Online dating has always had a bit of a bad reputation, sort of seen as more of a dingy singles bar, than a sophisticated dinner party. But over recent years that has really changed. Odds are you know someone who is either currently online dating, or is in a relationship with someone they met online. Not only is it a great way to meet people, but i it can be a safe way to meet new people when you’re shy, anxious or experiencing social anxiety.
How? Mark Sainsbury and I talked about that on his Sunday morning show on Radio Live this week. (Click here for the audio of the interview)
So how big is it in New Zealand? Find Someone, New Zealand’s biggest dating website has about 80,000 active members at any one time. That’s the population of Palmerston North, all looking to meet someone. Meeting someone online is now more socially acceptable in part because we are now much more comfortable relating via technological mediums. Thank Facebook for that.
Of course like any form of dating, online or offline, it’s important to be sensible and cautious. But there are a lot less really nasty people on dating sites than the old stereotypes tend to suggest. Research particularly into trolling behavior shows that whilst the internet and relating via technology may amplify some people’s natural tendencies, the behavior is consistent. To put that another way if you’re a troll online, odds are you’re mean in your real life too. And the good news is, on average people are honest online. And if they do lie it’s most likely about small things like their weight, or age.
However for a lot of people one of the striking things about joining an online dating site for the first time is how strongly gender stereotypes can play out in this environment. The clearest example of this is that when women join and post a new profile, they can get swamped with approaches, and for some this can understandably freak them out and cause them to pull back due to overwhelm or decision fatigue. For men it is the opposite, most men find they join and nothing happens, and can lose interest albeit for a different reason.
So how can online dating help with social anxieties? The most important feature of online dating is you can do it at your own pace, and approach engagement with the site in a structured manner, just like any “gradual exposure” treatment for a phobia. And while many still consider online dating frivolous, I think it’s a serious business and I think most people find dating nerve racking. It’s also true that being in a satisfying long term relationship is one of the strongest predictors of a long and happy life.
However finding someone can be easier if you are conscious about your expectations. Many of the leading American sites market themselves on the idea that their sites can help you find your “soulmate”, but entering dating with that expectation is actually really unhelpful…
“One major problem with searching for one’s soulmate is that the belief that a partner must be a soulmate for a romantic relationship to succeed is associated with relationship dys- function. Indeed, people with strong beliefs in romantic destiny (sometimes called soulmate beliefs)—that a relationship between two people either is or is not “meant to be”—are especially likely to exit a romantic relationship when problems arise …
… On the other hand, people with strong beliefs in romantic growth (sometimes called work-it-out beliefs)—that happy relationships emerge from overcoming challenges—are especially likely to persist and succeed when confronting problems… …To be sure, a destiny/soulmate mindset predicts better outcomes when people believe that they have found their soulmate and when relationships are going well.
However, almost all romantic relationships eventually encounter significant stresses and strains (for a review, see Bradbury & Karney, 2010), which suggests that this mindset is likely to undermine relationship well-being over the long-run.” (Click here for the rest of the article).
So there you go, if you want to find a mate be realistic, be honest, and get online. Don’t look for a soulmate or the perfect romance but someone who is willing to work with you on creating a good relationship, despite the ups and downs.
And if you’re anxious or shy, take it slow. But not too slow. Romance can blossom online but can only grow in the real world.