Expert Q&A: Get the Most Out of Online Dating
Q: I spend hours reading online dating profiles without any luck. How can I improve my chances of making a good match?
A: Tired of bars and bad fix ups? Think online dating is the answer to making a love match? Well, you might be right. One in five people use online dating—a two billion dollar industry of approximately 30 million users. It's logical—and statistically probable—that such high numbers of users would yield marriages. But will it work for you?
Recent findings warn about the limitation of online dating in a February 2012 article of the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest by Northwestern University psychology professor Dr. Eli Frankel. So, just what is a busy person who is looking for love to do?
First, let's start with the good things about online dating. Online dating allows you to:
- Get back into dating world after a break up or loss.
- Get accustomed to rejection.
- Hone your skills in selecting reasonable matches who are interested in a relationship.
- Increase your number of contacts and therefore your chances of making a good match.
- Help you focus your needs and values.
So, what's the not-so-good news—and what can you do about it? Author Dr. Eli Frankel found that nothing beats face-to-face contact. Meeting in person yields all those non-verbal "tells" such as wandering eyes, nervous hands, and posture that slumps or struts. Almost anyone can sound good in print, but too often the actual experience of being with someone leads to dashed expectations. Also, people exaggerate-or lie-in their profiles. And who knows whether the photo is an accurate representation?
In addition, Dr. Frankel learned that choosing someone's profile on the basis of similarities does not increase your chances of a love match either. What? Doesn't that seem wrong? Actually, many studies of long-term mutually happy couples reveal that the most important factors in successful love include complementary personality styles and interests. This finding is a simplified version of "opposites attract." So, now what do you do? Most online dating participants usually look for similarities.
But don't despair and don't avoid online dating. Here are some of my tips that might help you use online dating more wisely.
1. Change Your Mindset
There is no one sure-fire way of finding a good match. Finding someone is a combination of luck, increased number of contacts, timing, emotional bravery, and self-knowledge. Think of online dating as just one more tool that increases your numbers—and therefore your chances.
2. Seek Other Ways to Meet People
Go to events that interest you. Ask friends to fix you up. Go to singles events. Join a religious organization. Participate in charities. In general, don't limit yourself. Get out there! Contrary to an Old Wives' Tale, love doesn't "just happen when you aren't looking." Buried within this maxim, however, is a wiser interpretation that leads us to my next recommendation.
3. Expand Beyond Your "Similarities"
The core of that belief that "love just happens" is a cautionary warning about perfectionism. Usually, when people have exacting checklists, they don't tend to find a perfect match. Often these checklists are a thin disguise for not finding someone so that you don't have to deal with rejection or—even worse—self-examination.
But then exhaustion from dating and life circumstances such as getting older or experiencing loneliness, a loss or trauma alters your hunt for that Perfect One. Now you're ready to broaden your requirements or drop others.
Yes, it can be a good idea, for example, to find someone who likes hiking and biking or attending religious services. But don't restrict yourself to your list. Instead, write down some things that might interest you and widen your world. For example, my husband was a vacationer. A typical time off from work was to flop on a beach somewhere. Well, he was a northerner, so beach vacations seemed ideal. But I am a traveler. My bags are always packed. He never really had high interests in seeing the world—until I made plans for far-flung places. Now he's the one who checks out travel sites! Over the years, we've created wonderful memories and opportunities to be closer and richer in love.
One way to motivate your expansion of similarities is to think of a relationship like a ship. No captain would want only navigators or sanitation engineers. A wise crew is a diversified one with overlapping skills to provide depth. Happy couples bring similar and different qualities and skills to the relationship. Strengthen your future relationships by pursuing things outside your usual interest zones.
4. Get Brave
Increase real connections. For example, don't leave an event until you've struck up a conversation with at least three people who interest you. Or speak to people in line at the grocery store or post office. Every day offers opportunities to meet someone. Now is not the time to be shy. You don't have to use "cute" lines. Just say hi, find common ground and start talking. For example, one of my clients met someone in line at the airport. Many flights were cancelled, and the line was long. The man behind her seemed nice so she turned to him and said, "How is this delay upsetting your vacation?" That was all that was needed. They talked about travel and work and then swapped emails. Notice that she didn't ask him yes or no questions. He had almost no choice but to respond with more information.
5. Make Your Online Time Together as Real as Possible
Of course, if you live near each other, you should meet in person. But what do you do if you live too far apart? No worry. Get on the phone. "Meet" on Skype, for example. The goal is to engage in real back-and-forth contact. You will learn about him or her through words, tone, and politeness. And Skype allows you to experience some of the nonverbal cues.
Don't give up. Love is possible!
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, MA, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website, http://www.lovevictory.com, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie-a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. You can follow Dr. Wish on Twitter.
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