How the myth of online dating is robbing you of love and money
It seems like everyone’s looking for love online… but are they wasting their time?
Single-but-looking wasn’t always so hard. If you back up just a few short years, it was commonplace to meet someone from your neighborhood and end up in a relationship with them — eventually getting married. But with the advent of technology, neighborhoods have given way to online communities. Introductions are passé, having been replaced with “friending” someone. Getting to know someone has transformed into It’s Just Lunch. And love letters have been reduced to 140 characters.
Of course, there are success stories of couples that have met online. Everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who is getting married to their online sweetheart. But after connecting with thousands of women via my Facebook page and hearing their tales of missed dates, mixed messages, and misunderstood expectations, the horror stories seem to outnumber any purported success rate by a very wide margin.
But why? Don’t we all hear how great online dating is? It’s easy. You answer a few questions and then get to meet someone with whom you are compatible. The dating site’s algorithm automagically matches you up with like-minded people who have similar interests, hobbies, life goals, yada, yada, yada. If this is true, then why do I receive hundreds of messages asking why he didn’t call, why she lied about being married, why he pretended to love her and then disappeared, and much, much more?
We’ll get into all that.
When it comes to measuring the success of online dating, research studies and success stories are usually commissioned research through a third party, and paid for by the dating site. Hardly unbiased results, but at first blush it reads impressively. Here’s an excerpt from the Huffington Post in June, 2013:
“A recent study funded by [a major dating website] suggests that as many as 35 percent of Americans now meet their spouses online. What’s more, the study suggests that those marriages are less likely to end in divorce than those that begin offline.”
What this article silently implies is that the phrase “meet their spouses online” translates to “meet their spouses while using an online dating site”. However, if you read the complete study (and most people don’t), you will be quick to discover that “online” means exactly that: on the internet.
Meeting someone online is now commonplace, and is a reflection of the change in societal communication patterns, not a feather in the cap of the online dating industry. Moreover, this study examined many online venues: virtual worlds, chat rooms, multiplayer games, and social networks — as well as many dating sites.
What’s needed to evaluate online dating success is information from a source that doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome — like this recent study from the Association for Psychological Science which discusses the notion that, although people are using online dating sites, the way people are actually finding spouses over the last several years remains largely unchanged. According to the Association for Psychological Science, the most common place to meet a spouse is at work or at school (38 percent). “Through a friend or family member” came in second (27 percent), while “On an online dating site” came in third (17 percent) — hardly the “35 percent of Americans” as claimed in the earlier study.
The Science Behind Online Dating
Proprietary algorithms, tests and questionnaires that promise to match you with a mate provide an air of awe and confidence with a glint of the scientific. But the questions feeding these algorithms are highly suspect. Firstly, to match someone with a potential mate, these questionnaires need to be answered honestly and accurately (and they aren’t; more on that coming shortly). But, the questions these surveys ask are really about dating – not relationships… and there is a big difference between dating someone today and being compatible for the long term.
Where are the questions about environment, economic conditions, and outside influences? (Example: Long-standing research shows that when couples encounter stress or unexpected demands on their energy, their satisfaction with their relationship declines, often leading to break-up or divorce.) Why don’t these dating sites take critical happenings, variables and milestones into account when evaluating compatibility — money management, financial strain, losing a job, illness, death of a parent, moving, raising kids (not “do you want kids,” but rather, asking questions about parenting style and actually raising kids). The truth is that these questions are very difficult questions to ask. So, it’s not the dating sites’ fault for not being able to bring them up. But these are questions/considerations that need to be taken into account. If online dating sites claim to help find lasting love — a “match” —questions like these are a crucial part of evaluating long-term companionship.
And while the questions these surveys do ask are usually centered on individual wants, needs, behaviors, and characteristics, they only address a very small part of what makes human beings compatible. These compatibility tests don’t take into account upbringing, childhood environment and/or teenage influences, nor do they address changing attitudes and needs. And, again, this is all assuming the respondents are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How often do you think that happens?
The Human Element
Beyond all the pseudo-science, online dating short-circuits the natural courtship process of men and women. Primal dating rituals and natural courtship don’t include posting a profile and a few pictures. Here are the biggest issues with online dating:
• Lack Of Honesty: It’s well documented that both men and women lie when completing their online profiles. Old pictures, employment status, income, weight, age… over 80 percent of online daters don’t tell the truth. In essence, you are starting a relationship based on dishonesty.
• Deceptive First Impressions: One of the biggest challenges with online dating is that you aren’t actually meeting the person; you are meeting their portrayal and estimation of the best parts of their personality. And it’s not even them; it’s a digital impersonation, and a poor one, at that. Perhaps more importantly, once the online dater sees a potential match’s name and/or photo, the next step is to spend a bit of time scouring the internet (Google, Facebook, wherever) to get more information about them — before they have even had a chance to respond to the first message sent.
• The Absence Of Non-Verbal Communication: According to communication expert Albert Mehrabian (Professor Emeritus, Ph. D., Clark University, Social Psychology) there are three elements that account for someone taking a liking or interest in another person: words (7 percent), tone of voice (38 percent), and body language (55 percent). With online dating, you only get the words (and not even spoken words). The remaining-yet-critical 93 percent of the evaluation process is not available. And when it comes to online profiles, the written word is completely subjective — perception, tone, and understanding landing squarely on the shoulders of the reader. True intent is not known nor understood, plus all the primal, subliminal cues that we depend on as part of the human courtship process — facial expression, gestures, paralinguistics, body language and posture, eye movement, appearance — get lost to the digital format.
• No Real Get-To-Know-You Process: In the real world, both parties communicate via verbal and non-verbal cues. But with online dating, initial impressions, introductions, and the spoken/unspoken “Please allow me to introduce myself” process is virtually non-existent. Prospective daters might start by viewing an online profile, but their interest will instantly bring them to Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online sites to gather information about someone they might have an interest in. From there, opinions and assumptions are made — away from the prospective date — allowing for the decision of interest to be reached before even meeting in the real world.
Even more damage occurs when interest is affirmed. Most of the first interactions between daters take place via email and online chat messages — which means their entire investment is mental/emotional. This can lend itself to a false positive impression of “connection”, and lead the daters to believe that they really know each other… when, in fact, they don’t know each other at all.
Check back next week for Part Two of this series…