The Pros and Cons of Online Dating

Meeting that special someone who just might rock your world is easier than ever, thanks to online dating. And it's more popular than ever before, with an estimated 20 million Americans now using online dating sites, a figure that's more than doubled from just five years ago, says the market research firm IBISWorld, as reported in The New York Times. But cybersearching for a date or a mate can be frustrating, time consuming, and potentially perilous (if you're not careful.) 

What's good and not so good about online dating? Here, the pros and cons.

The Upside to Online Dating

Online dating give you wide access to lots of potential dates, says Deborah Brown-Volkman, PCC, a life coach. "Getting involved with online dating is a declaration or an affirmation that you want to meet someone," she says. Potential dates know you've put yourself out there, and that you're interested.

You get to search for people in the privacy of your home, so the pressure's off, Brown-Volkman says. "You can take your time and see if you like someone," she says. You can browse through profiles at your own speed, and contact only the people who interest you.

There are so many smaller niche dating sites now that if you have a special interest or hobby, chances are you'll find an online dating site where you can meet those with similar passions, says Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist and dating/relationships coach.  For instance, members of show photos of themselves with their rabbits, dogs, birds, fish and other furry creatures. And at, mustache fans can find others who love facial hair. 

You can take time off when you want it, and if you encounter several "bad dates" in a row at one site, you can simply move to another. Some sites are free, so online dating doesn't have to break the bank. And you can get feedback from your friends on a potential date before taking the plunge and contacting him or her.

The Downside to Online Dating

It's time consuming. Filling out profiles take time, there's no question about it, Brown-Volkman says. It can also be emotionally challenging: you have to write your reasons for wanting to date, your longterm goals, whether you want kids or not, and what you are looking for in a relationship. Just getting all this down on paper can be draining.

You're meeting with someone about whom you know absolutely nothing. For this reason, it pays to be extra careful. Never put in your address or your phone number, and never meet at your place for the first few times. "When you meet, don't have the person pick you up," Brown-Volkman says. "Don't divulge too much information until you get to meet the person, and take things slowly."

You don't know whether the person is telling the truth or not about his background, previous relationships or future goals. Likewise, he or she doesn't know anything about you. It takes time to build trust and confidence in each other. "Use your common sense and keep in the back of your mind that what you are reading may or may not be true," Coleman says.

Potential dates will be relying on your profile so there's pressure to make it stand out. That said, be honest in what you put on a profile, says Coleman. "Make sure it's a current picture, that it is clear and that the person can see your face," she says.  And don't get discouraged after a few dud dates. "Hang in there," she advises. "It's a numbers game." The more time you invest, the more likely you'll meet the date of your dreams.

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. "Narrowing the Field Before Playing It." 5 January 2011. The New York Times.

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. "New Online Date Detectives Can Unmask Mr. or Ms. Wrong." 18 December 2010. The New York Times.