If you haven’t tried online dating yourself, I’m certain you know someone who has. It has surged in popularity over the last 10–20 years, and is now one of the most likely ways to meet a mate. As a Cyberpsychologist I find it fascinating to look at how this changes the way we meet and decide on the people who will become our mates.
While dating online is successful and positive for many people, it can often be frustrating, and at times an uncomfortable or distressing experience. I’m frequently asked by daters for tips on how to make it a more efficient and rewarding experience, and how to avoid some of the problems that go along with the process.
My number one tip
My number one tip for a better experience differs for women and men. Replicating our behaviour offline, women tend not to make contact in online dating, men still send four times more messages than women. However, we know from research by Kreager, Cavanagh, Yen and Yu (2014) that when women do take the initiative they are twice as likely to form a connection, and they are more likely to connect with a highly desirable and attractive partner.
With men sending so many messages and getting very little response, they tend to write to many women. However with the effort involved in this, they write short generic messages. The average first message length on Tinder from a man to a woman is 12 characters, and a quarter of messages have less than six! This results in women receiving a huge number of short generic messages that give them no information about the writer, and so they ignore them. Tyson, Perta, Haddadi and Seto (2016) described this as a downward spiral where men feel they have to write more messages to get a response, and women receive even more and that leads them to being more selective in whom they respond to.
There is an impetus on both men and women to change their behaviours. Women could take the initiative to make contact, potentially finding a better mate and more enjoyable dating experience. Men could be more selective about who they write to with personalised contact messages that will stand out from the crowd.
Problems with online dating
Quite a number of people, mostly women, who date online encounter disagreeable messages and harassment. You only have to look at “Tinder Nightmares” to see examples of inappropriate messaging. While this can be upsetting and disheartening, dating platforms usually offer the chance to report and block users who engage in this kind of behaviour.
I often get asked about more serious issues, such as catfishing and deceit. Over half daters have experienced someone seriously misrepresenting themselves in online dating. I always recommend that daters meet a person for the first time in a public place and let someone know where they will be and who they will be with. If you ever feel uncomfortable on a date, make polite excuses and leave (or if you are very worried, don’t make excuses, just leave) without worrying what anyone will think.
Online dating scams: red flags to look out for
One of the most serious issues is the online dating scam. Researchers Whitty and Buchanan estimated that up to 250,00 people could be affected by these scams. There are a number of red flags that can help pinpoint and avoid a dating scam. The profile often features a very attractive person who is based overseas and is unable to meet in person. The scammer will move off the dating platform very quickly, usually into instant messaging, email or phone. The relationship will intensify quickly, with the scammer declaring love soon into the interaction. They will often take a considerable time, six months or more, to groom the victim, talking every day for long periods of time but never able to meet in person.
Eventually a crisis or emergency will require the scammer to ask for money, usually a small amount at first, eventually escalating into larger payments. Victims have lost from £50 to £800,000, with a third losing over £5000. Dating scam victims lose on two accounts, the money that they hand over to their scammer is unlikely to be recovered, and they also lose the intense relationship that they thought they had. These scammers do such a good job convincing their victims, that victims sometimes won’t believe the police who inform them of the scam.
Keep calm and carry on
Being aware of the issues with online dating should not put anyone off trying it. Millions of people have successfully found love online and many more will continue to do so. You’re your expectations managed, and awareness of the problems you might encounter, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.