Should I Try Online Dating?

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If you’re on the dating scene, the chances are good that you’ve either tried online dating, or that someone has tried to get you to try it! I’ve watched more than one single friend get talked into setting up a profile while friends gave advice on photos and wording.

While this new way of meeting people can feel exciting and new, the single people that I’m friends with also have some worries and questions about it. (Is it safe? Are these people really who they say they are?)

What do we really know about online dating? Is it riskier than dating people we meet “IRL” (in real life)? How do these relationships tend to work out? Let’s look at the research.

How Many People Are Using It?

Online dating apps and websites like Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, and Match.com have definitely gotten a lot more popular since they first became well-known in the early 2000s. According to the well-respected Pew Research Center, they are most commonly used by those aged 18-24. In 2016, about 27% of daters in this age group said they’d tried at least one of these services. However, this way of meeting others isn’t just for the young. About 20-25% of those between 25-44 have also tried it, and usage is increasing rapidly among those older than this.

Online dating tends to be slightly more popular with people who are relatively well-off and college graduates, although differences are not large. It’s common across races. This method of dating is extremely popular among LGBTQ people, likely because the “wider net” makes it easier for them to meet people this way.

One thing to keep in mind about all these numbers, though, is that checking out the world of online dating doesn’t mean you ever actually go on a date! About two-thirds of those who sign up go out into the real world and give it a try. The rest never actually take the plunge.

What Patterns Do We See?

I’ve heard some complaints that it is difficult to “match” on these sites if you aren’t young and conventionally attractive. There does appear to be some evidence that men are looking for thinner, shorter women, while women seem to be looking for taller men who are slightly heavier.

Race can be another tricky issue. Analysis shows that white Americans tend to stay within their own ethnicity when making matches online, while those of other races appear more likely to be willing to make contact with people not of their own race. However, overall, many experts believe that online dating is already resulting in greater numbers of interracial marriages.

Do Online Couples Last?

According to various articles, about 20%-30% of new relationships today begin through a smartphone or computer. (Naturally enough, more recently formed couples are more likely to have met online than couples who have been together a long time.)  Although use of these platforms is increasing, it’s still much more common for relationships to begin “in real life.”

What about longevity? Different studies have come to different conclusions here, with some claiming that married couples who met online stay together longer, and some saying they are more likely to divorce. We’re probably going to need to wait a while longer to know the real story here.

Safety

Safety is a real concern with any dating situation, of course, but it becomes a bit more urgent when interacting with someone whom we truly do not know. In the case of online dating, there are two main concerns: personal safety when in real life, and being scammed, in person or from afar.

Some basic safety tips for users: Make your first meeting in a very public place. Don’t give your date personal contact info, like your home or work address or your personal cell phone number. (Message them through the app instead.) Tell a friend where and when you’re going on a date with someone you meet online, and always be in charge of your own transportation, so that you can leave if you need to. If a date isn’t feeling right, don’t hesitate to make an excuse and leave. You may also want to double-date with a good friend and his/her date to increase the odds of staying safe.

You may be shocked to learn that according to the FBI, online dating scams or frauds cost consumers hundreds of millions annually. A common pattern is for a scammer to develop a close relationship with a victim over a period of weeks or months. Then the scammer suddenly and urgently needs money, for whatever pressing reason. The victim often sends it. Then, of course, the scammer disappears with the cash, or, if possible, continues to scam the victim for more money.

How can you avoid being a victim? Do some background research on anyone you’re connecting with. Google them to make sure they’re “findable” and are who they appear to be. If feeling especially wary, run a reverse-image search of the profile photo they’ve provided (TinEye is a great tool for this) to see if it came from a stock photo site or is being used elsewhere. And don’t ever send money!

Finally…what about lying in online dating profiles? Should we be concerned that Dave in Duluth might actually still be married? Studies do find that it’s very common for both men and women to lie a little bit about things like height and weight, and yes, occasionally about bigger things like relationship status or finances. (Yikes.) Overall, however, lies tend to be minor, probably because people recognize that being untruthful is not a smart strategy.  Still, it’s wise not to take information in profiles strictly at face value.

Trying it Out

If checking out an online dating (or, as some prefer to call it, “online meeting”) app or service appeals to you, you’re definitely not alone. You may find a great healthy relationship online. Or you might discover that the person who looked great on your phone suffers from one of your dating dealbreakers in real life. There’s only one way to find out, right?

Incidentally, if you’re worried that people will think you’re a bit odd for turning to online services, don’t be.  The majority of those polled by Pew in 2015 agreed that this is a great way to meet people. It’s likely that our children and grandchildren will consider it completely typical, though it seems likely that many of us will still meet our partners “the old-fashioned way” too.

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References:

Aditi, P. (2014). Is online better than offline for meeting partners? depends: are you looking to marry or to date? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(10).  http://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0302

Cacioppo, J. T., et al. (2013).  Marital outcomes from on-line meetings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201222447 http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1222447110

Ortega, J. and P. Hergovich (2017). The strength of absent ties: Social integration via online dating. Physics and Society. Advance online publication. http://www.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3044766

Meltzer, M. (2018). How to avoid a romance scam when using online dating sites. Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/dating-relationships/online-dating-romance-scams/

Pew Research Center. (2016). 5 facts about online dating. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/5-facts-about-online-dating/

Rege, A. (2009). What's love got to do with it? Exploring online dating scams and identity fraud. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 3(2), 494-512.

Smith, A. (2016). 15% of American adults have used online dating sites of mobile dating apps. Retrieved from http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2016/02/PI_2016.02.11_Online-Dating_FINAL.pdf

Tinder.com. (n.d.) Dating safely. Retrieved from https://www.gotinder.com/safety

Toma, L.C., Hancock, J. T., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Separating fact from fiction: An examination of deceptive self-presentation in online dating profiles.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(8), 1023-1036. http://www.doi.org/10.1177/0146167208318067