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Central California Life Magazine

Health and Wellness: A few thoughts about online dating

Feb 17, 2015 10:47PM ● By Cen Cali Life Magazine

Health and Wellness

A few thoughts about online dating

by Bradley T. Wajda, D.O.

Online dating is getting a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. Research has shown that that one in three Americans meets his or her spouse online and experiences more marital satisfaction and fewer divorces than those whose relationships begin more traditionally.

With traditional dating we are limited to those available individuals in our immediate proximity. The number of potential romantic interests is vastly larger online. (How large is too large to manage effectively? The work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar might give us a clue. His studies suggest we can comfortably maintain, at most, 150 friendships – about the same number of friends many of us have on Facebook.)

Entering into online dating begins with deciding in advance what kind of person you are looking for, because every compromise you make now will be amplified under the relationship microscope later. While it may seem counter-intuitive, you are more likely to successfully assess the suitability of a stranger for a relationship than someone you already have some degree of a relationship with. More to the point, you’re less likely to compromise when you don’t have a pre-existing emotional investment. With this in mind, honesty is always the best policy.

The linchpin of online dating is, of course, the profile. Your profile is the only chance you get to make an impression enticing enough to invite further contact. Be aware that your potential matches likely they describe themselves as you did. 

This is where the “Forer effect,” named after American psychologist Bertram R. Forer (1914-2000), comes into play.

The term refers to our tendency to interpret vague and general personality descriptions as unique to us even though they can be applied equally to anyone. The Internet was decades away when Forer conducted the 1948 experiment that gave rise to this observation, but his assertions are strikingly relevant to online dating today, particularly when it comes to our need to see what might not be there: “When you want to believe something, when you need something to be true, you will look for patterns; you connect the dots like the stars of a constellation. You will take the random and give it purpose, transmutate the chaotic into the systemic, see chance as fate.” Being aware of a common human desire to attach meaning to vague generalizations may help you to avoid having a false sense of compatibility with someone based on his or her online profile alone.

If you plan to venture into the world of online dating, there are at least three important precautions to keep in mind. First, don’t share personal information over the Internet. Second, don’t meet strangers in secluded or unfamiliar areas. Finally, don’t substitute online communication for actual communication. Communicating face to face not only allows us to establish stronger connections, it also makes it exceedingly difficult for people to misrepresent themselves and their intentions.

In conclusion, there is much to recommend online dating. In addition to the reports of greater marital satisfaction and lower divorce rates mentioned earlier, courtship originating online averages 18.5 months before resulting in marriage, compared to 42 months in a traditional courtship.

This doesn’t mean you should only look online for love and companionship. Couples who met at social events, were introduced by friends, or initially crossed paths while in line at grocery stores or coffee houses are proof of an important truth: Cupid can strike anywhere.