Ten years ago when one thought of online dating, the image of a hairy man hunched over his computer with a toothy grin came to mind. Today, however, online dating is a hugely popular tool many singles use to meet potential lovers.
Ten years ago when one thought of online dating, the image of a hairy man hunched over his computer with a toothy grin came to mind.
Today, however, online dating is a hugely popular tool many singles use to meet potential
“Everyone knows someone who has tried it,” said Dr. Cynthia Mohr, a Portland State professor of psychology.
While the image of the typical online dater may have changed, have the stigmas and misconceptions surrounding online dating disappeared as well?
Misconception #1: Online dating is for losers.
This stems from the idea that if you were able to meet somebody in person willing to date you, you would have done so already, meaning that online dating is for those who can’t get a date the old-fashioned way.
“I don’t think that is true at all,” said Sally Eck, a women’s studies professor at PSU. “I know so many people who have used online dating who are really amazing people.”
In fact, Eck seemed almost insulted by the stigma, and revealed that she herself has tried online dating.
Misconception #2: Online dating is easier than meeting people in person.
While online dating obviously increases your opportunities to meet people, it is not necessarily an easier way of dating.
One PSU student, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “I joined OkCupid because I wasn’t meeting any interesting guys in my classes. I was looking to meet more people.”
However, the same student also said that after only a few months she decided to deactivate her account. “I really wasn’t meeting anyone I wanted to date,” she said.
Eck agreed. “I think people [choosing to use] online dating has made the world more difficult because there are so many more first dates.”
She also said that the number of potential matches is overwhelming.
“Because I am a tall blonde, I had so many comments and winks that I couldn’t manage it all,” Eck said. “It was exciting for a minute, but then it was like a full-time job.”
Another reason for quitting, she joked, was seeing her students on online dating sites.
Misconception #3: Everyone lies on their profile.
MTV’s new show Catfish, which looks into the harm caused by false online profiles, has left me questioning whether misconception #3 is really a misconception or just an exaggeration.
Mohr attended the Close Relationships Preconference (a precursor to the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology) on Jan. 17, and reported: “Research has found that nearly everybody lies about at least one aspect on the profile.”
While lying online is as easy as typing, Eck pointed out another important fact: “People lie in person, too.”
So while this aspect of online dating is still a bit murky, dating in person doesn’t necessarily guarantee an honest conversation either.
Misconception #4: The anonymity of online dating leads to more casual sex.
While Eck believes that the high number of dates that people can potentially go on because of online dating might lead to an increase in sexual activity, she doesn’t feel the actual
process of meeting online leads to more sex.
“People are going to do what people are going to do, whether they met online or at a bar,”
Eck did, however, want to remind PSU students that “[w]hen meeting someone on a first or second date, always meet in a public place. And always stay sober!”
How scientific is the science behind matching?
One of the most successful online dating sites, eHarmony, claims that it takes a scientific approach to matching users, calling their patented formula the Compatibility Matching
At the same conference Mohr recently attended, Dr. Gian Gonzaga of eHarmony Labs spoke during a 90-minute session about whether the science of close relationships can inform the practice of online dating.
However, the real buzz of the presentation, Mohr said, was the following question: If
eHarmony has a viable scientific formula, then why have they not yet opened it up to scientific peer review?
While eHarmony describes in detail its patented 29 Dimensions of Compatibility, including such predictors as emotional temperament, values and beliefs, researchers believe there is a reason the actual compatibility algorithm hasn’t been released: The formula is most likely wrong.
“The biggest indicator [of] the success of a relationship is the quality of interaction, while personality only makes up 6 percent of success prediction,” Mohr said.
The problem lies in the foremost characteristic of online dating: Matches have never met each other, therefore the quality of their impending interaction cannot be known.
In fact, of the three biggest indicators (quality of interaction, personality and stress levels) only personality is taken into account by an online matching service: Most sites ask only a vague question or two regarding one’s stress levels, if it’s mentioned at all.
“They need valid testing on a control group,” Mohr said. “If eHarmony wants to claim their formula is science, then [they should] prove it.”
At the conference, however, Gonzaga had a response for the pressure being put on eHarmony by the scientific community: “We’ve been talking with our lawyers.”
So while the science isn’t rock-solid, it is impossible to ignore that thousands of people have met their match through online dating services. Mohr’s only advice: “Don’t put too much stock in it.”