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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.


Social Networking Sites vs. Online Dating Sites

In this installment of Office Hours with Dr. Jim, it's online dating sites vs. social networking sites...

I read your article about how online dating will not increase a person's social skills. Well written. Have you ever met a woman from a social networking site? If so, have you ever written an article about it? Now there are plenty of places to communicate with high quality women online without paying for a monthly membership to email them.  What's the reason you prefer dating sites more than social network sites?

I’m no stranger to connecting with others in cyberspace, since researching the process of online dating is one of my responsibilities. However, I’ve never written about my personal experiences. That said, my experiences include strolling through social networking websites of all types. In fact, when speaking to the media I take the opportunity frequently to characterize sites like Facebook and MySpace as the largest online dating sites. While we think of these portals as purely for social networking, it becomes clear that many people use these sites with “romantic” intentions of some type in mind. At the very least, people are open to that possibility when communicating with others. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Face it, healthy, functioning boys and girls and men and women will eventually flirt wherever they are -- online or offline.

Social networking sites have advantages and disadvantages when looking for love, as do strict dating sites. Here’s my take on things…

Social Networking Sites


  • The number of active members overwhelmingly trumps dating sites.

  • Many of these sites are free.

  • These sites act like communities, so you can meet many new individuals very fast through referral systems.

  • Referral systems mimic offline connections and introductions, so the trust factor can be enhanced.


  • The number of people makes it difficult to get noticed by others.

  • Other members may have no romantic intentions, so it’s risky to be too forward too soon.

  • Members are usually young and very computer and net savvy, which can be intimidating if you’re new to the online dating scene or social networking.

  • The “user search” capabilities and other “matching” tools typically aren’t as effective on these sites, since they weren’t designed for romantic matchmaking per se.

Online Dating Sites


  • Virtually everyone shares a common agenda, so the process is more direct and transparent.

  • The tools of online dating are designed to help you meet and connect with someone with romantic agendas in mind.

  • Online dating sites sometimes provide support and resource materials from relationship coaches or experts, which is extremely helpful if you’re new to online dating or have recently come back to the dating game.

  • The number of active members is relatively small, but they’re better “qualified” so connecting with someone or many people is likely.


  • It’s common for people to exaggerate their characteristics or circumstances in order to make a good impression and attract more potential partners. For example, individuals may say they make more money than they do, describe their jobs in inflated terms or post photos that are outdated and therefore inaccurate (even dishonest) representations of how they look today.

  • It’s easy to become frustrated (especially men) when people don’t email back after you reach out to them. Frankly, people are very picky and fickle and don’t always remember to show common courtesy. In that sense, online dating can be somewhat depersonalized since people have many choices and they have the luxury of near instant gratification.

  • Scams are not uncommon on online dating sites, such as Nigerian money laundering schemes or Russian mail order brides. People searching for love can be overly idealistic and trusting and not be as sensitive to the negative motivations others may have.

  • Dating sites can be expensive, and some sites have a tremendous number of customer complaints related to billing practices, fake dating profiles and other questionable marketing tactics.

This all said, I highly recommend that people use multiple approaches to finding a partner -- never limit yourself. Closing your mind to avenues and opportunities is a sure-fire way not to find what you’re looking for.  Join more than one dating site (there are even free dating sites that are quite effective, so it doesn’t need to cost more money), join social networking sites and continue to go out with family and friends and meet new people. Remember, before online dating, most people met romantic partners either through work, by accident or from being introduced by family and friends. It’s crucial to maintain those offline resources and opportunities.

One closing thought. Some relationship coaches would argue against my advice. Their view is that people should stick with one online dating site and put all of their attention and focus into it to maximize their returns. That sounds good, and I agree that people tend to only get from online dating what they invest in it in terms of time and effort. But, I see no reason why individuals can’t navigate several dating sites at once -- for example, spend Mondays and Wednesdays tending to one site and Tuesdays and Thursdays focusing on another. Friday can be your time to visit a social networking site or two, while Saturday and Sunday can be spent out in the real world meeting new people with or without the help of family and friends.

Your odds of finding what you want in a partner and relationship are greater when you work all the channels and avenues available to you. Plus, it keeps the search for love fresh, exciting and above all hopeful.


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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