Six Dangers of Online Dating

Let it be known: I am not a big fan of online dating.  Yes, at least one of my best friends found her fabulous fiancé online.  And if you live in a small town, or fit a specific demographic (e.g. woman over 45, ultra-busy businessperson, sugar daddy, sneaking around your spouse), online dating may expand opportunities for you.  But for the rest of us, we’re much better off meeting real live humans eye-to-eye the way nature intended. Here are six reasons why:

1. It’s easy to be fooled by inaccurate signals online.

Do you think you’re beautiful?

What most people call ‘beauty’ is actually evolution’s very thorough system of broadcasting our suitability as mates.  Clear skin, good posture, broad shoulders, sonorous voice, bright eyes, shiny hair, graceful movements, pleasant aroma, facial symmetry, articulate speech: evolution has engineered features such as these into us to signal health, fertility, strength and intelligence.

When you go online, instead of seeing a person up-close, hearing him speak and watching her move, what you get is a blurry, postage-stamp size series of static photos which cannot be heard, felt, or smelled.  What you do get a fair amount of is a person’s writing, which has been heretofore irrelevant in the eons of evolution of mate selection.

Most important of the missing signals may very well be smell, which some scientists believe underlies most of male-female attraction – what literally constitutes sexual chemistry.  Studies show that we sense immune compatibility through smell – one way in which evolution decides whether which two people should have kids together or not.  This compatibility is vital to the viability of offspring, so it’s bypassed at our peril.

So when you go online, you’re subverting a process that has worked just fine for propagating the human species for the past 3 million years.  Add to that the fact that pictures can easily lie about age, complexion and physique, and you’ve got yourself a lot of inaccurate signals to go on.  Which brings us to…

2. You can waste a lot of time online chasing what you end up not really wanting.

Here’s the timeline of a typical online courtship for a guy.  He sees a profile of a woman he likes.  He writes her.  A day or two later, he gets a response.  An online correspondence ensues.  If she’s receptive, the conversation moves to email after a few exchanges.  If her interest continues, they speak on the phone, and then plan a meeting.  A week or two later, after anywhere from 3-10+ points of online and phone contact, they meet in person.  And it turns out that she has bad skin (which didn’t show in the flatteringly lit photos) or her butt is gigantic (which didn’t show in her waist-up photos), or he’s 6 inches shorter than advertised – or some other insurmountable shortcoming that could have been ascertained in the first 30 milliseconds of an in-person encounter.

In an instant, all those hours spent on witty emails, all of that effort to be charming on the phone, learning all about her and impressing her go whoosh down the toilet.  And worst of all, you kinda feel like a fool for building it all up in your mind for naught.

Buddy – you’re never getting those two weeks back again.  So save yourself some time, and meet people in person first before you pursue.

3. Online sites present an abundance of ultimately annoying false choice.

The central premise of Barry Schwartz’s 2003 book The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More – which everyone should read – is that more choice does not make us happier.  More choice actually makes us more miserable.

Why?  First, it makes the selection process burdensome.  Picking one jam out of three possible tasty choices is easy.  Picking one out of 43 is well-nigh torture.  Second, it causes us to second-guess any decision that we do render.  I got the blue Prius, but should I have gotten the red one?  Or maybe a Nissan Leaf instead?

Online dating sites are a classic case of too much choice.  A search on a major site for women in your city may yield thousands of results.  So much possibility!  Or so it may seem.  So which ones do you pursue?  Do you go after the good-looking ones that, because everyone else is also pursuing, never respond (see section above on wasted time)?  Or maybe look for the diamond in the rough?

If you’re a good-looking woman online, you’re probably inundated by unwanted attention.  Let’s say you pick seven good ones out of the pile of hundreds.  What if all 7 of them say yes – then what?  When you pick one, will you always wonder how the other 6 would have turned out?  This feeds right into the next issue:

4. Irrelevant information presented out of context can derail a good match.

I’ve been writing and speaking on courtship for over 10 years now, and I’m always curious about how married couples first met.  One of the most common responses I get from the women is, “Y’know, I really didn’t like him that much when I met him first.”

Really.  So all that stuff about instant chemistry, butterflies in the stomach, the earth shaking underneath your feet are bogus?  Turns out they’re not nearly as important as you think for a successful long-term relationship.  Especially if you’re a woman, you have the useful gift of eventually finding attractive a man who makes you feel good, regardless of how good he actually looks.  Ladies – nod if you’ve ever ended up dating a guy whom you initially thought was kind of a troll, and had a fabulous time anyway.

The problem with online dating is that it puts right up front and center a whole bunch of extraneous information that could derail a potentially lovely relationship.  When we’re online, because of the overabundance of choice, we’re in zero tolerance death-sort mode, tossing out contenders at the slightest provocation.  Obsessed with the Cubs?  Ew.  Watches Jersey Shore?  Spare me.  Listens to Kenny G?  Delete.

And so you may nonchalantly toss out the woman who makes a mean ravioli and really knows how to perk you up after a hard day at work, or the guy with iron hands to knead your tight back muscles into putty who’d make a great dad.  All because you saw some randomass information first that tripped your prejudice button and precluded a beautiful connection.

5. People online behave more rudely than they do in person.

Have you noticed how much sheer hatred and incivility there is online?  Under the mask of e-anonymity, people have no compunctions about flaming one another with scathing remarks that they would never dare deliver in person.

Why is there such a discrepancy between online and in-person behavior?  Animals have evolved mirror neurons to literally feel one another’s emotional state.  Mirror neurons are the physiological basis for compassion, and they’re simply not activated in online interaction.

As a result, it becomes easy to dismiss summarily a message that an admirer has invested time, effort and emotion to craft in fervent hopes of gaining your attention.  A man who would never be ignored in person can be blown off hundreds of time online.  And, as the authors of the book Freakonomics pointed out, over 90% of men on dating sites never end up meeting a woman.  Near-certain disappointment that you have to pay for doesn’t sound like a fun party.

6. Strangers with low accountability can get away with antisocial behavior.

In The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Irresistible, I emphasize that women should only date men who are embedded within their social network – a friend of a friend at the very least. That social accountability reduces the chances of their being axe murderers or other ungentlemanly tendencies.

When you go online, there’s no guarantee of anyone having a back-connection into your social network.  It’s the wild west, baby, and anything goes.  Especially in a big city, people will do bizarre, rude things under the cover of unaccountability.  Stories abound about the girl who ordered everything on the menu at an expensive restaurant, or the guy who showed up to the date already drunk who proceeded to hit on the waitress – or far worse.

Even though they make great stories in retrospect, these are not experiences that you need to have even once per lifetime.  Going out with people whom you implicitly know and trust keeps you safe and reduces the chances of weird shit from happening.

3 Comments on “Six Dangers of Online Dating”

  1. Andrea

    Thoughts are good and I agree with most of it. However, dating only those who are embedded in your social network isn’t feasible in a lot of cases. If you’re over 45, most of your friends are married and don’t really know suitable single men to introduce you to. In my case, when that has happened, it has been a total failure. In one case, when I was in my 30s, the guy even turned out to be a bit of a psycho! My friends who introduced us were shocked. They had known him for several years and NEVER seen that side to him. So maybe that works well when your network is full of singles but don’t see it as a good idea when it isn’t.

  2. Heavenly

    Or how about the experience I just had. Met a guy who though I’m 61 and he’s 41 insisted he wanted to become friends. I was bored, so ok. After three months of meaningless convo, he finally started to show his true self; literally.

    The last time he phoned via skype video, he was totally naked and masturbating. I must say though, he was extremely well endowed…lol… the whole thing was ultra sleazy. I told him to go find himself a rich Dallas socialite who could pay him by the hour.

    And that after having to delete numerous c*ck shots from strange men in my inbox every morning. I deleted both my profiles. Even at my age, it was a colossal waste of time. I coulda been weeding my garden thank you very much… so buyer beware. Dr. Ali is right on all counts

  3. michelle

    Although I agree with Dr Ali I did have some success online. I met, dated & married my last husband online. Unfortunately he passed away at 43. But I did again meet a boyfriend online and we dated for almost 7 years. But now at the age of 54 I find it very difficult to date. Do I go out with younger men or older. How young can I go without tramatizing my children and how old can I tolerate? Its a tough age to try to date! Any thoughts on that?