Psychology professor examines romantic relationships in the age of online dating
The way many people discover romance is undergoing a radical shift. Where once we may have met our romantic partners in the checkout line at the grocery store, the norm has shifted to connecting online first. How did this happen and what does it mean for the future of romance?
Jocelyn Wentland is an adjunct professor of psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus whose research explores interpersonal relationships, adolescence and human sexual behaviour.
Online dating once had a stigma and now it’s the norm. How did that happen?
There is not one simple explanation that captures the popularity or success of online dating. This is because of the rise of social media and technology coincide with the rise of online dating popularity. With so many people using various online dating sites and apps, there are bound to be many success stories – just as there are many online dating fails. Just ask anyone who has used an online dating app to share their horror stories.
Most likely, some of the early adopters of online dating were viewed as weird or desperate simply because they were doing something that was not considered the norm. However, those early adopters are not really any different compared to the people who used to post advertisements in the newspaper or use early telephone dating services.
What I think is really cool is to imagine what people will be doing in 20 to 25 years from now. Will they look back at the likes of Tinder or Bumble and think that those sites are downright antiquated?
Online dating apps often use filters to allow users to sort through potential partners. Does that mean online dating is more successful than the traditional “meet n’ greet”?
For many, the traditional first date conversation (Where did you grow up? What’s your family situation?) takes place online before meeting in person. In this way, that ‘first date’ has already occurred online and any filtering can take place inconspicuously without someone ever having to communicate to another person that they don't see things going anywhere.
Because similarity is such an important factor for the success of relationships, online apps or sites provide important filtering that may result in greater success for those who do meet online – because they have already filtered one another in.
That said, many online dates do begin with what is known as the traditional in-person “meet n’ greet.” For many online daters—especially the savvy ones—they know better than to plan a traditional date, like a dinner. Instead, they may plan a simple coffee or drink after work. This is very much on purpose so the ‘date’ can be aborted on short notice while not giving any major cues that communicate they may not be interested.
How accurate is some of the matching software?
The accuracy of matching software is tricky to comment on because some of the biggest players who state they will ‘find your best match’ have been unwilling to cooperate with researchers who want to test their algorithms. This has been a long-standing issue amongst relationship researchers who have requested to see if they can verify the algorithms with their own participant samples.
My hunch is that these fancy algorithms are based on some simple “matching” - which aligns perfectly with long-standing social psychology research from the 1970s. That research asserts that similarity in values or background is one of the most important predictors of individuals striking up a successful relationship.
Are there serial online daters who will never commit? Always looking for someone better?
I think that the serial online daters are most likely in-person serial daters, too. In an online context, the illusion of more choice and ‘greener grass’ gives these serial online daters an excuse to keep looking. We do know that people do not always do well when given more choices. More choices can cause anxiety and discomfort if someone feels they should have made an alternate choice and makes them feel unhappy with their current choice. The nature of online dating unfortunately caters to these serial daters who can delay meeting up with anyone in particular or simply ghost someone if they feel like if things are progressing too far and they want to step back.
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