Looking For Love? Are Your Chances Better On or Offline?
What does the data tell us is the best way to find true and lasting love?
Posted January 31, 2015
Internet dating and marriage has been around long enough that its success and failure rate is being studied. It’s also being compared to more traditional ways of finding love. According to a study led by University of Chicago professor and social psychologist John Cacioppo, more than a third of marriages in the U.S. now start with online encounters. Furthermore, among the 19,131 people who married between 2005 and 2012 and who participated in the study, there was a slightly lower likelihood of separation or divorce and a slightly higher sense of satisfaction in the marriage when the relationship started online.
The results were slight, but statistically significant. Do they mean that you should finally take the plunge and complete – and post – that online dating profile that you’ve been avoiding for months or even years?
Another study says “Not so fast.” Aditi Paul, a social scientist at Michigan State University, writes that it actually depends on what you want from a relationship. According to data collected on 4,002 adults, couples who met online were less likely to get married than couples who met offline.
So what does this mean about your search for romantic love?
There are some obvious advantages to online dating, including that it gives you a much wider range of possible partners, it provides a built-in filter for eliminating inappropriate or incompatible dates, and it allows for – perhaps even promotes – the development of emotional intimacy more quickly than any kind of “real world” encounter. The problem of emotional intimacy is a big one in the digital age, and there are many ways in which, as we all know, our phones, headsets and other electronics add to that problem (if you need an example, just think of all of the times you or a date have checked your phones or even quickly texted someone else while you are getting to know one another). Online communications can feel more intense, more spontaneous, and even safer. Like talking with a stranger sitting next to you on a long airline flight, you might feel freer sharing some of your more private and personal thoughts with someone online, someone who can’t see you and doesn’t have a good reason to judge you. And if they don’t like you after what you share, the stakes are lower than if you’ve actually met in person.
There are also some dangers in Internet relationships, especially those that remain online instead of moving into the real world. Nev Schulman, author of the book In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age and star of the movie Catfish emphasizes that you should not believe everything you read. People don’t always tell the truth about themselves online or on dating sites. But of course, this is true in off-line relationships as well. Obviously, it’s harder to lie about your age, weight or height when a person is looking straight at you, but there are, unfortunately, still people who will not tell you that little detail of a husband or wife at home, or who will fudge about what they really do for a living.
Harville Hendrix, who has written numerous books about relationships, says that we all put our best selves forward in the early stages of a relationship. It’s natural to do that, and it’s also natural to want to believe that this is who the other person really is. And it often is, at least to some extent. But it’s the best part of that person. It doesn’t include all of the warts and hairs and wrinkles in their personality. We only get to know that as time goes on. So whether you are meeting someone on or off-line, think of what you see in the initial stages of getting to know each other as the air-brushed version. You have to spend time with someone in person, in real life activities, and in the world you each live in in order to get a more complete picture.
On the other hand, all of the sites (and there are many of them, including some good ones posted by online dating services themselves) that talk about how to improve your chances of meeting the love of your life online say that it’s very important for you to be honest about yourself on your dating profile. And why not? You want to meet someone who will love you as you are, right? So why tell them that you’re something that you’re not? You’ll inevitably have to face their disappointment, which will end up making you feel bad about yourself – maybe even worse than before you started dating.
And then there’s the component of time. All of the authors and researchers I’ve been talking about in this post agree on one thing – it takes time to get to know someone, and it takes work to be in a relationship. Whether you meet your honey on- or off-line, what’s really important is getting to know each other, learning to trust one another, and finding ways to manage all of the feelings that go along with a relationship. These emotions are going to be both good and bad. In any healthy relationship, there needs to be room not just for love and desire, but also respect, empathy, common interests, kindness, and conflicts and anger.