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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Online Dating Popularity

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.

Drawn to Online Dating (Popularity of Online Dating)

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Why are so many people drawn to online dating?

Recently I completed an interview with Dr. Michael Brickey of Ageless Lifestyles Radio. Dr. Brickey asked me what the major draw was about online dating – why the process appealed to so many people worldwide. I believe there are both practical and psychological issues at work; some of these issues are “hidden” and some of these issues might surprise you.

On the practical side, online dating addresses many of the problems inherent to offline dating. In fact, it seems to be a smart approach to dating that has become an accepted part of pop culture:

It saves time.
People have access to more people than ever before, so people can cull a much wider dating pool than they typically offline. This increases their odds of finding qualified prospects.

People use it with realistic expectations.
Customers cannot be characterized as lonely and desperate types who will settle for anyone they happen to meet. In fact, online daters can be extremely selective! Online matchmaking is not for “losers,” but rather for people who have too many dates. Testing allows savvy people to effectively cull the dating pool.

It is private.
The process can be done in your own at home and at your leisure and pace.

It saves money.
The current bad economy notwithstanding, online dating is typically more cost effective than meeting people through traditional date activities.

It is safer dating.
Unlike meeting people in person, there’s a natural “barrier” with online dating that makes it physically safer. Also, there are numerous tools that allow members to screen or even conduct in-depth identity or background checks. Not that these services provide 100% safety and security, but the online dating world seems to have many more checks and balances available to customers than traditional dating.

Online communication can be more honest.
Several studies show that people who are comfortable with online communication easily reveal their true selves and can establish genuine bonds that last when a relationship is taken offline. Plus, some services offer legitimate compatibility assessments. With these, a person can potentially get to know more about another person in a few minutes than they would over the course of a month or more. Legitimate compatibility testing cuts through the red tape and the early game-playing that occurs in dating so you can know whether a particular person is worth pursuing.

On the psychological side, the issues of fantasy or family can come into play. These may sound unusual to you, so let’s examine each in turn:

A sense of fantasy.
It’s tempting to think that all online daters are looking for “soul mates” or life partners. Reality check…they’re not. In fact, some daters communicate with others and establish online “relationships” with no intentions of ever meeting their cyber-loves offline. This can be for many reasons, but it’s not uncommon for individuals to simply fall in love with the opportunities for fantasy that can occur with online dating. The chance to have a passionate affair with a mysterious foreign stranger or to push the envelope of social norms by “stepping out” on one’s existing partner are fantasies more prevalent than most people would care to admit. Well, online dating can deliver this. To be sure, there are even some online dating sites that cater to people with cheating or fantasy on their mind. That said, the well known dating sites work just as well. It’s a huge rush for many people to feel desired and receive flirtations from others; online dating merely allows this to happen on a grand scale. Thus, some people even turn into “serial online daters”:

A sense of family.
Some of the largest dating sites aren’t advertised as such (e.g., MySpace, Facebook), and some of the best run dating sites are actually akin to social networking sites in that they promote a strong sense of community. This sense of belonging can be immensely powerful, especially when a person lacks a “third place.” Third places are settings that are psychologically and physically apart from home and work. They are the core settings for informal public life – places where people relax and network like coffee shops, bars, hair salons, beer gardens, pool halls, and civic clubs. Involvement in informal public life has important psychological, social, and political consequences, and such involvement is made possible by the existence of third places. Yet, sociologists suggest that capitalist society has been eroding traditional third places. Nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century reveal that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations requiring our physical presence, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently and even socialize with our families less often. Consequently, it’s not surprising that many people seeking human interaction flock to online communities, such as chat rooms, discussion forums, and online dating and social networking websites.

Despite the fact that many people do not respond to emails, winks or IMs, online dating is, in a way, an opportunity for people to flirt without rejection. Yes, that’s right, without rejection. A person is at home within a community, and there’s always someone else to pursue when your dating pool is a million plus people! In this sense, there’s always companionship, a new prospect and hope. This sense of family, acceptance and belonging is extremely attractive and somewhat addictive from what I’ve seen.

ll these variables and issues mean that an online dater should give careful thought to his/her reasons for joining a dating site, and in return, be cognizant that another person’s agenda may not match yours. Dating is a fun game, but please don’t take your eye off the ball.

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