September 30, 2010

Online Dating Experiences

todd_S_2010b By Todd Schoepflin

I haven’t thought about dating in a while. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been married for six years. I met my wife in an old-fashioned way: at work. I had the type of the job that was satirized in the movie Office Space. The clock never seemed to move. I’d stare at my computer screen for eight hours waiting for my shift to end. Tina provided much-needed relief from the drudgery of my cubicle existence. These days, the word “date” means that we have a babysitter for a few hours, giving us time to grab a cheeseburger and a beer.

I have no experience with online dating, and before I watched this video interview of Dan Ariely I had never heard a scholar talk about it. Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, has studied online dating and makes some really interesting comments about the subject in the interview. image

Ariely points out that typical online dating websites break people down into “searchable attributes” such as height, weight, income, and political views. These  websites operate on the mistaken assumption that people are easy to describe on the basis of such attributes. He uses wine for an analogy. You might be able to describe the wine you drink, but that doesn’t matter very much. What matters is that you know if you like it or you don’t.

He thinks that’s kind of like dating. Being able to describe a person based on a set of characteristics isn’t very useful. It’s the full experience of spending time with someone that tells you whether you like a person or not. It’s not a simple matter of someone being the “perfect” weight and having the “right” eye color. In Ariely’s opinion, breaking people into attributes turns out not to be informative. What’s informative is what happens when you share an experience with someone.

Ariely concludes that people have unsatisfying experiences with online dating. Although websites can match people based on their preferences, they can’t predict if people will actually like each other in the real world. Sure, you can pick someone online who is tall, has brown eyes, and hair that looks great to you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy that person’s company when you’re on a date.

Something I found really fascinating in the interview was Ariely’s discussion of whether people are superficial. Consider, after all, that people do search for potential dates in terms of hair color, body type, and income. Realistically, he says, people are superficial; for example, generally speaking, women prefer tall men and men prefer skinny women. So women and men both search out partners based on features they find physically attractive.

However, in defense of online daters, Ariely makes a good point: if that’s the search criteria available to people to use, then they’re going to use it. Naturally, a lot of people will have preferences when it comes to hair color, height, and weight. So it’s not that people who use online dating are more superficial than any other group of people. Rather, he believes the typical online dating system exaggerates our tendency to be superficial.

Did you notice the comments from people who reacted to Ariely’s interview? I found a few of them to be very interesting. For instance, a man named Mark said: “I think online dating is unsatisfying for most people because dating in general is unsatisfying for most people.” Think about all of your dating experiences: have most of them been satisfying or disappointing? And, if you have online dating experience, did the outcome of those dates differ significantly from dates that came about in other ways?

A comment I found especially insightful was made by Elizabeth, who said: “Perhaps one of the best things about dating online is that one can know the deal image breakers (smoking, drinking, how many kids, etc.) before falling for someone, before attempting to justify a relationship that won’t work.” That strikes me as an intelligent point. Honestly speaking, isn’t it true there are certain things about potential dating partners that you won’t accept?

I asked my friend Don about this. Don is a 38-year-old never married man who has accumulated vast dating experience. A few years ago he was in a serious relationship that soured because he doesn’t want to have kids. In essence, the fact that he doesn’t want children was a deal breaker in that relationship. He recently set a date using the free dating website called Plenty of Fish. He described his date as a “very pretty, 40-year-old Pilates instructor who doesn’t want kids.”

I asked Don if he thought there were such things as “deal makers.” In other words, if having kids (or wanting to have kids) is a deal breaker for some people, couldn’t we say that not wanting kids is a “deal maker” for other people?

Fair enough, he responded, but in his dating experience, he finds that people tend to focus on differences rather than commonalities. He wonders if this is because people are trying to find the absolutely perfect match. Because technology enables people to access an unlimited number of people, maybe they feel they should hold out for Mr. or Ms. Perfect.

When I told Don I was writing a blog about online dating, he said: “Yeah, because you know so much about that.” He was teasing me because I haven’t been on a date with someone other than my wife since 2000, when I met her. I replied: “Well, suppose I wanted to cheat. You know there are websites that cater to married people, right?” Although I have no plans to destroy my marriage, I have heard radio advertisements of a website tailored to people in relationships. The website AshleyMadison.com uses the trademarked slogan “Life is short. Have an affair.” Isn’t that lovely?

An article in Time asserts that “cheating has never been easier” now that the AshleyMadison website has applications for iPhone and Blackberry. The site has 4 million members and includes options for males seeking males and females seeking females. I guess cheating is for everyone! Watch CEO Noel Biderman get grilled by the hosts of The View (a person involved with a website that facilitates cheating makes an easy target). He downplays the influence of the website by saying “AshleyMadison.com didn’t invent infidelity.” Touché.

While reading up on the topic of online dating, I came across an article in the New York Times that refers to Cheekd.com as “the next generation of online dating.”

Members purchase cards with phrases and give them to people they encounter in everyday life. One example is “I am totally cooler than your date.” See someone in a restaurant who you think is good-looking? Walk by someone on the street that looks interesting? Simply hand them a card with an identification code that allows the person to find you on the website. Lori Cheek, the founder of the website, says: “It’s almost like you’re shopping online, but you’re shopping in real life.” Cool idea, I guess it gives new meaning to “pick up lines.” I wonder if they have a card that says “Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only 10 I see.” Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

I know of two couples who were definitely satisfied with their online dating experiences. Heather and Brian (pictured on their wedding day) met on eHarmony, have been married for over a year, and are expecting their first child soon. Heather explained something she and her husband liked about eHarmony: “We both agree now that many of the things that their questionnaire asked about definitely make us more compatible than some other couples that we know. They focused on values and how we viewed the roles of husband and wife.” As for Jonathan and Nhein, they met on Match.com and then married. No kids yet, but they have a cute little dog!

Do you know anyone who has tried online dating? If so, what has their experience been like? What can we infer about the sociological meanings of relationships?

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83534ac5b69e2013487721c36970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Online Dating Experiences:

Comments

Another aspect of online dating is that it makes connections between people relatively disposable as there is always another profile to find or another person to email.

Hi,
Online dating, hmmm... I have never experienced but yes, I have many online friends and I use almost all the social media channels for interacting and socializing.
Essay Papers

Online Dating requires people to fill out a questionnaire, which is a tool often used by sociologists to gain information on an individual. The problem with these questionanaires is that most of the information is gained from closed-ended questions. For example, online dating sites ask you your weight. The only answer you can give to this question is numerical and they do not allow you to ellaborate so the question is closed-ended. Open-ended questions allow you to ellaborate and add a personal sense to your answer. This is why open-ended questions need to be asked on a blind date because they allow you to truely get to know and experience the person, as opposed to the questionnaire that just gives you general information.

Your article about online dating is very interesting. I know people who have dated online before and i know someone who has actually married one of the girls he met online. I have never dated online and i dont plan on it, but i think this article is a good article and some people do meet the love of their live's on the internet.

Is online dating becoming a norm in our society? Some people might think you are a deviant for using the internet to find someone instead of finding someone on your own.

I have never used an on line dating source. I know of some people who have but I have never found any of them had a commited relationship. However I believe those who hardly date can use dating online as a practice field and who knows maybe someone will get lucky. I do have a page on facebook where people come and ask to be my friend but I haven't tried to date any of them. I have a girlfriend and meet people at school. I suppose it is good for a worker who is stuck in a cubicle every day and has little outside sources to meeet people. Interesting article.

I think there is no stigma anymore. Obviously if someone approaches online dating like accessing a database of endless possibilities or a perfect mathematical match, there can be a problem. - Meri

I wonder about what variables you need to make a relationship work and not work. The variables that are directed towards the possible significant other are always the same asking about age, height, eye color, hair color, income, education etc. Yet they never list if their a liar, want a real relationship, and just want to have fun, so people are misleaded by what is found through these websites. Physically through these websites, he or she is perfect but what else can they offer, people need to find what they want and not settle for less. Once time goes by things always change in and outside a person, so physical attraction is not enough. Now the quantitative variable of this process would be how many months or more will it take before the two decide things are not going to work out? Also for example, Don is Todd’s friend, he was in a serious relationship with a woman who wanted kids but he does not want any, now he is single. That relationship reminds me of a math equation where you have to find x, y, to get to z but theirs no solution, so for Don he had to make a choice try to make this work or understand that they just want two different things in life. Next, is the qualitative variable, which would be, are the two possible lovebirds unmarried, truly looking for love, and are homosexual or not. People must evaluate if all the variables add up to create a solution, which can lead to love or heartache. Personally, I rather be alone than meet someone online that could be giving false information just to sound pleasing to the ear.

Great post as I always have been looking to see what others might think in this. Very glad to see such a participation , From online dating

I'm curious as to why most online dating sites seem to be geared toward the 30+ plus age group when it is understood that dating websites are superficial and judgemental-- much like the 20 and under crowd.

I'm a 25 year old aspiring Sociology PhD candidate (Fall 2011) and I used a website affiliate of match.com, Chemistry.com, to find my intelligent, sarcastic beauty. I liked that it catered to/welcomed the LGBT population and used psychological assessments (personality tests).

I suppose there are a lot of ways I could look at the success of meeting her (she was the second person I met using the paid subscription on Chemistry). I believe she is my soulmate and I see Chemistry as an efficient tool we used to find each other from across the country.

Might sound like hocus pocus to some but it certainly is not for a seasoned online dater like myself. I enjoyed using okcupid.com (a free dating site) for a year before opting to use Chemistry. My online dating experience on "okc" reflected more of the unsatisfying experience you described (lots of meetings with no deal makers) though, I really enjoyed the website as a way of finding LGBT friends in the area (and many of my friends are ex dates). I think access is a key factor in the LGBT community and that online dating is a useful social networking tool.

In short, I think online dating makes a lot of sense for a technological generation that is accustomed to using the internet to make things more efficient and accessible. Though, she and I don't really run around telling people we met online either, so it still hasn't escaped its stigma.

My parents can't say a darn thing though, they met on the CB radio.

online dating websites have developed artificial algorithms used to determine compatibility of singles but i wonder how the algorithms determine matches i really think people should meet in a natural manner not by matchmaking services.

I just had my first experience of online dating. I used a site that asked closed & open ended questions & made contact with an interesting man. We spoke for a few hours on the phone & exchanged lots of emails before meeting. He said that he had done this before & that his experience was that you really can't tell much until you meet in person. People can sound great & then be such a disappointment in the flesh. Not thinking of myself as shallow I thought 'it's a guy's mind I'm interested in - not just his body'. But he was right. It was such a disappointment when I saw him. And though I told myself not to make hasty decisions, the evening got worse as it went on as he was so dull & not interested in anything but himself that I was left not in the least surprised that despite his intellectual accomplishments and career success, he appears to have no friends & spends holidays alone.
Maybe because it was my first date my expectations were a little too high. But I haven't been put off entirely - just learned a few things like maybe meet for coffee & not for dinner & that way 1 or both of us can make a quick getaway.
As for stigma, I told all my friends & it's interesting how many have 'confessed' to using online dating sites, but only after I 'came out' to them. I really don't see why in this day & age there is such a stigma still surrounding these sites. And although my experience was disappointing recounting it to my friends has prompted them to give me their experiences, all of which has been so much fun, even if I don't find Mr Right, I'm having fun looking.

I really think that online dating will be the way of the future. So much easier to meet people than the bar scene.

Yes, as much as this article blog goes, it would really depend on how a person handles his dating thing. Some are just too upset because they aren't happy. It just really depends if you're lucky. match.com

I guess we use the internet for so many things nowadays, including buying our groceries, that it makes sense that we could use it to find love. I think it's definitely worth a go but people should be careful just as with any other online situation, as they are never 100% sure of who they're talking to until meeting face to face.

Online Dating is great especially if your married.

Be aware of a possible fraud threat when using dating web site services.
I have just had an experience with a scandinavian dating site Firstdate.com. And now I am on their hook. You probably noticed, that one of the customers atracting trics is redused first golden membership? So you pay this little fee online. And after that you get charged over and over again normal ordinary fee, which is times bigger then the reduced one. I stopped my membership, deleted my profile, and I am still getting charged an ordinary charge on a monthly basis. Its already two month I deleted my profile, and its secont time after that I got charged.
They do not react to my emails. And there is no other contacting information provided. I hope, the police will deal with them.
So once again - BE CAREFULL!

On-line dating is another way of destroying , the thing that makes us human, communication. That person on the other end of the connection could be something different than whats described,wouldn't be be better to get a real feel for whom a person is.

If you are serious about online dating then you will able to find your true love, otherwise you will just meet people like you, who joined online dating just because they were bored.

Online dating has so many benefits and so many risks. I met a guy through chat-site. It developed into something more and we were attracted to one another's personality. I was completely open and honest with him about my life... however, it took me 9 months to find out the truth about his. He lied about his relationship status, his job, his education, everything. LIES. Big and small. And by this point I was so infatuated with this guy it was too hard to walk away. Because we did have that connection, and we did meet and everything was good... however things are very complicated now and I have little trust. It has been 11 months since we started talking... and our relationship is advancing...
My advice... be very careful. I feel like a fool I did everything I could to find out information about him throughout the 9 months. I found nothing online, his number was always blocked, he could never talk to me late at night, etc etc. RED FLAGS. But I had no way to prove him wrong.
Everything is in the open now. But I wish I paid attention to those red flags.

I'm a single mid-30s male and started using online dating recently, specifically match.com. What I've found is it is only useful if you make sure to talk to and meet A LOT of potential partners offline. They don't have to be dates. I've preferred having the first meet be a quick coffee or drink. You have to accept interest from all people and follow up with them unless you really do not like their profile and pic. I have found that some of the best girls I've met have been those who were maybes an before talking to them I wasnt too excited.

Dating advice, everyone pretends to be an expert and seems more than willing to give you their unsolicited advice dating. Stop relying on friends and family in your dating advice and go straight to the source. You need good advice dating, and can count on friends who never seem to be dates or long-term relationships, or other sources of useful tips dried up. You can stop worrying about having a bad piece of dating advice your best friend, because we offer you dating advice that you can actually use.

Online dating for me is an opportunity to learn new things and culture. Internet breaks the bound of culture and place.
There are many people I know that ended up in marriage through online dating. There are also some who where victims of false identity. It is best to be honest to yourself and to the person on the other end. However you should be vigilant as well and provide caution to those people who are using the web for their personal interest.

Your article on online dating is very interesting. I know people who are online before and I know someone who actually married one of the girls he met online. I have never gone online, and not think about it, but I think this article is a good article and some people do know the love of her live on the Internet.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for everydaysociologyblog.com please .

Norton Sociology Books

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Real World

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

« Inequality and Life Chances: Going to Law School or Going to Prison | Main | Michel Foucault: Power, Discourse and 9/11 »