The Trouble With Online Dating

Articles / The Trouble With Online Dating

The Trouble With Online Dating

Written by Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.

Reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD | Mar. 11, 2019

Online dating is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s society, especially as the stigma decreases. When it initially began, many people did not feel that it was an acceptable way to meet people. However, studies show that this stigma no longer exists. In fact, the opposite is true; many people consider online dating to be a useful tool for meeting new people and even a potential mate. The problem remains that it is still difficult to find a good match on many websites.

Why is Online Dating Hard?

To answer this question, we first need to acknowledge that dating is hard in general. We are so used to the internet making things simpler; we assume that it will also make dating easier. The truth is: it is tough to find someone who is right for you, no matter where you meet them. If any of these dating apps had the exact formula to make great matches, everybody would be on that app and would find a partner. The other thing to keep in mind is that these apps are incentivized not to be immediately successful, but to give the illusion of success. Many apps promise happiness and that you will find the person of your dreams. If an app could deliver on that promise for everybody, they would run out of users pretty quickly.

Another reason online dating is hard is that we have too much information and time to analyze that information. The longer you look at something, the more you will realize that something is wrong, because nothing is perfect. It is so easy to dismiss a person because they have one picture that looks weird, they made a bad joke on their profile, or they have too many pictures with their car or cat. Sometimes it can be better to let go of over-analyzing profiles and looking for what is wrong. By looking too deeply into someone’s profile, you are inevitably going to find something wrong.

Deception in Profiles

Another one of the reasons that overanalyzing profiles is not useful is because invariably, profiles are filled with deception. In a review of research, Abramova et al. (2016) found differences in how straight men and women stretch the truth in their profiles. Research showed that men typically deceive with regards to height, relationship status, and goals, while women are more likely to have digitally enhanced pictures. Some gay men have misleading profile pictures to maintain anonymity, especially if they still are not out to people they know (Wu & Ward, 2017).

Men vs. Women

While men and women actively mislead about specific information, they are also very selective about what they do include in their profile. Overall, Abramova found that men disclose more information than women, while women’s profiles tend to be more creative with the information they provide. Men tend to post pictures displaying their socioeconomic status (cars and money), while women tend to provide more pictures to demonstrate their attractiveness. When describing themselves, men tend to use numbers and talk about their friends, while women tend to have lengthier descriptions including positive emotions.

Too Many Choices

If you read Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance, you know that one of the most significant problems with dating today is that there are just too many choices. Research shows that having too many options can often overwhelm people and make decision-making very difficult. In their now-famous experiment, Iyengar and Lepper (2000) conducted a study looking at two different stores that sold jam. One store had many kinds of jam, and one had a limited selection of jams. The results of the study indicated that people were more likely to buy (make a choice) when there was a limited selection as opposed to a wide variety. Similarly, with dating, when there can be too many options, it becomes hard to pick anything.

What Can I Do?

Well, the first thing to do is to recognize that online dating is not a shortcut to a relationship, but a tool for meeting people. By setting realistic expectations of the app, you also lessen the pressure on yourself to find the exact right match. The great thing about online dating is that it can expose you to people who you otherwise would never have met. So take some time, chat with them, maybe meet up for coffee. Use these apps as a way to expand your social network, rather than as an app that will find the perfect mate.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This blog should not be used for therapy purposes and does not constitute or establish a doctor/patient relationship. This website offers information and links to helpful resources, however, is not intended to be considered treatment.

Works Cited:

Abramova, O., Baumann, A., Krasnova, H., & Buxmann, P. (2016, January). Gender differences in online dating: what do we know so far? A systematic literature review. In 2016 49th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS)(pp. 3858-3867). IEEE.

Hance, M. A., Blackhart, G., & Dew, M. (2018). Free to be me: The relationship between the true self, rejection sensitivity, and use of online dating sites. The Journal of social psychology158(4), 421-429.

Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing?. Journal of personality and social psychology79(6), 995.

Wu, S., & Ward, J. (2018). The mediation of gay men’s lives: A review on gay dating app studies. Sociology Compass12(2), e12560.

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