It wasn’t that long ago that the vast majority of relationships sprang from in-person encounters. When seeking romantic partners, singles would simply keep their eyes open at parties, bars, work, and social events, interacting with others while waiting patiently for a sign of sparks. Online dating was considered taboo, and the few people who had accounts on the handful of dating sites available typically kept this fact to themselves.
Flash forward 15 years later. Today, online dating has become the bedrock of America’s dating scene, with one in 10 adults averaging more than an hour on dating websites each day. It’s even more popular with younger users, with one in five adults aged 25 – 34 reporting to have used some kind of online dating service.
As the online dating trend grows in popularity and loses its stigma, dating websites have continued to multiply and evolve. Today, there is a sweeping array of dating sites to choose from, from sites catering to Christians to sites designed for same-sex couples.
There’s no denying it—online dating sites have changed the way we date and think about relationships. But are these changes for the better, or for the worse? To determine the answer, let’s take a look at some of the most important ways the internet has transformed modern dating.
Providing access to millions prospective candidates. When it comes to online dating, the pool of prospective candidates is practically boundless. Users of online dating sites have access to a massive, continually updated archive of millions of prospective candidates every single time they log on. On the one hand, the massive pool of prospective prospects provides users with increased opportunity for finding compatible partners. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult for some individuals to settle down and give a relationship a genuine try, since they are forever tempted by the promise of millions of other easily accessible candidates who could be more exciting, more attractive, and readily available for a date. Online dating can encourage what is referred to as “relationshopping”, or excessive profile browsing and commoditizing potential partners, which can make people less willing to commit to a single person.
Introducing algorithms. The vast majority of dating sites utilize special matchmaking algorithms that match candidates with people they might be compatible with based on their interests, demographics, and responses to questions. The usefulness of applying such formulas when it comes to predicting romance is questionable, however. The theory behind algorithms is that two people who share similar tastes, interests, and backgrounds will be more likely to fall in love. However, experience has shown that love isn’t based on favorite TV shows or income bracket. It’s based on something that is indefinable; something uncovered only through the complexity and completeness of the experience of getting to know someone.
Imago Relationship Therapy, the oldest school of psychotherapy devoted exclusively to couples, has found that incompatibility (which is inevitable) is the key to a great marriage. While having some compatibility is helpful, a ‘good match’ will involve working through inevitable power struggles.
Eliminating guesswork. Before the days of online dating, people would rely on verbal and physical cues to determine whether a person was interested in them or not. Online dating sites eliminate the guesswork involved, often providing users with information on all the users who expressed interest in them.
Eliminating fear of rejection. Whereas before, it could take a fair bit of bravery and planning to ask out someone you admired, online dating makes it simple to propose dates from behind the safety of your computer. Since online dating takes away the immediacy and pressures of face-to-face contact, users are more likely to initiate conversation.
Allowing for fabricated interactions. People are often surprised to discover that the person they met online is quite different from their online persona. More often than not, this is because dating websites allow us to present an idealized version of ourselves, and scrutinize and rewrite every message we send. Dishonesty, often in the form of misleading or downright false self-descriptions, is an inevitable element of the online dating experience. For all the information online sites can provide on a prospective candidate’s appearance, interests, and career, users are only allowed a manipulated snapshot of who that person really is.
Quickening the process. Relationships that begin online often move more quickly than traditional relationships, since familiarity and a certain level of intimacy are typically established during the initial messaging process. There’s also a sense of urgency when it comes to online dating, since the two prospective partners often come from different social circles. The chance of running into each other again organically is highly improbable, making it almost impossible to go about things casually.
Reinventing sex as a leisure activity. In the age of online dating, sex has been reinvented as a leisure activity. While sexual encounters might have been considered taboo in the past, today, sex has become a very commonplace activity that does not necessarily have to be associated with motherhood, marriage, or monogamy. Online dating sites can serve as a hypermarket for sex, where users explicitly state their needs and try to meet them as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, the structure of online dating encourages short, intense engagements involving minimum commitment and maximum enjoyment.
The bottom line? Online dating is certainly good way to proactively meet someone who shares similar interests and backgrounds to your own, and in a relatively low-risk manner. However, it’s important to be aware of the pitfalls of online dating so as not to be lured by false promises or the thrill of a quick and easy hookup.
If you are currently using or considering trying online dating, the best approach is to treat it as you would traditional dating. When you are dating someone you met online, make an effort to get to know them and form a connection through real-life experiences. Remember online dating formulas cannot magically pair you with your dream husband or wife, but they can introduce you to people with similar ages, interests, and goals.
And if you find that you need further internet dating advice – or are just having general trouble forming relationships or navigating the modern dating scene, I recommend attending the “Get the Love You Want” Imago Couple’s Workshop. The weekend-long intensive workshop includes lectures, guided imagery, and group interactions to provide you with the tools you need to form a lasting, loving relationship, whether you meet your partner through organic interactions in the physical world or digital exchanges online.