Research has shown that more than one third of current marriages in the U.S. began online (Cacioppo, Cacioppo, Gonzaga, Ogburn, & VanderWeele, 2013). Being that more and more people are meeting online, the question that I am often approached with is whether or not relationships that begin virtually are just as likely to be successful as those that start in real life (IRL).
Research on online dating and marital satisfaction is mixed. For example, one study showed that people who meet online are less likely to get married (Paul, 2014). However, this study focused mostly on same-sex couples, who at the time of the study, could not legally get married. This is a major limitation, and as such makes it difficult to interpret the results in terms of relationships now.
Other research by Cacioppo et al. (2013) paints a very different picture. The researchers found that marriages that began online were less likely to end in divorce and were associated with higher marital satisfaction. So, which is it?
Being that the results are mixed, it is important to really think about the process of online dating and how it may be similar to or different from dating IRL. I contend that online dating is not actually changing the satisfaction derived from our relationships or the likelihood of their success, rather it is altering the actual process of courtship.
Provided you do not create a pen pal relationship with the person you meet online, you wind up connecting with him or her in person after a few introductory emails and online communications. As a result, while the relationship began online, that is just the access point. The real relationship is built once you interact face to face, learning more about one another as you date.
As mentioned above, the major difference between online dating and meeting IRL is just the access point. While the former relies on profiles and pictures viewed through a screen, the latter often involves an introduction by a mutual friend or casually bumping into the person while out at a bar or other social function.
As a result, the amount of social support you have at the outset of the relationship may be different between online and IRL connections. This is neither inherently positive or negative; it depends on your specific situation.
For example, if you meet through friends, you may have a lot of people that you and your date share in common. While on the one hand, this may be a built-in support system as you begin to date, this may also lead to a lot of pressure in the early stages of the relationship.
Dating online, on the other hand, may lead you to meet a person who you do not share any friends with, essentially starting the relationship from a blank slate. In many cases, however, especially when you filter by zip code and age, you are bound to find out that you share more than interests with your new partner, and also have some friends in common.
Online dating provides you with a lot of choice in an unconventional way. People can search through hundreds of profiles at any given time to find their potential partner. This is great for a person who has a busy or non-traditional work schedule and who can’t make social events for the purpose of finding a match.
Some Things Never Change
People worry that you have a greater chance of being deceived online. Yes, research does show that some people do in fact lie in their profiles (Hancock, Toma, & Ellison, 2007). However, people can lie when you meet them in person as well. Though it is obviously much harder to visually deceive a person when you meet them IRL, anyone can alter the information they share with you.
Try not to be apprehensive when viewing profile pictures or reading bios. Enter your online dating experience with a positive attitude. It is in everyone’s best interest to be upfront and honest, both IRL and online.
While many people are quick to try to analyze which types of relationships are bound for success and which are doomed for failure, don’t let the way in which you meet be a factor. There are many more important issues to focus on, such as compatibility and your initial connection. The way in which you connect, is just that – a starting point from which you two build your life together. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be one of JDate’s next Success Stories.
You may also be interested in 5 Reasons That Now Is The Best Time To Meet Someone Online
Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., Gonzaga, G. C., Ogburn, E. L., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2013). Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(25), 10135-10140.
Hancock, J. T., Toma, C., & Ellison, N. (2007, April). The truth about lying in online dating profiles. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 449-452). ACM.
Paul, A. (2014). Is online better than offline for meeting partners? Depends: Are you looking to marry or to date? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(10), 664-667.