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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Online Dating Sites Popularity | Meeting Offline

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Online Dating Sites Losing Edge?
Meeting Offline

Are online dating sites losing their edge and popularity?


Online dating sites are powerful tools to expand your social circle and make new romantic connections. But they’re only as good as the people who frequent them. Online dating sites work very hard to build communities of great people – and by great I mean sexy, attractive and close to where you live. But there are other types of sites, called social networking sites, which also work like dating sites though they don’t exactly hype that fact.

You can always recognize one of these effective social networking sites because online dating services love to advertise on them. In a sense, online dating sites are losing some of their edge and popularity because social networking sites are free, full of the desirable and hip crowd and promote new and uncensored forms of personal expression. Some hugely popular examples are MySpace and YouTube. These communities are dynamic and full of personality and edginess. That’s an extremely compelling mixture for attracting people that online dating sites can’t quite duplicate.

Online dating sites are more about individuals, as opposed to communities. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the free site Plenty-of-Fish (which boasts user-generated content) and OKCupid! (which boasts fun tests and quizzes to serve as ice breakers and rapport builders). And then there are some niche sites that by their very nature have a foundation of users with common-interest. The bottom line is that singles should not limit themselves to “traditional” dating sites. Branch out and explore social networking sites and niche dating sites. Online dating should be fun…and many of the real innovations and edgy communities that make it so fun are actually outside the mainstream sites we all know too well.

What should I know about people before meeting them offline?
I get this question quite a bit and have commented on it before. However, this time I’ve asked a large number of actual online daters to discover what they personally find out about people before deciding to meet them offline. Here are the top ten issues!

1) The person’s real name

2) Whether the person lives on his/her own or with others or even still lives at home

3) Something about the person’s “roots” to get a sense of where they came from

4) How the person makes a living

5) The person’s personal values

6) What the person does for fun – his/her leisure preferences and energy level

7) The degree to which the person uses any legal or illicit substances

8) What the person is currently seeking in a relationship (causal, serious or up for grabs)

9) The person’s criminal history, if any

10) Whether the person has any children and how many

I can’t really disagree with any of these topics; though I wonder how often people tell the truth about some of these things at first. Dating is perhaps the most important “ad campaign” a person ever levies, so it’s not surprising that people put their best foot forward and try to make a great impression. Of course, this means that sometimes people knowingly or unwittingly distort the facts.

Studies on assessment and profiling indicate that people modify their behavior in two primary ways. First, people can give honest but inflated self-descriptions reflecting a lack of insight and an unconscious bias toward favorable self-portrayal (“self-deception”). This is a variation of social desirability bias. While it is important to promote candor and truth in personal profiles and communications, it is important to understand that virtually everyone exhibits social desirability biases to some extent. Here individuals are often acting naturally out of a healthy self-image and are expressing a need to be liked and accepted (as opposed to being insecure).

The second and more serious form of social desirability is what social scientists refer to as “impression management.” This term applies when people consciously use inflated self-descriptions, faking or lying due to a hypersensitivity to situational self-presentation demands.

Both behaviors (self deception and impression management) are likely at work in online dating profiles and communications (as well as in offline dating). I believe that the “tools” of online dating -- along with supportive education -- can help reduce both behaviors. Of course, quality compatibility/ personality assessments can be a legitimate part of that process. Social scientists have long documented that the general public is typically horrible at self-assessment, so tests and assessments can help individuals get to know themselves better -- and that goes for both the positive and negative.

The process of getting to know and accept oneself (all of oneself) is the goal here... and dating services should be among the first providers of such services if they truly care about helping customers succeed.

Related Links:
» Dr. Jim on Meeting Offline

» Offline Meeting

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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