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Has online dating changed the nature of human relationships?

It’s fair to say that online dating has changed the way we meet people in today’s society. So, is this a good thing? Or have we progressed to a point from which there is no return to ‘the good old days’?

Associate Professor Gery Karantzas from Deakin University’s School of Psychology explores this question and sheds a little light on the fundamentals of dating.

Dating through the ages

Assoc. Prof. Karantzas explains that when looking for a partner, the characteristics we seek can be separated into three broad categories: warmth and trustworthiness, vitality and attractiveness, and status and resources.

‘Both men and women rate warmth and trustworthiness as the highest importance,’ Assoc. Prof. Karantzas says. He goes on to explain that the balance between these categories changes depending on what people are looking for in a relationship. For example, for those wanting a short-term fling, vitality and attractiveness increases in importance but it still doesn’t outweigh warmth and trustworthiness.

Explained in more depth in his article We all want the same things in a partner, but why? Assoc. Prof. Karantzas summarises that we are subconsciously assessing all the information available to determine if this potential match meets these needs. When we look at online profiles, the main thing we have to assess is photos. ‘Pictures can communicate many things, not just physical vitality, or whether they look smug or warm, we can see other things too,’ he explains.

Jumping online

In today’s tech-savvy civilisation, we see online dating as something that is socially acceptable for people of all ages. But it does come with its challenges. ‘While people do see it as a great way to meet people, some feel overwhelmed or disillusioned by online dating because of all the options that are available,’ Assoc. Prof. Karantzas explains.

The choices are endless; which sites and apps do we use, how many profiles do we look at, how do we compare matches, what do we include in our own profiles? The process is like a continuous conveyor belt, and can sometimes lead to feelings of disappointment.

When meeting someone online, Assoc. Prof. Karantzas suggests we also tend to scrutinise our potential matches far more closely than we would if we met them face-to-face. ‘We look for spelling errors in their bio, we hold onto things they say and overanalyse them, we assess if they present as genuine and authentic, or if they’re the kind of person we would want to have a relationship with,’ he explains.

'While people do see it as a great way to meet people, some feel overwhelmed or disillusioned by online dating because of all the options that are available.'

Associate Professor Gery Karantzas,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

Taking it offline

Even though we meet online, things will eventually merge IRL. ‘We have an innate desire for human connection and physical contact,’ Assoc. Prof. Karantzas says. The minute we take things offline, the traditional aspects of dating kick in. Things like where to meet, discovering mutual interests, relating to each other’s sense of humour. These things can often be difficult to establish through text.

‘Although we can begin to engage with these things through messages, it can often be difficult to gauge, and we tend to premeditate and read into texts much more than we should,’ Assoc. Prof. Karantzas says. He suggests that these difficulties arise because we are missing key information that we have been using for years to make sense of communication with others; non-verbal behaviours and body language. ‘There’s only so much emojis can convey. Meeting face-to-face removes a degree of this complexity,’ he says.

Sometimes online, people have the ability to alter situations to make some aspects of their life seem more flattering. ‘People can choose to not disclose things about themselves or bend the truth. Is everyone doing this? No. But it does happen.’ Assoc. Prof. Karantzas explains how this is easier to do online because of the control we have over our digital footprint.

The naked truth behind the numbers

Many online dating sites and apps are more than happy to broadcast the thousands of matches that their users experience, encouraging singles to use their service to find a partner because of their success rate.

Assoc. Prof. Karantzas warns, however, there is no solid evidence to suggest a higher success rate in finding your ideal match online rather than face-to-face. ‘In numbers, we see lots of matches being made online, however, that’s because of the sheer number engaging in this type of service.’ Just because you get copious matches, doesn’t mean you will be guaranteed to meet your soulmate.

While the idea of being exposed to a far greater number of potential matches online may initially seem appealing, in reality, this high match rate can also leave you vulnerable to a higher rejection rate. Assoc. Prof. Karantzas likens keeping track of all your matches to going to buy a new car. ‘It’s like being presented with seven or eight possible models at the same time. It can be overwhelming and there’re lots of things to keep in mind simultaneously,’ he says.

The horror stories

Assoc. Prof. Karantzas also touched on the small proportion of online daters experiencing horror stories that we hear of through the grapevine. ‘We weigh negative encounters in our mind more strongly than positive ones, so we don’t need to hear many of these stories to remember them,’ he says.

Dating has evolved through history. But whether online or in person, the things you look for in a partner are still the same. Assoc. Prof. Karantzas concludes that we want to feel loved and comforted, and we use whatever information is available to us to make these assessments of our potential partners, one match at a time.

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Associate Professor Gery Karantzas
Associate Professor Gery Karantzas

School of Psychology, Faculty of Health, Deakin University

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