New Research: Online Dating is A Crapshoot

Online dating is one of the most widely used ways that people search for a relationship today, but does it offer advantages over other methods of meeting new potential partners? Maybe not…

A new research study conducted by Northwestern University was just published in the Journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. The study found that the main advantage of dating Web sites is access to a huge pool of potential partners. But the sites also reduce daters into two-dimensional profiles and often overwhelms them with too many choices.

Is More Choice Better?

The researchers found that online dating is especially good for those who might otherwise have a hard time meeting people — single parents, workaholics, those who are new in town, recently divorced, those with special interests, etc. Today, more than 25 million people are dating online…so you can have quick and easy access to a huge pool of potential partners.

However, the findings also indicate that the concept of creating an online profile is not entirely useful. Browsing through profile after profile “can result in the objectification of potential partners,” the study says. And the average online dater spends 12 hours a week scouring those profiles and staring at photos.  The report shares, “people become cognitively overwhelmed” as they scan dozens of profiles. The researchers compared it to shopping at ‘supermarkets of love’ and said psychological research shows that people presented with too many choices tend to make lazy and often poor decisions.

“You end up a bit less satisfied with the thing you choose — like your chocolate or romantic partner. And you’re less likely to commit to that option,” lead author Eli J. Finkel says. “It’s like, ‘Eh, there’s something better out there,’ or ‘I’m overloaded.”

Add to this, the fact that people are rarely 100 percent honest in their profiles – stretching the truth or exaggerating in order to put their best foot forward and attract the most interest possible. Who hasn’t been on a date with someone they met online only to later find that they are older than they said, shorter than they said, heavier than they said, not as single as they said….

I personally used to get frustrated with online dating because I felt that the men I was meeting never felt any urgent need to commit to anyone. It was like there was a faucet of women that they could turn on or off any time they chose. (I’m sure this goes for some women as well.) The attitude seemed to be that there might be something “better” still out there.  To me, this sounds very similar to what the researchers are saying above.

Imaginations May Lead Expectations Astray

Online dating also differs from traditional courtship in that people get to know one another before they meet, trading e-mails and photos. When people exchanged e-mails for three weeks before meeting, the study says, they had a stronger attraction to their date in person, but if the correspondence went on for six weeks, the attraction level fell when they met. “When it goes on too long you get too lofty an impression of what a person is like, or too particular,” Finkel says.

I personally call this entering a “fantasy relationship”…where it’s nearly impossible to live up to the exciting and lofty expectations set by long-term correspondance and imagining what the person will be like. Been there, done that myself, and I bet you may have too. It’s better to meet sooner rather than later so you can see what a person’s like in real life, not in your imagination.

Similarities Don’t Equal Love

Finally, the study also found that sites like eHarmony and Chemistry that match you to partners using scientific algorithms for compatibility may not be any more predictive of long-term relationship success. “At the end of the day, similarity predicts very, very little,” Finkel says.   The algorithms may reduce the number of potential partners from thousands to a few, but they may still be as incompatible as two people meeting at random.

In full disclosure, I met my husband on eHarmony after dating for several years on So, I personally had a great experience with that website. I also have at least 4 friends who met their husbands on  I also know plenty of people who met their spouses through friends, in college and in bars.

So, what does this all mean really? Online dating…like all dating…is a crapshoot…a numbers game. My takeaway is this: in order to play you have to get in the game, and online dating offers you one way to do that..but it’s certainly not the only way. Just make sure you’re off the bench and on the field if you want to find “the one”.

What do you think about the results of this new study?

Read more about the study:

Daily Mail

The Washington Post

Photo credit: MissTurner’s Flickr photostream


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Categories: Online Dating


I'm a married publicist who holds a Master's degree in psychology, with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. I'd like to make the world a better relationship at a time.

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12 Comments on “New Research: Online Dating is A Crapshoot”

  1. February 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Reblogged this on sppasm.

  2. singlewhitefemale
    February 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    Great post ad I completely agree! I’m in a new city so I hopped on match and I’m just having fun with it. If any real matches happen it will just be a pleasant surprise! 🙂

    • February 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      I think that the best attitude to take! In my opinion, online dating is one of many tools in your arsenal to help find a great relationship.

      Plus, I think it’s smart to go into any dating situations open minded, but cautiously optimistic (as you are) so that you send the right signals and don’t appear desperate.

  3. February 7, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    Love this. It pretty much confirms what I always suspected. I have nothing against dating sites, but I happily met my beau while dancing. It was grand. Enjoy always, T

  4. February 7, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Most of us don’t know ourselves or what works for us enough to be able to sort through various “resumes” and pick the right fit. It’s all blind luck.

    • February 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      Jessica, this is SO true! The only way people learn what they want in relationships is by trial and error isn’t it!

  5. February 7, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    Based on personal experience i would have to agree on most counts. Lately I am finding that photos that are being posted by men are old ie. a 42 year old man will post pics of when he was 33-35. That’s a big difference and really misleading. As for the compatibilty questionaries – I don’t buy their automated results at all!

    • February 8, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      I had the same experience, Cakes. That said, I never really understood why people bother doing that (lying about age, weight, height, job, etc.). The person you’re dating is going to figure it out and resent you for lying in the first place. Not too many people are going to say, “Oh, it’s ok…I don’t mind, that you lied about your age. I’m desperately in love…even though I thought I was meeting the 30 year old you….” Yikes!

  6. February 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I am very happily married (2years) to my online date. I think it’s how seriously you take it. For me, RSVP was a way of killing time til I met someone in the real world . I didn’t really think it would get me anywhere. We emailed 2-3 weeks before meeting and talked on the phone . I only met w two others. I think you need to use it being aware of any ‘red flags’, and not meet up w just anyone. My husband used it because he said he wanted an intellectual connection first, physical later. We were both clear and honest in our profiles , and his made me laugh. He still makes me laugh, every day.

  7. February 11, 2012 at 1:12 am #

    I kind of agree with the study but at the same time cannot deny that there are tons of very successful relationships from online dating sites. I think the commenter above is right. Its really how seriously you take it. For that matter, that would also apply in real life.

    That being said, I was on an online dating site, but I definitely didnt spend 12 hours a week on it.

  8. Candida Abrahamson PhD
    February 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    I’m really excited to see this here–and to see you do such a great job of covering it–as Eli Finkel is my son, and I spent some time with a red pen editing this paper. I think it’s important the information gets out there–not so that no one will use dating sites (they’re quite useful), but so that people aren’t taken in by sales pitches with no data behind them–and left disappointed and hopeless. Thanks for the coverage!

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