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Does Online Dating Make You Luckier at Love?

New Review Delves Into Claims of Relationship Success Made by Internet Dating Sites

The Problem of Too Much Choice

Reis and his four co-authors, all recognized experts on courtship and dating, found evidence that having many potential partners to consider at the same time changes the way people evaluate their dating choices.

In particular, Reis says, people who have many choices to consider often switch on something called an assessment mindset. In assessment mindsets, people pick things or make decisions by comparing them to their other choices.

The alternative is something called a locomotion mindset, where people make decisions based on whether or not something or someone is likely to help them reach their goals.

Studies of couples have shown that too much assessment leads people to be critical and unsupportive of their partners and pessimistic about the future of their relationships.

The review says that online dating sites foster assessment mindsets and undermine locomotion mindsets. That’s not always a great way to find a romantic partner, Reis says.

“It’s like going through a catalog and shopping for a pair of pants in the L.L.Bean catalog. Finding a partner is not the same thing. The pants don’t smile back at you. The pants don’t interact with you to see if your values mesh. You need to take a very different approach.”

Does Compatibility Matching Work?

Recognizing that having too many choices may not be a good way to look for a serious relationship, some sites, like eHarmony.com and Chemistry.com, offer to narrow the field.

For a fee, they offer to retrieve potential matches that better align with a client’s values, preferences, and in some cases, even their DNA. They also promise that these matches are more likely to result in successful relationships.

But the review finds no evidence to suggest that such matching is scientifically based or lives up to its claims.

That’s in large part because dating sites refuse to reveal their methods, saying it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

“There is no evidence available that meets any standard of scientific validity,” Reis says. “Imagine if a drug company came out with a new drug and said that it cures depression better than any other drug, but refuses to tell people what’s in the drug or how they did the study. Would you believe that claim?”

Based on the information they could find, and based on decades of scientific research on love and marriage, researchers say it’s unlikely these sites can live up to the happily-ever-after hype.

First, they say, the weight of scientific literature says compatibility between partners who have not met has relatively little power to predict the success of a relationship.

Second, studies have shown that some of the strongest indicators of how long a couple will last depend on how partners interact with each other and how they respond to unpredictable and uncontrollable events -- none of which can be measured before two people even meet.

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