Long gone are the days of being embarrassed over looking for love online. All the cool singles are doing it, but does it work? Are you increasing your chances at finding love by hopping online? Maybe, but it's not a guarantee.
You Don't Know What You Want
How annoying is it to be told you don't know what you want? Prepare to be miffed. You can't know if you'll be compatible with a person just by looking through profiles. (Scientific American says so, so don't shoot the messenger!) Do the prospective dates look good on paper? Sure. Hot? Most likely, if you made it to the text of their profile. You know yourself and what you like, right? So you should be able to comb through the profiles and find The One, then live happily ever after. Unfortunately, that's often not the case.
According to the article in Scientific American, people often... "lack insight regarding which characteristics in a potential partner will inspire or undermine their attraction to him or her." So what looks good on paper or matches the mental checklist you have for a significant other may not do anything for your level of actual attraction to the person once you've met face to face. That also makes you wonder how many good matches are being left out of your results because of a faulty algorithm.
Algorithms Are Like Magic 8 Balls
Since nobody knows if opposites attract for the long haul or similarities are the way to go, an algorithm on a dating site is highly unlikely to help you determine relationship longevity based on your opposing or complementary qualities, according to Scientific American. There's a human aspect to relationships that a dating site just can't predict. You have to meet in person. You have to talk, react to one another and experience events or situations that create discomfort for one or both of you, in order to determine just how well you naturally strengthen or weaken each other. Because meeting in person is actually the only way to get a genuine read on your potential relationship, social psychologist Eli Finker claims that speed dating is actually more predictive. So really, what the algorithms are saying is, "Signs point to yes" or "Cannot predict now, (but maybe)." Not, "This is your soul mate! Go buy a dress!"
Sure, there's room for growth if you're in love with someone who could learn to communicate better or could use some lessons in stress management. If there wasn't, relationship therapy would barely exist. However, that willingness to bother working at a relationship, comes after the initial spark's been acknowledged... in person. The bottom line: interactions matter more than algorithms. You need to meet as many people as you can, and maybe even go out on a limb every now and then to meet someone you wouldn't necessarily choose based on their profile (safely, of course, in a public place and only when you feel totally comfortable doing so).
In the same Seeker.com interview, Finker points out that humans tend to freeze when presented with too many choices. Fewer choices are more likely to lead to real results. If you put up your profile, wait for matches to show up, and see that you only have a handful, your first thought may not be, "Wow, I'm so lucky!" (If you're like most people, you'll think, "Wow, I'm such a loser," but don't believe that for a minute!). In reality, you may actually be lucky because you'll be less tempted to scroll through dozens or hundreds of profiles looking for "the one" out of all the potential matches you've been shown. When you have fewer choices, you're more likely to make a decision with confidence, contact that sexy studmuffin, and get on with your life (maybe even with that hottie forever). So if you're only shown five potential matches, you're not undesirable - you're lucky!
What You See and Read…
What you see (and read) may not be what you get. What if you don't like their "in real life" personality? Will what they say online match up to how they act and communicate in person, or will there be some growing pains when you meet up? Will they look like their profile picture or did they work their angles and use a pretty filter? More importantly, how much does that matter to you?
Differences in online vs. real-life personality and communication style may be deal-breakers, but how much does the difference in profile picture bother you? Was it false advertising or were they putting their best foot forward? It's up to you to decide. If that kind of thing immediately turns you completely off, online dating might not be the best place for you to find your match.
Of all online interactions, dating is the one where you're most likely to encounter dishonesty. Nine out of ten online dating profiles have at least some embellishments of the truth as the users try to put forward their "ideal self" instead of their real self. Don't let that get you down right away though. In general, these are little white lies about weight, height, age and job information rather than huge ones that hide secret families or other deal breakers. Those lies could end up being a big deal, but most people are embellishing the truth in an attempt to make a good first impression rather than telling outright lies about who they really are. People are less likely to fib about things that influence the success of the relationship such as past relationships, education, or religious and political beliefs.
Wherever you go, there you are, except on the internet, maybe. Perhaps you're more outgoing online than you are in person, or you have time to check the thesaurus or dictionary before going with a word choice you feel makes you sound more intelligent (because honestly, you know these words, but you just need to double-check their meanings before committing). However, what happens when you finally get together in person? Can you be as much "yourself" in person as you are on the internet or will there be a gap between the real you and the one you can be when you're typing away fearlessly to potential suitors, heart on your (laptop) sleeve?
These aren't technically "lies" about who you are, but your date may wonder when the 'you' in front of him seems totally different from the 'you' he sees online. If you don't talk about it in advance or address it early in your meet-up, you could experience a failed transition from online dating to real life. Nothing like an extra layer of anxiety, right? No pressure. Just be yourself. Keep in mind, they may be going through similar online-to-real-life transition anxiety.
Living in the Honeymoon Period
Some online relationships have an additional complication: distance. You can eliminate the long distance complication of online dating by searching only in your area. However, if you live near where you went to high school, you might already know everyone who will show up (and you really don't want that creepy kid from Algebra sending you winks or other flirty messages). Casting a wider net may be the safest bet, or maybe not.
Clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, Ph.D, says long distance relationships are fantasies when they fall outside of "the practicalities of life." For example, a relationship that has to go long distance for a distinct period like going to school or military deployment, can survive. However, a relationship that starts online doesn't necessarily have a strong foundation and a clear end to the separation. Consequently, it exists in the "honeymoon state" where it's easy to ignore reality and problems.
There may be passion, longing and intensity, but there may not be prioritization, commitment, the sharing of two whole worlds, or real planning for the future. If you want your online relationship to grow and last, you can't stay in your honeymoon bubble for too long. You'll need a plan to see each other in person more often and become integrated into each other's lives beyond the occasional visit, Skype call, FaceTime and email.
The Dreaded Question
"So...where is this going?"
Before you even get to that level of seriousness, there's the chance you might be embarking on an online dating adventure with someone who isn't looking for the same things you are. Samantha Burns, millennial love expert, says that in a lot of cases, women are looking for commitment while men are looking for one-night stands and short flings. It's important to establish what you're looking for pretty early. You can usually state your expectations in your profile (reiterate it in chat anyway!), but once you take things from profile browsing and playful flirting, it's important to make sure the other person is on the same page you are. If they aren't, your relationship is destined to fizzle.
Is Online Dating for You?
If you're too busy or isolated in your normal life to get out and meet people in person, online dating might be the perfect way to meet new people (and hopefully your perfect match). On top of that, some people find it easier to communicate with strangers online than they do with people face to face. While they may crave a deep, meaningful relationship, they struggle to cultivate that kind of connection entirely face to face (hello, introverts). There's no harm in giving online dating a try as long as you're careful about where, when, how and whom you meet. Always proceed with cautious optimism. Treat your relationship with care and you may become an online dating success story.