Internet dating has taken off in the last few years, from relatively sophisticated matchmaking sites that rely on personality matching, like eHarmony.com, to unmonitored classifieds sites, like Craigslist.com. If you haven’t tried online dating yourself, chances are you know someone who has. There are pros and cons to online dating, just like anything else. When you consider going online to find a date, you should know what you’re getting into.
Pro: So Many Possibilities
There’s no doubt that online dating has done something for the singles community that no other type of dating can do: It’s put dating into a worldwide arena. With the ability to search online for a date in any radius you please, from your local area to halfway across the globe, you’re limited only by your ability to travel. Even then, you can choose to date exclusively online.
Con: Too Many Possibilities
The plethora of possibilities has its downside. As Barry Schwartz, psychologist at Swarthmore College, points out in his book on consumer choice, “The Paradox of Choice,” too many options can lead to anxiety and depression. Why?
Well, the fact that human beings are ill adapted to choosing from unmeasurable choices makes decision-making a tricky business. The familiar criteria for choosing may no longer apply, or we simply don’t have the time or mental capacity to narrow down choices. Thus, we’re likely to make more bad choices. And when we make bad choices, we think it’s our fault.
Schwartz was talking primarily about shopping, but this applies to other areas of life as well, such as dating online. When you pick from an arena of millions of candidates versus a handful of candidates, you must sift through an enormous bank of data. Online dating venues use personality profiles to help filter these choices for us. Still, deciding who to meet is challenging to say the least.
Pro: They’re Verified
Many dating services require a credit card upon registration; others use various validation means, including criminal background checks, to verify that its members are who they claim to be. This can be reassuring, and is more than you get when you meet somebody cute in an elevator.
Most people who participate in online dating do not get stalked or harmed, do not get their identities stolen and are not victims of crime stemming from their Internet dating activities. While not all online dating experiences are positive, many are–enough to keep people coming back from more.
Con: They’re Not Verified
At the same time, it’s no myth that identities can be faked. Credit cards can be stolen. More commonly, people can lie. The journal “Proceedings of Computer/Human Interaction” did a study on 80 men and women using Yahoo! Personals, Match.com and other online dating sites, and reported that a good percentage (over 30 percent, and in some cases double that) lied about their weight and height. Use caution about assuming anybody you meet online is who and what he says he is.
Be prepared for the unfortunate fact that dating online is not always safe. To avoid becoming a victim, SODA (Safer Online Dating Alliance) recommends you don’t display any personally identifiable information in your profile–including pictures of your kids; make sure someone knows the who, what, when and where of any meeting you set up with a date, and trust your instincts at all times. See “Additional Resources,” below, for more information.
Pro: Weeding Them Out
When trying out online dating with a service that uses personality matching, you’ll appreciate being able to weed through the search results based on a potential date’s qualities and characteristics. Don’t want a smoker? Looking for a guy with children of his own? Prefer a tall guy? You can select your choices from among candidates that fit your requirements.
Con: Too Much or Not Enough Weeding
Be careful, though. It may be tempting to weed out as many candidates as possible to simplify your search. Yet a too-stringent search might have you eliminating Mr. Right because he has red hair instead of black, earns $34,000 instead of $36,000 or lives 21 miles away instead of 20.
Then comes the problem with interpretation of the profile questions. For example, if you want to weed out members by drinking habits, you may end up with results you don’t want or do the opposite and eliminate perfectly viable candidates. How? Well, let’s say you’re looking for a date who doesn’t drink alcohol. You may turn up a candidate who says he never drinks–but this could mean anything from the fact that he’s a recovering alcoholic to he’s never taken a drop in his life, and one type might be right for you, but not the other type. Be cautious about including–or eliminating–candidates based on qualities or characteristics that tend to be interpreted in a wildly variable way.