This week, researchers at the University of Rochester released findings on the topic of online dating. Among other conclusions (some positive), they found that it encourages a 'shopping mentality', and an unhealthy, unrealistic search for a 'soulmate'.
Now, generally I steer clear of news headlines that begin with "Researchers Say..." ('Researchers Say Seizing the Day Causes Cancer'), but this is a topic that is close to my heart - and possibly yours too. It's no secret that when it comes to internet dating, we're all at it. I know dozens of people who've signed up and several couples who met that way - including at least two married couples and one who are expecting a baby.
And alright, I've got firsthand experience too. I've dated three men I've met online, and in the sense that all of them were nice and one of them became my boyfriend, internet dating has been pretty good to me.
But wonderful as it might feel when it leads you to someone fantastic, online dating veterans know that the in-between times can be grim. Alongside the three men I arranged to meet, there have been dozens of others I've rejected immediately. Too young. Too old. Not physically my type. Too serious. Not funny enough. Too pushy. Too shy. Too Tory. Too prone to sending creepy emails. It goes without saying that plenty of people have taken one look at my profile and clicked away from me too (and obviously they're idiots - all idiots).
This clinical, unromantic process can seriously get you down. If I were going to use a shopping analogy (and I am), it's the relationship equivalent to picturing your ideal birthday-party dress, then spending five hours traipsing around a shopping centre looking for it, convinced that it must exist, and doomed to go home empty-handed.
The magic of online dating is that it enables you to spread your net a little wider - increasing the number of likeminded people you meet, and in theory, increasing your chances of finding someone you could love. But it will never be a simulation of what it's like to meet someone you fancy in real life, when the shopping list goes out of the window, and you suddenly decide you don't mind whether or not they have a great career/kids/hair after all. In fact, several of the men I've been crazy about in real life wouldn't pass the shopping test at all.
Behavioural economist Dan Ariely was quoted in the Guardian this week saying that dating sites "think that we're like digital cameras, that you can describe somebody by their height and weight and political affiliation and so on. But it turns out people are much more like wine. When you taste the wine, you could describe it, but it's not a very useful description. But you know if you like it or don't." I think that hits the nail on the head - and as someone who's drunk a lot of wine, and been on more dates than I'd care to list, I'm pretty much an authority.
So if internet dating so often misses the point, then why do we keep doing it? Because, once you jump the admin hurdles - the browsing, the searching, the weird and awkward emails - you make it to date night. When you're lucky, you find it's with someone you would have willingly spoken to if you'd met at a party. And then, just like that, it stops being an 'internet date' and becomes something we're all more comfortable with - real chemistry.
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