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The Psychology Behind Online Dating

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How is it so hard to meet people, despite the fact that we’re so connected? This is a question I get a lot: whether people are looking for love on or offline, they’re frustrated. And while websites and apps have become the mainstay of the modern dating scene, are they really all they’re chalked up to be?

Online dating has become the second most common way that married and committed couples meet each other, just behind meeting through friends, according to a 2012 report by scientists at the University of Rochester. Finding a significant other through traditional means – at social gatherings or events – may require one set of social skills, but online dating changes the playing field and the strategies needed to find a compatible partner.

So, how can you put your best foot forward and maximize your chances of finding your significant other? A comprehensive 2012 study from Northwestern outlined some of the potential pitfalls of online dating to avoid:

Skip the stereotypes

Blonde, petite, and outgoing. Sound familiar?

Unsurprisingly, when looking at profiles, some are more popular than others. Online dating provides access to hundreds, if not thousands (depending on how much time you have) of people who you might not otherwise meet. But this might paradoxically leave you with less, rather than more, compatible matches.

If you consistently reach out to the profiles that are likely to garner lots of attention – tall, fit and handsome – it’s likely that these people are inundated with messages and unable to respond to the vast majority of them.

Know What You Really Want

When people browse profiles online, the characteristics they search for in a partner might differ drastically from what they’re actually attracted to in person. The characteristics that draw attention on someone’s profile like height, religion, and political beliefs might not be important in creating a meaningful relationship. It might be the subtle descriptors or characteristics you can’t see on a profile that will predict a good match. Online daters should be wary of this when browsing profiles.

Don’t Overcommunicate

How long should you converse with someone online before meeting in person? Ignoring the possibility of a catfish disaster, the 2012 Northwestern study suggested that communicating online for more than six weeks can create unrealistic expectations. This is especially true when you consider that 81 percent of online dating profiles reported inaccurate information. Most lied about their weight, followed by height, and age, according to researchers from Cornell University. Of course, communication is the basis for building the start of a relationship, but be wary of letting the relationship live exclusively online for too long.

Don’t Get Distracted

The ability to connect with such a huge quantity of people online can sometimes lead to less satisfaction in any one relationship. For some who have just started a relationship, the endless possibilities available on the internet may constantly nag at them and lead them to wonder “is this the best I can do?” This knowledge can decrease satisfaction in current relationships, according to research from Northwestern University.

To successfully navigate the sometimes overwhelming, and possibly discouraging, world of online dating one of the most important factors is first analyzing the distinct characteristics in someone that you are looking for, beyond and hopefully different from the typical, idealized characteristics. Once an online connection is formed, meeting in person and focusing on that one match are the keys to the most successful relationships.

Too avoid these pitfalls, online daters could take a cue from cognitive behavioral therapy and think about the way they are approaching online dating mentally. By targeting the maladaptive thoughts that lead them to get easily distracted, for instance, and replacing them with more adaptive thinking, online daters can stop behavior that is detrimental to finding fulfilling relationships.

If you have any other questions about online dating, contact me on Twitter @drfader!

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