While there are still couples who meet at work, through friends, or even by being in the right place at the right time, it has become increasingly common for couples to meet through online dating sites. According to a statistics database, over 41 million people in the US say they’ve tried online dating, revealing that this meeting method has largely shed any stigma it may once have had. One study even suggests that it’s become the single most common catalyst for first dates. That study may be biased since it was funded by Match.com, but one thing that’s certain is that online dating is here to stay.

The Pros and Cons of Online Dating

Online dating has become a popular way of proactively meeting someone with shared interests, rather than just waiting for chance to reveal the perfect partner. For many people, online dating is appealing because it provides a low risk way to meet people; you already know some topics you can talk about based on each other’s profiles, and you don’t have to meet in person until you decide that you’re comfortable doing so. As a Houston relationship therapist I know that this low pressure approach may be particularly appealing to people who have been through a divorce and haven’t delved into the dating world in a long time, or anyone who prefers to spend some time talking and getting to know someone before committing to a first date.

Of course, one downside of online dating that’s been well documented is the tendency of people to tell small lies on their profile about things like height, age, and income. For the most part, though, the people who are really interested in meeting a like-minded person through online dating aren’t going to make their profile blatantly misleading, and many people actually feel more comfortable revealing their true self online than they would when first meeting someone in person since it’s a lower pressure situation.

Treat Online Dating like “Real World” Dating

For those who haven’t yet tried online dating but may be interested, the best approach is to treat it as you would “real world” dating. The method of meeting may be different, but what follows is fundamentally the same. You meet someone in person, get to know them a little better, and either grow closer through shared experiences or don’t form a connection and part ways. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no magical algorithm that will pair you up with your perfect partner; what you’re really getting through online dating is an introduction to people who share some of your interests and may be looking for similar things in a relationship. It’s up to you to get to get to know those people as whole, complex individuals and decide whether you want to pursue the relationship.