by Lisa Peyton

Let me start this discussion by admitting that I was an early adopter of online dating. Over the years I have tried Match.com, eHarmony, OKCupid, Village Voice personals, AOL chat rooms and have even put ads in my local paper BEFORE there was on online version. Clearly, I have rejected any stigma that comes with meeting potential partners online. My own experiences with online dating were mostly validated and reinforced by much of the research that has been presented on this topic.

The first issue I would like to address is the claim that online dating is BETTER than offline dating due to advanced algorithms offered by sites like eHarmony. The Harvard Business Journal  eHarmony case study cites articles from 2006 that claim eHarmony couples are significantly happier than non-eHarmony couples. However, I believe that several other sources including Epstein’s article and the critical analysis provided by Finkel, E.J., Eastwick, P.W., Karney, B.R., Reis, H.T., & Sprecher, S. (2012) adequately refute these claims. I would go a step further and say that these claims are no more than a marketing tactic to help differentiate eHarmony from its competitors. Framing the online dating issue by asking the question ‘Are online matches BETTER than offline matches’ allow for ‘red herring’ type arguments AGAINST online dating. This is demonstrated by Epstein, as he claims that online dating sites have no true value as no test can predict love (2007). Whereas, he may be correct that online dating sites can’t PREDICT love they DO offer users value.

One of the primary advantages of online dating is the access to potential partners. Online dating solves several obstacles to finding a date offline such as lack of access to other singles, uncertainty about a potential partner’s availability and fear of approaching strangers face-to-face (Finkel, E.J. et al., 2012). The second advantage offered by online dating sites is a means of communication with potential dates. The computer mediated communication (CMC) features such as e-mail, chatting and online profiles  can aid users in the process of finding romantic relations (Finkel, E.J. et al., 2012).

However, there are some pitfalls with online dating and areas that need further research. During my years of online dating, I learned that it was best to meet a potential date face-to-face earlier than later. I had experienced the negative effects of a prolonged online courting process that ultimately led to disappointment and heartbreak when meeting in real life. This appears to be validated by research that suggests keeping the time frame between CMC interaction and the  initial face-to-face meeting short can create a more positive impression. When the CMC interaction goes beyond about 6 weeks, “CMC fails to provide this additional boost, perhaps because the face-to-face reality fails to live up to people’s exaggerated or overly particular expectations (Finkel, E.J. et al., 2012, p. )”

Another potential disadvantage of online dating is the tendency for users to be offered too many choices, thereby spending hours scrolling through hundreds of profiles. This behavior of sorting  through profiles and side-by-side browsing may cause users to commoditize potential partners (Finkel, E.J. et al., 2012). Users may also use time-efficient but minimally thoughtful strategies for choosing potential partners and their willingness to commit to any one partner  may be reduced (Finkel, E.J. et al., 2012).

There is no doubt in my mind that online communications can help form offline relationships (Joinson, A., McKenna, K.Y.A., Postmes, T., 2007). Online dating sites can provide value in the form of access to potential singles and a means of communication. However, consumers should be  hesitant to believe all the claims that dating sites make in order to make a profit. The Internet is a vast place with many other online channels to aid in the formation of romantic partnerships. As Joinson, A. et al. contend the Internet is not one generic space. Self-presentation and developing relationships differ depending on which space online is being used. Technological advances such as video chatting and complex virtual environments may help to reduce some of the limitations of current online dating. Only time will tell.

References:

Epstein, R. (2007). The Truth About Online Dating. Scientific American Mind, 18(1), 28-35.

Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online Dating:  
A Critical Analysis from the Perspective of Psychological Science. Psychological Science in the
Public Interest, 13(1), 3.

Joinson, A., McKenna, K. Y. A., Postmes, T., & Reips, U.-D. (Eds.). (2007). The Oxford Handbook of  
Internet Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.