Does Internet Dating REALLY Work?

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Jennifer Harman

The answer to your question really lies in how you define “work.” If your goal is to meet new dating partners, then online services can help put you in touch with a large number of other eligible singles. Sites like Plentyoffish.com and Match.com have large pools of individuals looking to date, hook up, and even stick together for the long-term. There are also sites, like Shagaholic.com in the U.K., that help individuals find sexual partners. Meanwhile, UpForIt.com and IWantU.com offer online adult chat and other services. The problem is this: Oftentimes, there are so many profiles to sort through that the choices can feel overwhelming. And, this can cause you to miss out on people who actually might be good matches.

Dating sites like eHarmony propose that matching dating partners based on similarity will lead to better pairings. They accomplish this (allegedly) by analyzing survey responses using a proprietary algorithm — or, in less fancy terms, a formula they use to make money (consider it the secret recipe of matchmaking). In another Science of Relationships article, Paul Eastwick wrote a summary of a paper he co-authored; it essentially showed that the algorithms used to match people don’t work the way they're supposed to. According to Eastwick, you're no better off relying on the matches made for you than just meeting someone random at the library or a sporting event. Eastwick and his co-authors recommend that dating sites change their algorithms and begin matching based on factors that have been proven to predict long-term compatibility.

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Plus, there are recent trends towards mobile dating apps (e.g., Skout, Zoosk), which help you find people in your immediate vicinity who want to meet up (read our piece about dating apps here). So, if you are out and about and want to meet up, you can locate another person quickly and schedule a date. Researchers suggest that this approach may be the most effective option until “matching” algorithms are improved, as you can quickly gather a lot of information about someone right away when you meet them in person. After all, when you meet someone online, you may spend weeks emailing and messaging back and forth before you meet up — and they may turn out to be not at all what you expected. So, mobile dating apps can save you time.

In my opinion, the best way to view Internet dating is as one of many tools that you can use to meet people. In fact, I met my boyfriend online, and I know many others who have met their partners on the web as well. Just make sure that your expectations about what online tools can offer are not too high — and are not solely based on a certain service's promises and claims.

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