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A recent survey of 19,000 people who married between 20 found that 35 percent of these new couples met online, with about half of those meeting through an online dating site (Cacioppo et al., 2013).
How can these sites help you find romance, and what pitfalls should you be aware of?
There are dating sites devoted to particular religious groups, like Christian Mingle or JDate, for example, as well as sites that cater to gay and lesbian daters. This removes a lot of the ambiguity that you face when you meet an interesting person at a work event or a party. Because of the ease and relative anonymity of online dating sites, we may take more risk reaching out to people we would not approach in person.
And even though men generally contact women more than vice versa on these sites, research has shown that a sizable minority of women do reach out to men they find desirable online, suggesting that these sites allow some women to overcome traditional gender norms that cast them in a passive role of waiting to be approached (Scharlott & Christ, 1995). Shy or socially anxious individuals often have difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships (Alden & Taylor, 2004; Davila & Beck, 2002).
Research shows that people spend their time on dating sites searching criteria such as income and education, and physical attributes like height and body type, when what they need is information about the actual experience of interacting with and getting to know the person on the other end of the profile (Frost et al., 2008).
This can be especially beneficial for people who don’t have a large social circle.
In addition to the sheer number of people you can meet, many sites provide an avenue for meeting like-minded people. Unlike other social venues, on an online dating site, you can be fairly certain that everyone you meet is single and looking.
I found that those who met their partners via online dating sites became romantically involved significantly sooner (an average of two-and-a-half months) than those who met in other ways (an average of one-and-a-half years). Typically, they post old photos from when they were 100 pounds lighter and 10 years younger, or they post photos that hide their body shape, which is not just a physical attribute, but a commentary on their lifestyle.
This suggests that online dating sites don’t facilitate slowly finding love the way that we often do offline. As mentioned earlier, those who are introverted or shy may find online dating more palatable than other ways of looking for love. I've had more than a few claim to love physical fitness and healthy eating, only to confess upon meeting, at which point it becomes obvious, that they actually do neither.
But this also creates pressure quickly to turn your online connection into something romantic, rather than letting romantic feelings develop more slowly.