Does online dating work?

Enough of us have seen those televisions commercials from companies like eHarmony.com and Match.com telling us that the reason we are single and unhappy is due to our unwillingness to hop online and look for love.  Online dating has existed for basically as long as the internet has.  But in recent years, it has blown up, and more and more of us know some couple that met online.  The question still lingers, however: does online dating work?

Online dating companies allege that it definitely works.  And on the other side are plenty of people with horror stories.  Fortunately, scientific studies have been dedicated to answer this question.  But unfortunately, they have not come to a consensus, either!

The way that most online dating systems works is through algorithms.  Potential mates provide online dating companies with a variety of information, including who they are and what kind of lover they are looking for.  The computer then matches this with other people in the pool and spits out “matches.”  Studies have cast major doubt on whether these algorithms actually work.[1]

Conversely, studies have shown that online dating allows people to meet more people.[2]  Intuitively, this seems true.  After all, there are many more people online and looking for love than you would meet in a bar or in church.  Still, having access to more people who are single does not guarantee finding love.  As those people with the horror stories can attest to, quantity does not necessarily equal quality.

There have been studies that show that Internet access has boosted marriage rates.[3]  Again, this seems intuitively true among young people in particular.  Of the couples marrying after meeting online, most of them are in their 30s and younger.  Among this demographic, many people hop online.  With the advent of social media and this generation’s connection to apps (dating included), it makes sense that more of them would meet online.

Yet, there have not been follow-up stories to show how many of these marriages last.  How many of these marriages are happy?  How many of these marriages are monogamous?  And even if they are, for the most part, happy—would these people have found even more suitable partners in the real world as opposed to the virtual one?

While these questions are interesting and important, they are amorphous.  Even assuming they are unhappy or dissatisfying—is this due to the fact that the relationship began online?  Does the fact that the relationship started online play any sort of part in the longevity of the relationship?  Do people who were, say, college classmates and then married on a stronger foundation than those that met on a dating site?  The answer is that we just don’t know.

Getting back to our original question: does online dating work?  It really depends on what we mean when we asks whether online dating “works.”  The fact that someone goes on a date due to finding his date online is not an automatic success—unless you view it that way.  Perhaps getting any dates from online dating is a success.  Again, it is a matter of how you look at it.

[1] http://news.discovery.com/tech/apps/online-dating-most-popular-romance-120208.htm

[2] http://news.discovery.com/tech/does-online-dating-work.htm

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/02/study-the-internet-is-boosting-marriage-rates/

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