Why Online Dating Sucks

I hate olives. It doesn’t matter if they’re green or black, I hate them. I can’t think of any food that tastes worse to me than olives. They’re disgusting.

Having said that, if I was stranded on a desert island and was starving, and olives were the only food available, I’d probably eat them. My desire to survive would win out over my desire to never have to eat olives.

That’s how I view online dating. It’s not much fun, but it’s the best game in town.

I’ve used online dating on and off to find a significant other since I got divorced in 2016. I’ve met a ton of women, had a lot of dates, and those dates have blossomed into two longer-term relationships. While it’s true I never would have met any of these women had I not been on Match.com or a few other dating sites I have used, I’ve hated nearly every second of my online dating experience.

Why would I hate it? First, it’s awkward meeting someone virtually. You really can’t tell much about a person from a few pictures and a self-description. Second, it’s time consuming. At various times while trying to find “the one,” I’ve felt like online dating was a full-time job. Third, online dating involves nearly constant rejection. I can’t tell you the number of times my messages have been ignored or how common it is to be ghosted after meeting someone.

But there’s more to it than that. Aside from my own personal reasons, science points out three big problems with online dating that can’t be ignored.

The “Soulmate” Conundrum

I believe in “true love.” That’s not a controversial statement. In fact, I’m not alone. Ninety-four percent of Americans also believe in “true love.” But some of my other opinions are not so widely accepted.

For instance, I don’t believe in the concept of “soulmates,” the idea that each of us has a specific partner that is a perfect match for us. In contrast, 74% of men and 71% of women believe in soulmates.

A lot of people using online dating sites say they are looking for their soulmate. In fact, I’ve heard many women say that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack (Men may say this too, but since I’m in the market for a woman, I don’t see men’s profiles.). Finding your soulmate is a romantic notion. I just don’t think it’s realistic. 

To me, relationships take a lot of time, hard work, commitment, and good luck. I wish it was as easy as just finding your soulmate and living happily ever after, but I can’t think of any successful relationship I have ever seen that relied exclusively on being soulmates.

Another reason I don’t accept the concept of “soulmates” is that it removes free will from the equation. If you believe in soulmates, you believe that God or the universe or some other omnipotent entity has already made the decision for who you should spend your life with. You have no say in the matter. That doesn’t work for me.

I would much rather choose to be with someone and work to make our relationship a success. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the most important relationship in my life is largely out of my control.

Popular culture, especially movies, sells the idea of soulmates. It’s romantic to think that the perfect person is out there just waiting for you to find them. Then, through happenstance and coincidence, you find them, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Roll the credits.

Real life isn’t like that. And I would argue, expecting to find a soulmate on an online dating site reduces the chances that you’ll ever find true, lasting love.

In fact, it’s worse than that. Believing that some unseen force has brought two people together can actually lessen the chance that the two people will build a successful relationship. Research has shown that a belief in soulmates correlates with dysfunctional patterns in a relationship and an expectation that destiny–not hard work and open, honest communication–is what leads to a happy relationship.

Adjacent to a belief in soulmates is a belief in “love at first sight.” Can it happen? Sure. Is it a good idea to expect love at first sight to kick off the most important relationship in your life? Probably not.

According to Arthur C. Brooks, host of How to Build A Happy Life podcast and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, “Despite its popularity in stories and movies, love at first sight has little to do with reality. Researchers have found that what people describe as ‘love at first sight’ has no connection to the real hallmarks of true love, including passion, intimacy, and commitment. Rather, ‘love at first sight’ is either a phrase people use about the past to romanticize their meeting (notwithstanding the way it actually happened) or one that they use to describe exceptionally strong physical attraction.”

That “strong physical attraction” that Brooks identifies can be the start to a relationship, but is rarely enough to sustain it long-term. “Maintaining passionate love forever after is not only an unrealistic goal, but one that wouldn’t make you happy even if it were possible,” according to Brooks. “On the contrary, the most joyful, enduring romances are those that are able to evolve from passionate to companionate love—which still has plenty of passion, but is fundamentally based in deep friendship. To increase the odds of success, as your romance progresses, don’t ask yourself, “Is our passion as high as it was?” but rather, “Is our friendship deepening?”

That attitude speaks to me. When I was 25years-old, passion meant everything. Today, at the ripe old age of 64, passion is still important, but I’m mature enough now to understand the importance of friendship in a relationship. And I’ve grown enough to understand that passion with a friend is the best kind of passion.

A League Above

People using online dating can sometimes be unrealistic. They tend to overestimate their “value” as a partner and they reach out to potential dates that are out of their league.

Wait a minute. Do dating “leagues” actually exist? They do.

According to University of Michigan sociology professor Elizabeth Bruch, not only do leagues exist, but most online daters message people out of their league. “Three-quarters, or more, of people are dating aspirationally,” she says.

A recent study indicated that most people using online dating sites message potential partners who are about 25% out of their league. Bruch and her colleagues analyzed the online dating habits of 186,000 men and women, and found that the reply rate to the average message receives a response rate of between zero and ten percent. That’s horrible. But the fact that people routinely message potential mates who are 25% out of their league might explain the low reply rates. Bruch’s advice for online dating success? Note the low reply rates and send out more messages.

Stanford University sociology professor Michael Rosenfeld agrees with Bruch’s findings. “The idea that persistence pays off makes sense to me, as the online-dating world has a wider choice set of potential mates to choose from. The greater choice set pays dividends to people who are willing to be persistent in trying to find a mate.”

There’s also a gender and racial component to online dating leagues.  According to Bruch, race and gender stereotypes often get mixed up. For instance, “Asian is coded as female, so that’s why Asian women get so much market power and Asian men get so little. For black men and women, it’s the opposite.”

White men and Asian women are routinely desired more than other users. However, that’s a bit misleading. An overwhelming 70% of online dating site users are white, which tends to skew the numbers.

It’s Hard Being Old

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the study involved age. Of course, that makes sense considering I am old. But it was also interesting because the study found a few things I would have never guessed.

For instance, when it comes to men, their desirability peaks around 50-years-old and decreases after that. That’s not good news for a 64-year old wannabe dater like me.

Women have it even worse. Their desirability peaks at 18-years old and goes down every year after that. Ouch!

“I mean, everybody knows—and as a sociologist, it’s been shown—that older women have a harder time in the dating market,” Bruch said. “But I hadn’t expected to see their desirability drop off from the time they’re 18 to the time they’re 65,”

Highly educated men are always more desirable. Men with graduate degrees are considered more desirable than men with bachelor’s degrees, and those with undergraduate degrees outperform those with high school diplomas. This may be true, but you couldn’t prove it using my experience.

Things are different for women when it comes to education level. A woman with a bachelor’s degree is considered more desirable than a woman with either a graduate degree or a high school diploma.

Having Said That…

As I mentioned at the beginning, online dating sucks. It especially sucks for people my age. But for many of us, we’re no longer into the bar scene and we either no longer work or no longer go to an office to do our jobs. Plus, many businesses frown on inter-office relationships. So, what is an older single person to do?

Online dating is like the old Sears Christmas catalog. For a young kid, flipping through the pages of the full-colored catalog could be overwhelming. And just like the catalog, most of what you see is out of your reach. But unlike the catalog, I’m only looking for one new toy, which means I need to keep sending messages to find the right toy for me.  (Okay, I’ve pushed this metaphor as far as I can and I’m afraid I’m starting to sound slightly misogynistic. I’m going to stop now.)

My point is, as bad as it is and as much as I sometime hate it, online dating is the best way to find a date, and perhaps a relationship. So, I’ll stick with it. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.



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