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Internet dating is popular, but not for everyone

Internet dating is popular, but not for everyone

Key points

  • Internet dating is on the rise and subject to many of the same drawbacks as social media use.
  • Women must look attractive and men must seem apparently successful to do well at online dating.
  • Online dating doesn’t seem to be helping many young people who are sexually inactive and have no romantic partner.

Dating success on the Internet pivots on image management based mostly on pictures. This resembles any kind of marketing and can be superficial or misleading.

Internet dating is used by more people than any other way of finding romantic partners. Yet, it has many problems and is far from an ideal way of meeting new people. Excessive focus on a few criteria automatically eliminates many users.

The datum yngre kvinnor Aserbajdsjan winners

Who wins at Internet dating? The first conclusion is that outcomes are very much determined by gender. These differences align with the conclusions of evolutionary psychologists in earlier decades.

To begin with, men are far less choosy than women. They select many women as potential matches on Tinder and other dating sites. This may be because women are highly selective and choose men who have selected them less than one time in a hundred.

Women are chosen primarily based on physical attractiveness. Physical appearance matters to women in choosing men, but social success is a more critical criterion. Women select male profiles that suggest occupational success, high income, social prominence, or elite friends and hobbies.

So winners in the dating game are attractive women and apparently successful men. A lot of people are left out in the cold, even in an era of digitally-improved images and inflated profiles (1).

Another intriguing gender difference in how dating apps are used is that women get more involved in the experience and are more invested in forming meaningful connections, whereas men treat the process more superficially.

The happy sociopath

Dating apps share several shortcomings with other social media platforms. In particular, they provide ideal playgrounds for a variety of bad actors.

Platforms like Tinder attract sociopaths and con artists, as illustrated by the remarkable story of The Tinder Swindler, a Netflix docudrama detailing the activities of a man who posed as a wealthy diamond dealer but actually lived the high life by acquiring the credit cards of his many dates.

When a match is found, men waste little effort in their initial communications that average a mere 12 characters, ten times shorter than the average female communication.

Burned by Tinder?

Tinder became the most popular app among young people (ages 13-24 years), and another dating app, Bumble, was fourth in popularity. This is not surprising.

Some dating sites try to get away from a simple preoccupation with pictures. For example, Hinge includes audiovisual information that offers a more holistic impression of the individual and what their lives are like.

Despite such efforts, dating sites are primarily geared towards arranging sexual hookups. Indeed, their use is associated with an increase in many sexually-transmitted diseases.

It has also emerged that homosexual men are highly active on dating sites. Despite being a relatively small segment of the population, they account for the lion’s share of male matches on dating sites.

Despite the many problems with dating apps, they have become the single most important way that people meet today, just as social media more generally are supplementing face-to-face interactions, if not entirely replacing them.

Online dating favors short-term romances, but these can lead to more long-term unions, even successful marriages. Yet, the focus is generally not on anything permanent.

Arguably, dating has never been easier than through dating apps. Yet the rise of sites like Tinder has been accompanied by a marked decline in dating that speaks volumes about where young people are, sexually speaking. One factor in reduced sexual interactions could be a decline in alcohol consumption that may help set the scene. Another is increased interest in online video games that many young men find more interesting than dating apps.

The decline in dating

In the era of Internet dating, there are relatively few winners, at least judging from the simple criteria of meeting romantic partners and having a satisfactory relationship.

This phenomenon is difficult to measure directly because intimate relationships are private, even in the Internet age where little else is.

Some people meet complementary partners and form happy marriages. Yet, many continue to use the dating apps year after year, suggesting that they have not found what they were looking for unless it was casual sex.

The most astonishing finding is that most young people are sexually inactive and have no romantic partner. Either they do not enjoy the game of Internet dating, or they find it is not working for them.

1 Hitsch, G., Hortacsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). What makes you click? – Mate preferences in online dating. Quantitative Marketing and Economics, 8, 393-427.

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