The Psychology of Online Dating

(December 12, 2011) A professor at Texas A&M says that you need to be aware of a shifting focus when going from online dating to meeting face to face. Paul Eastwick, who is a assistant professor of psychology at the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M, says about online dating:

“It seems that it would have a lot of advantages on the surface… you have this online dating resource where there are all these potentially available people. But the idea of browsing profiles, going through people one by one – the same way you might go through Amazon; the way you might shop for commodities – is a very different way of thinking about “romantic partner”. And it’s easy to get caught in a state where you’re evaluating traits and descriptions of people that won’t necessarily match up with the things that you start evaluating and the things that start mattering to you when you meet face to face.”

In the July 2010 issue of Psychology Today, Ken Sun, Ph.D. says:

“Online dating/matching (as provided by the commercial websites) lacks the basic ingredients for developing real love. The most evident problem involves its use of several categories (plus a few photos) for the daters to predict and decide the effectiveness and success of their further interactions with one another. This type of artificial “contact” contradicts the process of meaningful interpersonal interactions, which generates love and attraction.”

You can read Sun’s full article at Psychology Today, which is titled, “Why Online Dating is a Poor Way to Find Love“.

Sun says that in its current form, online dating restricts the ability to generate love and romantic relationships. Sun says that for online dating to be more effective, it needs to be “interaction-based” versus “category based”.

Another Psychology Today article, written by Anne Rettenberg, LCSW, warns that online dating can increase one’s depression from rejection, mainly because it’s hard for people to sort the “lookers” on online dating sites from those who really want to date, thus increasing perceived rejection. The article, titled, “Can Online Dating Make You Depressed?” also states the following:

“The attraction of many men to online dating is the notion that it ‘saves time.’ But a relationship isn’t something you can select from a catalog. Sometimes, it develops slowly or unexpectedly. This can happen online, but not on a dating website. Once the interaction is put in the category of dating, the pressure is on. People start evaluating each other with checklists. This doesn’t serve men or women well.”

Paul Eastwick recommends that people don’t online date and only date face-to-face. But the fact is that online dating is here to stay and is quickly becoming the preferred way for people to meet and date. So what tips can help make it a more natural experience? Online Dating Magazine suggests the following:

1) Put the premonition of “checklists” out of your mind when going through profiles. Ignore the categories and focus on what the person wrote about himself/herself.

2) If the service has a “chat” feature, use it to get to know someone better in a more interactive method.

3) Some sites offer the ability to communicate via Webcam or join “online speed dating” sessions. Use these to get to know a person in a more personal and “natural” way.

4) Avoid the concept of “falling in love” with a “persona”. True love is something that naturally develops over the course of interpersonal face-to-face relationships.

5) Realize that not everyone is on an online dating service for the same reason as you. Don’t let the perception of “rejection” affect your self esteem. According to Online Dating Magazine, on average a person will receive one genuine response for every 20 inquiries sent to people on an online dating service. Why so little response? Because:

- Some profiles are outdated and no longer visited by the person that created it (although you don’t know that).
- Some sites require a person to be a paid member to respond and many you send inquiries to may not be a paid member.
- A person may now be dating someone regularly and just hasn’t removed his/her profile yet.

The key is to not treat online dating like a shopping experience. Having a “list” of requirements for a potential date could preclude you from meeting some great people. Moving fairly quick beyond the computer to the phone and a first date will better help you evaluate the relationship potential. The danger of staying too long in the computer aspect of dating is that you could build false relationships with “personas” versus real relationships with people.

What do you think? Use the Comments section below to post your thoughts.

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