You just haven’t picked them yet. This is where we really lie to ourselves because the truth is that relationships are messy. Complicated. And not always easy. And the perfect mate for you may not be at all who you envision when you’re scrolling through dating apps. In fact, it may be that your faulty thinking keeps you from enjoying the dating experiences and connecting to the people you’re actually meeting.

The Naked Truth

Choice is the crux of the human condition. Our ability to think critically and make deliberate decisions is what really separates us from other animals. Yet, having a multitude of options to choose from doesn’t necessarily lead you to greater satisfaction—especially when you’re dating online. The sheer number of dating sites and potential mates can be so overwhelming that you may not make any choices, feel dissatisfied by the ones you make, and deceive yourself into thinking that your ideal mate must still be out there among the options you didn’t select.

Now that you’re armed with this information, try not to let the number of online dating options keep you from enjoying your dating experiences and meeting new people. Although the number of choices you have to make can be completely overwhelming, they also offer you the opportunity to learn about yourself and others. Try to think of it as an experiment, enjoy the people you meet, and remind yourself that pining over a fantasy person who may not exist isn’t going to help you find love.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP

Note: I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey.

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