Does internet dating really work?
The answer to your question really lies in how you define “work.” If your goal is to meet new dating partners, then on-line dating services can help put you in touch with a large number of other eligible singles. Services like Plentyoffish.com and Match.com have a large pool of individuals looking to date, hook-up, and marry. The problem is that there are oftentimes so many profiles to sort through that the choices are overwhelming, which causes you to miss out on people who actually might be good matches.
Other dating services, such as eHarmony, propose that matching dating partners based on similarity will lead to better pairings. They accomplish this (allegedly) by analyzing responses to a lengthy survey using a proprietary algorithm, or in less fancy terms, a formula they use make money (consider it the KFC secret recipe of matching partners). In another SoR story, Paul Eastwick wrote a summary of a paper he co-authored,1 essentially showing that the algorithms used to match people don’t work the way that they are supposed to, and you are no better off relying on the matches made for you than if you were just meeting someone cold in the library or at a sporting event. He and his co-authors recommend that dating sites change the algorithms to match on factors demonstrated by research to be more effective at predicting long-term compatibility.
Finally, there are recent trends for using mobile dating apps (e.g., Skout, Zoosk), which help you find people in your immediate vicinity who want to meet up (read our piece about dating apps here). So, if you are out for happy hour with friends, or want to grab a quick drink and see if someone is out and about, then you can locate the other person quickly to schedule a quick date. Researchers1 suggest that this approach may be the most effective option until “matching” algorithms are improved, as you can quickly gather a lot of information right away. When you meet someone on-line, you may spend weeks emailing and messaging back and forth before you meet up, and they may not be at all what you expected when you finally meet in person. Mobile dating apps may save you time in that respect.
In my opinion, the best way to view internet dating is as one of many tools that you can use to meet people. I would not rely on it alone to meet your soul mate (if you believe in such things), but we have all heard stories of it happening. In fact, I met my boyfriend that way, and I know many others who met great people on-line. I would just make sure that your expectations about what on-line tools can offer are not too high or based on the promises and claims that a number of services make.
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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. doi: 10.1177/1529100612436522.
Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.