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Dating in the Digital Age: A Psychological Analysis

In 2017, it was reported that nearly 39% of couples had met online. This number was projected to grow (hello Covid) and in 2023 had reached nearly 45% of online love matched couples. Keep in mind, this isn’t even including the percentage of individuals that met through social media (27%).

Online dating is still relatively new to our society as the traditional way of meeting in person are becoming less frequent. We’re still learning about how it can affect our dopamine levels (through swiping), our self-esteem, and our ability to build a true connection with a random person online. 

It seems that in the “good old days” it was easy to find our fish, partially because our sea was so small. So what is this style of dating doing to us psychologically? And how difficult can it be to find our fish when our “sea” has been expanded by thousands of options? 

The Paradox of Choice

Have you ever sat and scrolled on Netflix, then switched to Hulu, and then you were off to HBO Max because you couldn’t make a decision on what to watch? And yet, when you were going through grandma’s 10 DVD’s she had available you made a choice in less than 2 minutes? 

Or how about when you’re in the grocery store where there’s an abundance of options for milk, bread, and even toilet paper (minimum of 2 ply people), our once simple decisions have become a navigation of endless debates to find the best.

This is the Paradox of Choice. 

This paradox states that, “while we might believe that being presented with multiple options actually makes it easier to choose one that we are happy with, and thus increases consumer satisfaction, having an abundance of options actually requires more effort to make a decision and can leave us feeling unsatisfied with our choice.”

Are you beginning to see how the Paradox of Choice has a psychological impact when it comes to online dating?

When we have an abundance of choices we start to feel FOMO (fear of missing out) on the partners that we aren’t choosing because there are just so many options. 

You select a date with Darius, but maybe Jose would have been a better option, or you stopped messaging Savannah only to try to rekindle it later because your date with Jamie made you think there could have been a better connection elsewhere. You get the idea… 

Your decision paralysis is leaving you stressed while making you feel like you’re continually missing out. It’s nothing like fifty years ago when a person who you lived in a town of 2,000 people was hunting for a match. Assuming about half were a gender they didn’t prefer and a quarter were out of their age range, and the remaining one eighth were an option but they only find one-sixteenth of them attractive. 

Things were easy because they didn’t have other options. But now our options are literally endless. 

To help manage the paradox of choice in dating, limit the amount of dates you’re going to go on each week or how much time you’re going to spend swiping. Once someone meets your set criteria, explore getting to know them more and be confident on what you want and don’t want. 

Once you make a decision to get to know someone, STOP swiping. This will only lead you to second guess your decisions, which is the very thing we want to prevent.

Swipe Culture and First Impressions

Dating apps have caused people to curate a digital space to sell themselves rather than to focus on connection…

At first at least. 

The majority of us are visual people so the photos people put on their profiles matter.

Eye tracking results, according to a research article about impression formation in online dating, recorded that pictures are more likely to attract initial attention when swiping which leads to a lower swipe count per minute, meaning someone lingers on a profile longer. 

However, after the initial pictures were observed the text on profiles received attention regardless of picture attractiveness (this is excluding those who swipe based on the first photo alone). According to the article, “Perception data showed that both the pictorial and textual cues affect impression formation, but that they affect different dimensions of perceived attraction differently.”

So how does this affect us psychologically when we’re online dating? 

Essentially, if you see a photo that you consider attractive you will deem that person's personality traits (through their written text) as more enticing. If you deem someone’s photos as unattractive, their written words will be less appealing. 

So what can you do about it? 

If you’re having a hard time finding someone to connect with beyond the physical realm, try rejecting your initial judgment on attraction. Be aware of the personality traits you desire in a partner and match with people that reflect those, even if they aren't up to par on your standard of physical attractions. If your attraction isn’t 100% no, it could eventually be a yes. 

Developing Authenticity

There are many people that fall into creating an online persona that vary from their authentic self when curating their online profiles. They strive so hard to make everything look perfect that they realize it’s not a reflection of how they really are at all. So what can be done to help avoid this?

  1. Use realistic photos- Skip the photos from 1989, skip the filters, and put your authentic self on display. Videos of you laughing or being in an authentic moment can help capture the essence of you.

  1. Be honest - We all want to put our best foot forward, but there’s a difference between trying and lying. Stay true to who you are and don’t lose parts of yourself when trying to connect with someone because if they don’t like it, let’s be honest, we have thousands of other fish in our sea. 

  1. Meet in person - When you start to feel comfortable aim to meet your potential match in a public space. The way someone communicates online can be extremely different than in-person, by committing to an in-person meet up you can truly see how they are, how they act, and how they respond in social situations. This can also lead to a more meaningful connection quicker. 

  1. Embrace your quirks - The quirky characteristics are what make you, you. It can be easy to want to hide these when you’re getting to know someone, and maybe some need to be taken in stride, but don’t hide your uniqueness. If you start that pattern in the beginning it can be hard to ever be your authentic self in that relationship down the line. It’s best to embrace yourself fully and allow the other person to do the same. 

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