Single-but-looking wasn't always so hard. If you back up just a few short years, it was commonplace to meet someone from your neighborhood and end up in a relationship with them — eventually getting married. But with the advent of technology, neighborhoods have given way to online communities. Introductions are passé, having been replaced with "friending" someone. Getting to know someone has transformed into It's Just Lunch. And love letters have been reduced to 140 characters.
Of course, there are success stories of couples that have met online. Everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who is getting married to their online sweetheart. But after connecting with thousands of women via my Facebook page and hearing their tales of missed dates, mixed messages, and misunderstood expectations, the horror stories seem to outnumber any purported success rate by a very wide margin.
But why? Don't we all hear how great online dating is? It's easy. You answer a few questions and then get to meet someone with whom you are compatible. The dating site's algorithm automagically matches you up with like-minded people who have similar interests, hobbies, life goals, yada, yada, yada. If this is true, then why do I receive hundreds of messages asking why he didn't call, why she lied about being married, why he pretended to love her and then disappeared, and much, much more?
We'll get into all that.
When it comes to measuring the success of online dating, research studies and success stories are usually commissioned research through a third party, and paid for by the dating site. Hardly unbiased results, but at first blush it reads impressively. Here's an excerpt from the Huffington Post in June, 2013:
"A recent study funded by [a major dating website] suggests that as many as 35 percent of Americans now meet their spouses online. What's more, the study suggests that those marriages are less likely to end in divorce than those that begin offline."
What this article silently implies is that the phrase "meet their spouses online" translates to "meet their spouses while using an online dating site". However, if you read the complete study (and most people don't), you will be quick to discover that "online" means exactly that: on the internet.
Meeting someone online is now commonplace, and is a reflection of the change in societal communication patterns, not a feather in the cap of the online dating industry. Moreover, this study examined many online venues: virtual worlds, chat rooms, multiplayer games, and social networks — as well as many dating sites.
What's needed to evaluate online dating success is information from a source that doesn't have a vested interested in the outcome — like this recent study from the Association for Psychological Science which discusses the notion that, although people are using online dating sites, the way people are actually finding spouses over the last several years remains largely unchanged. According to the Association for Psychological Science, the most common place to meet a spouse is at work or at school (38 percent). "Through a friend or family member" came in second (27 percent), while "On an online dating site" came in third (17 percent) — hardly the "35 percent of Americans" as claimed in the earlier study.
The Science Behind Online Dating
Proprietary algorithms, tests and questionnaires that promise to match you with a mate provide an air of awe and confidence with a glint of the scientific. But the questions feeding these algorithms are highly suspect. Firstly, to match someone with a potential mate, these questionnaires need to be answered honestly and accurately (and they aren't; more on that coming shortly). But, the questions these surveys ask are really about dating – not relationships… and there is a big difference between dating someone today and being compatible for the long term.
Where are the questions about environment, economic conditions, and outside influences? (Example: Long-standing research shows that when couples encounter stress or unexpected demands on their energy, their satisfaction with their relationship declines, often leading to break-up or divorce.) Why don't these dating sites take critical happenings, variables and milestones into account when evaluating compatibility — money management, financial strain, losing a job, illness, death of a parent, moving, raising kids (not "do you want kids," but rather, asking questions about parenting style and actually raising kids). The truth is that these questions are very difficult questions to ask. So, it's not the dating sites' fault for not being able to bring them up. But these are questions/considerations that need to be taken into account. If online dating sites claim to help find lasting love — a "match" —questions like these are a crucial part of evaluating long-term companionship.
And while the questions these surveys do ask are usually centered on individual wants, needs, behaviors, and characteristics, they only address a very small part of what makes human beings compatible. These compatibility tests don’t take into account upbringing, childhood environment and/or teenage influences, nor do they address changing attitudes and needs. And, again, this is all assuming the respondents are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How often do you think that happens?
The Human Element
Beyond all the pseudo-science, online dating short-circuits the natural courtship process of men and women. Primal dating rituals and natural courtship don't include posting a profile and a few pictures. Here are the biggest issues with online dating:
Lack Of Honesty: It's well documented that both men and women lie when completing their online profiles. Old pictures, employment status, income, weight, age… over 80 percent of online daters don't tell the truth. In essence, you are starting a relationship based on dishonesty.
Deceptive First Impressions: One of the biggest challenges with online dating is that you aren’t actually meeting the person; you are meeting their portrayal and estimation of the best parts of their personality. And it's not even them; it's a digital impersonation, and a poor one, at that. Perhaps more importantly, once the online dater sees a potential match’s name and/or photo, the next step is to spend a bit of time scouring the internet (Google, Facebook, wherever) to get more information about them — before they have even had a chance to respond to the first message sent.
The Absence Of Non-Verbal Communication: According to communication expert Albert Mehrabian (Professor Emeritus, Ph. D., Clark University, Social Psychology) there are three elements that account for someone taking a liking or interest in another person: words (7 percent), tone of voice (38 percent), and body language (55 percent). With online dating, you only get the words (and not even spoken words). The remaining-yet-critical 93 percent of the evaluation process is not available. And when it comes to online profiles, the written word is completely subjective — perception, tone, and understanding landing squarely on the shoulders of the reader. True intent is not known nor understood, plus all the primal, subliminal cues that we depend on as part of the human courtship process — facial expression, gestures, paralinguistics, body language and posture, eye movement, appearance — get lost to the digital format.
No Real Get-To-Know-You Process: In the real world, both parties communicate via verbal and non-verbal cues. But with online dating, initial impressions, introductions, and the spoken/unspoken "Please allow me to introduce myself" process is virtually non-existent. Prospective daters might start by viewing an online profile, but their interest will instantly bring them to Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online sites to gather information about someone they might have an interest in. From there, opinions and assumptions are made — away from the prospective date — allowing for the decision of interest to be reached before even meeting in the real world.
Even more damage occurs when interest is affirmed. Most of the first interactions between daters take place via email and online chat messages — which means their entire investment is mental/emotional. This can lend itself to a false positive impression of "connection", and lead the daters to believe that they really know each other… when, in fact, they don't know each other at all.
A Predatory Environment
If you think your local bar or nightclub is the quintessential "Meat Market", you ain't seen nothin' yet. The online dating world is fraught with pick-up artists. (Disclaimer: Are there women scammers who troll online dating sites? Sure… but in my research the amount of women scammers isn't even close to the amount of men.) In truth, online dating sites allows these hustlers to become anyone, say anything, claim anything, and portray an image that sells them to as many willing/hopeful/desperate/naïve people as possible. In many ways, online dating provides a finishing school for amateur pick-up artists. Early failure does not deter them from achieving success. Quite to the contrary. Online dating provides them with a world-wide arena they would otherwise not have, where they can perfect their lines by trying them out on a multitude of people; where they can pursue whatever it is they're after. Maybe it's an ego boost. Maybe online sex, instant emotional gratification, short-term love, one-way companionship, etc.
I interviewed 50 men who use online dating sites to meet women. Here's what a few had to say (and all of them requested to be kept anonymous):
From G.S. in New York: "Online dating is easy. I check out their profile and can find out really quickly what they are looking for in a guy. Maybe they want a relationship, so I tell them I want one, too. Some want a guy to be all adventurous, so I tell them about my last mountain climbing exhibition or how I bike a lot. It doesn't matter what I say, because once I get in there, I probably won't see her again."
From E.B in Chicago: "I have a really great profile. I paid a professional writer to help me with it. It's general enough to appeal to many different types of women. It usually only takes me a short email to get her interested. From there, I just pour on the charm. A smile, a little shy attitude over coffee, and she's mine."
From M.D. in London: "You just tell them what they need to hear. It's not complicated. Women on online dating sites are there because they want a boyfriend or husband. They're prequalified, so it's really like shooting fish in a barrel. I tell them I want something exclusive… a real connection. I take it a little slow, and before I know it we're in bed. They're eager to land a guy, so if I play my cards right, it's easy to get laid."
These men also shared something they have in common: They all play the numbers game. They each send many, many emails out to lots of different types of women, resulting in many email exchanges and chat sessions, and a few dates — the goal of which is to end up having sex. These scammers deal in volume because different women take different lengths of time to coerce into the bedroom. If a woman proves she's too challenging to get into bed, these predators move on.
From F.H. in San Francisco: "I test the waters with soft lines. But I don't want some lady to fall in love with me. It's too hard to get away from that. If I see that she's 'really' after a relationship, I move on. I can find easier targets."
And in this simple statement, perhaps we find one of the most common reasons why he seemed so into her on that first date and then never called her again.
This predatory environment has far-reaching implications. These men play on/prey on women. After a few bad dates and misplaced emotional investment in the wrong guys, many of these women decide that all men are like this. So, when a genuinely nice guy comes along, she's not interested, or else she decides that he's "just like all the rest". The nice guy then laments that women only date the jerks, and he sets out to become a jerk in order to garner a woman's interest. Rinse. Repeat.
The Real Lies and Secrets of Online Dating Sites
The business of online dating is business, not love. You want the dirty truth? Don't say I didn't warn you.
The online dating industry generates $1.9 billion (with a "B") of revenue every year, earned mostly from monthly subscriptions. The typical dating site customer spends an average $239 every year in their quest to find love; just under $20 a month. However, were those monthly subscribers to find love quickly (as these dating sites promise to deliver, thanks to their algorithms and science), they won't stay subscribed to the site very long. They will have found love and won’t be dating anymore… and there goes the dating sites' monthly subscription fees. Think about it: If everyone fills out a 400-question compatibility survey, chances are decent that there will be some commonalities… perhaps even a connection or two. If that's the case, and the science/algorithms are so good/accurate, why would anyone have to spend $239 over 12 months to find someone with whom they click?
According to "Sally" (name has been changed), a senior consulting programmer who's assisted in the creating of compatibility algorithms at a number of online dating sites, it costs the average dating site approximately $120 to generate a new customer. (In the subscription-based services world, this is called the Cost of User Acquisition, and includes the fees associated with advertising, promotion, sales bonuses, transaction fees, and more). But if the monthly fee is only $20 a month, the dating site needs to keep you using their services (read: unmatched) for at least six months just to break even. To show a profit, they need to keep you unmatched even longer. According to Sally, this is how it's done:
"When a subscriber completes their online questionnaire and profile, the site's technology matches them up with compatible potentials, and the subscriber is shown a selection of matched profiles. However, although the algorithm is capable of matching based on compatibility, only one of the profiles shown is actually a match based on their algorithm; the others are either random profiles of other users, or fake profiles entirely. If the subscriber doesn't happen to click on the profile generated from the algorithm and instead selects one of the other randomly generated profiles, the algorithm shuts off for the next 4-5 months in an effort to recoup the cost spend of acquiring that subscriber. It's been done like this for years, and is the way the business works."
My opinion? Any time you put people on one side, and the potential of love on the other, you will find someone in the middle with their greedy little paws out.