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Online, Too Many Dating Choices Decreases Commitment

Facing not fraud but fortune, how to screen the abundance of romantic riches.

Particularly for busy professionals, online dating has evolved from a novelty to a necessity. Yet with so many options, online dating can be time consuming given the enormous amount of potential partners to choose from. The challenge in modern times, for many users, is not dishonesty, but decision-making.

Too Many Items on the Menu May Decrease Commitment

Have you ever lunched at a deli with so many menu items it was virtually impossible to order? When you finally manage to make a choice, you are lukewarm about your selection, eyeing nearby tables to see if what other diners ordered looks better than the choice you made.

For many singles, online dating fosters the same mindset due to the overflowing array of potential partners. This over-abundance of options might lead to an objectification mindset and decreased desire to commit to a single partner.[1] This mentality may cause daters to continue browsing dating sites while already in a relationship. In fact just knowing how many options exist online can decrease commitment to an offline partner.

In addition, despite the often exhaustive presentation of background, traits, and characteristics, the process of online date selection fails to account for experiential components of relational compatibility.[2] No one can adequately judge compatibility without live interaction, and a less-than-stellar first date may prompt curiosity as to whether a different selection would be a better match, given the plethora of options. There is no incentive to “settle” with such a smorgasbord of options.

Narrowing Down the Choices: Deal Breakers and Other Disqualifiers

With so many menu items, online daters use methods to narrow down the overflowing pool of applicants. While everyone is (thankfully) looking for different things, there are some common disqualifiers.

Age difference has been identified as the biggest “deal breaker” when browsing online profiles.[3] Research indicates the negative affect of age may impact women to such an extent that they are up to 400 times less likely to view someone of undesirable age, even when all other factors are equal.[4] Other deal breakers are failing to post a photo, and smoking.[5]

Other factors operate as disqualifiers. Common areas of incompatibility include religious differences, expressed goals (having children), location, and other factors that allow you to screen out undesirable applicants before you develop feelings for someone with whom you do not realistically have a future together.

Virtual Honesty is a Virtue

Thankfully, many people are truthful online about their statistics. A 115-pound svelte woman is unlikely to list 95 pounds on her profile. And if she advertises herself as a savvy career woman, she is unlikely to use her high school cheerleading photo which, in addition to counteracting her professional image, might make her look like jailbait.

A 60-year-old woman with a different body type, on the other hand, may be motivated to fudge her numbers and use a dated photo. But given the ultimate goal of moving a relationship offline, she is not going to post of photo that makes her look 25 years old, or 25 pounds lighter.

A career man showcasing his experience, credentials, and proficiency in his field is not going to shave a decade off of his age because the math wouldn't work—making the rest of his profile suspect. Credibility counts, inspiring many posters to ensure their profile is internally consistent, and accurate when compared to their offline presence.

Recognizing that we are our own worst critics, many online daters enlist the help of friends and family members in selecting a (current) photo and crafting the perfect online description. This collaboration is a winning solution because our inner circle has a vested interest in helping us find the ideal romantic partner.

When it comes to sharing photos, the more the better. A profile containing a variety of photos reveals not only physical authenticity but relational diversity, as many posters share photos featuring family members, friends, and even pets. Travel and leisure activities are similarly better displayed through photos instead of merely described in the text.

Quality Over Quantity

Just because there are an abundance of choices does not mean you cannot make a safe, solid selection. After all, your online selection is only the first step to developing a relationship of offline satisfaction.

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert who spent years prosecuting sex offenders. She received the SART Response with a Heart Award from the Sexual Assault Response Team based on her significant contribution to the field of sexual assault prosecution. Dr. Patrick is the author of author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press, 2015), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House 2008). She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. Find her at or @WendyPatrickPhD


[1] Eli J. Finkel, Paul W. Eastwick, Benjamin R. Karney, Harry T. Reis, and Susan Sprecher, “Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science,” Psychological Science in the Public Interest Vol. 13, No. 1 (2012): 3–66.

[2] Finkel et al., “Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science.”

[3] Elizabeth Bruch, Fred Feinberg, and Kee Yeun Lee. "Extracting Multistage Screening Rules from Online Dating Activity Data," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 113, No. 38 (2016): 10530-10535.

[4] Bruch et al., "Extracting Multistage Screening Rules from Online Dating Activity Data," 10533.

[5] Bruch et al., "Extracting Multistage Screening Rules from Online Dating Activity Data," 10533.

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