Why isn’t online dating working for me?

I started the research for this blog entry to understand why online dating is so disappointing for most people. It’s a problem I hear about often in session. I found that the issue lies not so much with the website, but more with human nature and our ability to relate through the current form of online interaction. You might think that OkCupid’s value based questionnaires and personal interest sections listed on user profiles would be the most important part. However, I discovered that attractiveness and the ability to have proper messaging etiquette/skills were ultimately the primary factors in online dating success.

To search the dirty underbelly of OkCupid, I made attractive male and female profiles with falsified information to see what kind of people I’d meet and how they would initially approach me. Yes, I know; morally dubious as others have told me, but necessary to provide a comprehensive analysis of the online dating experience for an individual. During my experiential analysis, I discovered a few things about the interaction aspect of online dating.

First off, online dating can be somewhat different for women than it is for men. My female profile was flooded with messages, where my male profile had a few messages with the word, “Hi!”. The female’s inbox was filled with compliments about her attractiveness, usually a small nod to something personal in her profile, very personal questions about sexuality, name, workplace, and so on. Pretty invasive for a stranger she’s never met.

What type of message would have been a better choice for both genders, you ask? How about demonstrating creativity, curiosity, intelligence, and humor? It might help to make your message unique without looking like it was copied and pasted. Show that you’ve really read his/her profile and absorbed the small details.

Ladies, if you’re frustrated with the over saturation in prying, generic, or sexual messages, put yourself in his shoes. He has no idea what to say when initiating a conversation with you and he’s competing with hundreds of men for your attention. It might help if you write a profile with more unique attributes. Include details that might narrow down interested suitors, but will make it easier for your special someone to reach out to you. So some guys might be turned off by an Adventure Time marathon on a Friday night. That’s their loss.

Men, I’m sorry to say that your competition is fierce. Maybe blaming your matches is not the answer. Instead, learn to market yourselves more effectively. Let down the mask a little and show your vulnerable side. That’s how a deep connection forms- through openness with an abundance of acceptance. If you’re feeling fearful of sharing that you have the full Star Wars Lego set, sit back, take a breath, and put it out there. You might be surprised with the results.

My first assumption was that men had it a lot harder than women when it comes to online dating, but after some research, I discovered some interesting facts. Jon Millward conducted an experiment where he made 10 fake OKCupid profiles (see, I’m not the only one with questionable morals.). Each profile shared similar sounding usernames, the same written profile, personal stats, level of education, etc. The only difference? Each account had a different photo of a man or woman of varying attractiveness. Not very interestingly, he discovered something about online dating – we have the “perception of choice”, but not actual choice itself. From his research:

“The expanded horizons offered by online dating don’t equal unrestricted access to a ready and waiting list of beautiful people. Every man and woman online still has criteria that must be met by people who want to date him or her, and every guy and girl is still in direct competition with every other person of their gender… Whereas before a man just needed to be the best looking guy at work to get a date with a colleague, now he needed to be in the top 10% of all men to get a date with one of the women in his city.”

With this said, you have far more access to singles through online dating than at work or in your social groups, but so does everyone else. The competition is much higher.

If you have no problem getting dates, but your matches are not sticking around then you might find this tidbit of information helpful – Research shows that with the increased amount of options with online dating, people tend to have unrealistically high expectations for their first (in person) date. If those expectations aren’t met, studies show that 70% of the time, people are more eager to move onto their next match rather than see what a second date might reveal.

Sometimes your date might have performance anxiety and talk too fast and too much or not at all, or they had a tough day at work, who knows. People are complex and moody creatures. It doesn’t take much to trigger an overactive limbic response from us which can cause a date to go south. If the first date doesn’t work out, give it another shot. You might be pleasantly surprised. It also might help to do some mindful meditation exercises before a date to feel grounded and at your best. Ask your therapist about some mindful, boundary setting exercises that will help with this.

Another thing to consider is that these online dating sites are category based, not interaction based processes. In the category-based process, a person uses profile details to predict the possibility of acceptance or rejection by the other. It is an artificial type because both rejection and acceptance by the daters are not about the rejection and acceptance of real individuals, but of the imagined or perceived attributes of their categories. Our imaginations can conjure up such beautiful fantasies that we find not to be true once we meet our match in the flesh.

Sad to say that people do not fall in love with categories. Maybe one day when we’re mindless cybermen, but for now it’s not the case. I mean, I suppose there’s some esoteric diagnosis out there for that, but generally speaking, the interpersonal process of energy exchange through eye contact, touch, and so on can create the feeling of love and longing. Love is also created and maintained by the process of cycling through attunement, missatunement, and repair, thus promoting trust and growth. This is something we cannot achieve with the current format of online dating. Additionally, love is highly individualistically based. One loves another because they are unique in one’s eyes. It’s hard to see that unique connection when you have a list of other matches with similar attributes. So it might help to get past the fantasy and give your match several dates before moving onto the next person.

In short, online dating is fun at the start, but in the long run, it can trigger a lot of difficult feelings like fear, abandonment, inadequacy, hopelessness, and rejection. However, these are basic human emotions that we all feel. It all depends on whether or not you let them rule your life, but I digress. Who knows, with a little luck, patience, creativity, acceptance, and curiosity, you might sift through the rubble and find that special someone who will stick around and make you feel whole by seeing you for who you really are. If not, well, there’s nothing wrong with fantasizing.


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