(Written by Jasmine Davis: Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student and educator of Human Sexuality.)
I love to talk about all things love, relationship, and dating related and some things sex related. In the age of technology, online dating is a part of that conversation. If you haven’t tried online dating for yourself like 41 million other people in the U.S. have according to the website Statistic Brain and Research Institutes’ stats on online dating, then you at least know someone who has. Given, that so many people have tried online dating, there has to be some people that are thinking about it, standing around in their bathing suits, but hesitant to take that dive into the online dating pool. If you have been talking to people in your circles about it like I have, it’s likely you’ve heard some mixed reviews. So to make life easier for you, I conducted some interviews and did an online search to address a few of the common online dating concerns and questions you might have.
I have interviewed males and females, and some of which had strong opinions for and against online dating. Within the small sample of people I spoke with, often those that had very strong oppositions to online dating had not experienced it themselves. There was an exception of one person who had a catfish experience and quit all together as a result. Two common themes that I have heard from some people that have not tried online dating are around the stigma of it and the misconceptions that everyone that engages in online dating is either a catfish, dangerous, or just plain desperate.
The concern about only a subset of weird socially inept and seriously relationship-challenged people dating online is addressed above briefly. As stated previously there are millions of people that have used online dating sites. Online dating is mainstream and modern, and whether people are publicly admitting to it or not, they’re using the internet to find love. The dating site Blackpeoplemeet.com has commercials that use the idea of secretly meeting a partner online as an advertising point. There is a dating site geared to every type of dating imaginable: single mothers, cougars, Christians, Muslims, interracial daters, divorcees, and senior citizens etc… (Match.com and eHarmony have the most members by the way). The point is not everyone has tried online dating but a variety of “normal” people have.
Are the socially inept, desperate, crazy, catfish dating online? Yes. They’re also likely dating in the traditional sense amongst “normal” people too. Who hasn’t gone on a date with someone they met in person that seemed decent and turned out to just be good at hiding their desperation, their stalkerish tendencies (i.e., dangerous), or the person they really are (i.e,. a catish)? Maybe they couldn’t hide their physical appearance upon meeting you, but you found out they weren’t all that they appeared to be. Just like you have to screen people that you meet while out and about, or like you have your friends screen setups, you have to screen people on dating sites. If you haven’t learned anything from the movie and T.V. show Catfish it’s that you need to do whatever research you can on a person and video chat with a person before meeting them. Furthermore, don’t remain in a virtual dating situation. The site is just for the introduction, take it off line and in person once you’ve screened a person and feel comfortable doing so, and screen them even further upon meeting them. In the interviews I conducted, women were more concerned about safety in dating online and meeting a stranger for the first time. Search safety tips for online dating and if something does not feel right to you do not ignore it.
For people that still have the mindset that online dating is for desperate people. I liken that mindset to the same people who don’t take advantage of the uses of smart phones, or are just joining social network sites like Instagram or even FB. In other words, they are lagging and not in touch with one of the ways in which the world is progressing or changing. I believe that many people really enjoy meeting and staying in touch with friends the old fashioned way, but that doesn’t negate the fact that technology and social networking sites are an effective supplemental form of connecting with people and maintaining contact. I would love to talk and visit my family more in FL, VA or TX, but my schedule and finances do not always permit me to. So I FaceTime with one of my nieces, and get plenty of pictures of my other niece via her grandfather on FB, which has resulted in me having a closer relationship with her grandfather to where we speak on the phone (a familial relationship, not to be confused with a dating relationship). I have also made new friendships with people on social networks. Online dating is not all that different. It may not be the preferred method of dating but it still works. Would you like to meet someone in person for the first time, if you’re not socially anxious, probably, but if you met a person online that had what you were looking for, would you say no to a great relationship because you did not meet them the way you prefer. I would hope not, for your sake.
I interviewed that were in support of online dating, many specifically stated that they were open to trying something new. I believe, but don’t have data to prove, that an openness to try new things is a huge factor for those that try it. Interestingly, many reported that they gave online dating a chance because it was recommended by someone they know (e.g. a friend, coworker, family member). Perhaps, there is a trust factor involved between the person that recommended online dating and those that follow through on the recommendation. Maybe knowing someone that has successfully used an online dating site, or having someone to guide novice online daters increases the chances of a person trying it out. So if you’re thinking of online dating talk to someone you know that has experienced it about their likes, dislikes, and ask for any tips they have to offer.
There are a number of reasons why people date online. My search didn’t list being weird or deceptive as any of the top reasons. In addition to the fact that there are many people seeking long-term relationships on dating sites, some people join because of the flexibility in which they can engage with people. Some individuals’ schedules do not afford them time to go out and meet people. People can conveniently log on any time of day or night to edit their profile, look for matches, respond to messages, or chat. Some people would just like to increase their chances of finding the ideal partner by adding online dating to the pool. A certain relationship coach (I’m referring to Trevor Treo Scott of course) likened dating to a game of numbers when trying to find your ideal partner, such that you increase your chance of finding that person by increasing the amount of people that you date.
The idea is to not just date anyone, but to date people that at least appear to match your blueprint of an ideal partner until you find someone who can match it. So as you answer your own dating profile questions and read the answers of potential dates, weed out those profiles that don’t match your blueprint. You decide how inclusive or exclusive the criteria for you is, which can expand or limit your potential matches. This process should also help with one of the common concerns guys that date online have, which is the amount of money they spend on so many dates with people they meet online because of amount of options. One person I spoke candidly with about online dating had the opposite problem with options. She said that she did not get one match. I would guess that her criteria were too exclusive and probably not realistic and suggest she have someone help her think through her blueprint.
Now that it has been established that you can make an online dating profile without being stigmatized as desperate or undesirable but rather as one of the millions of single adults looking for love, there are some things you need to know before you dive in. There are various things that go into online dating. First, you have to decide if online dating is a viable option for you. Multiple articles on the subject suggest that you have to be open to meeting someone in a non-traditional way and flexible in other ways like geographic location and age limits. For example, does he/she absolutely have to live in a 10 mile radius and be no more than two years older than you?
Second, honesty about who you are regarding things such as age, body type, height, income, and your interests and likes is necessary to find a possible partner. Moreover, realistic thinking about what you have to offer a partner is just as important in online dating as it is in the tradition method if you want to find possible long-term partners online. Just some interesting facts about honesty and online dating, more women than men are dishonest about their age and body type, while more men than women are dishonest about their height and income. Dishonesty is only going to lead you to find a match for the person you pretended to be. Your relationship blueprint is a great place to start for the foundation of how to build your profile and date online. However, do not post your entire blueprint or divulge too much information about yourself in your profile. Give enough of a description to entice potential matches, but leave some first date conversation for a first date. Post recent flattering pictures of yourself, including your entire body, but don’t angle the picture to the point that it distorts your shape or face.
If you are still hesitant to get in the water, just put your toes in. Sign up for a free site and just check out some profiles to see if it may be for you. If you are feeling a bit more daring, dive in. (I can’t help but sing Trey Songz “Dive In” as I write this).
Jasmine is a Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student and educator of Human Sexuality. She finds that helping people with serious problems daily is rewarding, but the very interesting and sometimes comical problems come from love, sex, and relationships. She gives her take on all three. It’s not therapy, but its therapeutic, and you can even sit on your own couch.