Online dating sites, all clamoring to give you access to thousands, or even millions, of potential new dates, clearly believe more fish make a better sea. But, is all this choice really a good thing?
A recent critical review of online dating research suggests maybe not.1 While dating sites deserve credit for increasing romantic opportunities, some of their new-fangled methods could actually be undermining your love life. Before your next foray into the cyber-scene, consider these four online dating tips:
1. Stop and Smell the Profile-Roses—Just Read a Few at a Time
Casanovas aside, most people in real-world dating situations have zero or one partner at a time, affording the luxury of agonizing and protracted decision-making. The online dating format, however, changes things up dramatically. Instead of deciding whether a specific partner is appealing, we focus instead on finding the best profiles, and such romantic browsing triggers different decision-making strategies. For example, one experiment asked single women to pick a man from 4, 24, or 64 online dating profiles. Those with fewer choices considered complex information and weighed trade-offs in a potential partner (e.g., Partner A has a low status job, but he is attractive and highly-educated), while users with more choice considered only a few cues and stopped considering trade-offs (e.g., Partner A, low-status job—Next!).2 So, to avoid making faster decisions with only the information that’s easiest to collect, limit your daily romantic browsing.
2. Remember Who You’re Looking For
Speedy decisions aren’t necessarily bad ones, but another study demonstrated that users who looked at lots of profiles also forgot what they wanted in a mate. Users were given access to either 30, 60, or 90 profiles, and as access increased (e.g., more profiles read), users were paradoxically less likely to pick partners possessing their ideal traits.3 Admittedly, ideals are often weak predictors of partner choice in early dating,4 and such research is hampered by the fact that ideals only matter if real people in the dating pool possess them. On the other hand, ideals have been shown to predict stability and satisfaction in longer-term relationships.4 The moral of this story? Try not to mortgage important preferences for a pretty face.
3. Swim in a Smaller Sea
Unless you’re everyone’s top choice, some recent speed-dating research suggests you might fare better in a smaller sea. For example, one study found that characteristics elicited from chatting, such as educational status and occupation, predicted “yes” decisions at small events (15-25 people), whereas “yes” decisions at larger events were predicted by height and weight.5 People at larger events are also more likely to form a consensus about which participants are most appealing,6 supporting the idea that we dumb-down our decisions as choices increase. More options might even lead to choice overload or avoidance. For example, speed-daters were increasingly likely to say “no” to 100% of pro-offered dates as the age, height, occupation, and education of partners increased.5 Women at smaller events (9-14 men) were also 40% more likely to accept a date from any interested partner than women at larger events.7 Thus, to increase your chances, consider joining a niche site with fewer users (e.g., PlentyofRelationshipScientistsInTheSea.com), or a site that gives “matches” instead of wholesale access.
4. Go On An Actual Date
All in all, we can only know so much before we meet somebody in real life. Often, even the best information we can glean online is a poor forecast.1 Most of what makes a relationship good, like chemistry, conversation, and conflict-resolution, can’t be evaluated ahead of time. Just be thankful for the online introduction, dust off something spiffy, and go on a real date as soon as possible.
1Finkel, 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), 3–66.
2Lenton, A. P., & Stewart, A. (2008). Changing her ways: Number of options and mate standard strength impact mate choice strategy and satisfaction. Judgment and Decision Making, 3, 501–511.
3Chiou, W., & Yang, M. (2010). The moderating role of need for cognition on excessive searching bias: A case of finding romantic partners online. In B. K. Wiederhold, G. Riva, & S. I. Kim (Eds.), Annual review of cybertherapy and telemedicine (pp. 120–122). Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press BV.
4Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). When and why do ideal partner preferences affect the process of initiating and maintaining romantic relationships? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 1012–1032.
5Lenton, A. P., & Francesconi, M. (2011). Too much of a good thing? Variety is confusing in mate choice. Biology Letters, 7, 528–531.
6Lenton, A. P., Fasolo, B., & Todd, P. M. (2008). “Shopping” for a mate: Expected vs. experienced preferences in online mate choice. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 51, 169–182.
7Fisman, R., Iyengar, S. S., Kamenica, E., & Simonson, I. (2006). Gender differences in mate selection: Evidence from a speed-dating experiment. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121, 673–697.
Melissa Schneider - Science Of Relationships articles | Website
Melissa is a couples counselor and writer interested in the dynamics of romantic relationships. She covers dating trends on her blog “Where Is This Going?” and is currently working on a collection of true stories about love and marriage in modern China. Follow her on Twitter @WhereIsThsGoing.