For those of us tinkering with online dating, it's good to know that everyone else is doing it, too!
Recently a reporter interviewed me for a piece they were doing on online dating. At first I was a bit stumped. As a couples therapist I tend to deal with people who already have a partner, and many of my individual therapy clients report a great variety of positive and negative dating experiences, whether they started online or off. So rather than purely going by anecdotal evidence, I reviewed a few formal studies, and especially the findings of a 2011 German study are worth sharing. 4 common beliefs in particular appear to be myths.
Myth #1: People using online dating services are predominantly young and male
This may have been true a decade ago for internet users in general, but as the internet has become mainstream, so has online dating. These days men and women use online dating about equally, and people around 40 years of age are the most active online daters. A plausible explanation for this might be that it is relatively difficult for people of this age group to find a romantic partner via more traditional strategies. Singles in this age group are often divorced and need to combine children with a busy career. In fact, divorcees are more than 3 times as likely to use a dating site.
Myth #2: People using online dating can’t find a partner offline
This cliché goes into a similar direction. Online dating is not the domain of lonely and socially anxious people, at least not in their own estimation. According to the survey, online dating seems to be an activity particularly of individuals who are low in dating anxiety. Men and women in the online survey were more likely to report self-assessed attractiveness and felt less "unattractive" than respondents in the offline survey. Many online daters characterized themselves as very attractive, and seem to use the internet merely as an additional and exciting dating market. For people who are already sociable, using the internet as a dating method is just one more tool at their disposal. High self-esteem folks feel like they have little to lose by trying internet dating, while low self-esteem folks feel they have more to lose, since more of their own self-value is tied up in the process.
Myth #3: Online dating does not work
In the German study about 1/3 of men and 44% of women reported having previously found a partner via the internet. They were asked what kind of relationship they had had with the partner they had found, and whether the partner they met on the internet had fulfilled their expectations. At least 56% of respondents reported that their expectations were fulfilled at least sometimes, often, or even every time.
Myth #4: Online romantic relationships aren’t "real" relationships
Finding a partner who fulfills your expectations is one thing, but what about the stability of the relationship? Can online dating provide a stable and lasting partnership, compared to relationships that started offline? The participants in the German study were asked whether they had declared their love to their partner, and whether the couple plans to set up a common household. Neither indicator revealed any important differences between couples who met online or offline.
I don’t believe internet dating is for everyone. As discussed under Myth #2, it takes a certain kind of personality to enjoy the constant interaction, flirtation, and rejection that goes hand in hand with the internet. But at least it’s good to know for those of us that do use the tool that we aren’t the exception, aren’t weird or socially inept, and aren’t completely kidding ourselves when we try to go the online route to find a serious partner.
Study source: SCHMITZ et al.: Myths And Facts About Online Mate Choice. Contemporary Beliefs And Empirical Findings, in: Zeitschrift fuer Familienforschung (Journal of Family Research), Volume 23, Number 3, 2011