We’ve come a long way since the first personal ad appeared in a British newspaper. A thirty-year-old gentleman with a very good estate was willing to “match himself to some good young gentlewoman”. The publisher recognized this as a novel idea with a great commercial potential, and the rest is, well, history. This was back in 1685. A lot has changed since then, but people’s desire to connect has remained strong. Dating moved from paper to video, and in the 90s, online dating sites were already on the rise. As our technology grew, so did our appetite for the opportunities it offered.
Statistics vary, but estimates indicate 20 to 36 percent of North Americans are active on dating websites or apps. And this number is likely much higher for young adults. Whatever age category you look at though, the use of dating sites is increasing across the board. This means that when you sign up for a dating site, you are joining millions of others just like you. That’s a lot of people. With so many beautiful souls looking to couple up, you’d be right in thinking you are spoiled for choice. It’s because you are. Statistically, you are indeed more likely to find someone who shares the same hobbies, has the same favorite drink, or the same idea of a perfect date.
So why can finding that special person sometimes feel so… tough?
The good news is: you are not at fault. The bad news is that your psychology might be working against you.
When browsing online dating sites, you have literally thousands of profiles available at the click of your mouse. And it’s a good thing. All these single men or women, perhaps looking to date someone just like you. Surely, with all these options to choose from, you’ll find a great individual with whom you have tons in common.
So you start looking.
And looking some more.
Of course, you find a few profiles that seem interesting. Maybe more than a few. Some of these are pretty good, so you keep them at the back of your mind for later. Others seem even more interesting. Better bookmark them so they’re easy to come back to. Pretty soon you have perused dozens and dozens of profiles. Comparing them becomes quite an arduous task, to say the least. How do you even choose which ones you like best? How do you choose what characteristics are relevant to you? Not an easy decision.
And that’s the issue with choice. With too much of it, and needing to make a complex decision, there is a risk of paralysis. When that happens, your probability of acting on all the information you gathered goes way down.
When you meet people conventionally, you get glimpses into their personality. You get a snapshot impression of how you two interact, slowly building up an image of who they are. Most importantly, it takes some time before you feel like you know them.
You don’t have the same slow pace in online dating. All your romantic interest’s information is laid out on your screen. From the books they like to whether they prefer expensive or free dates. You learn so much about them before even interacting, it can feel a bit daunting.
But wait, there’s more. Human interactions and dating are complex activities. They require you to put some serious thought into them. After all, you know you should make the right decisions, and that’s why you were browsing all these profiles. However, this abundance of information, coupled with the paralysis you feel, might lead you to the wrong conclusions. This means you might choose your potential dates based on aspects of their profiles that are irrelevant to you, like the movies they watch, just because what’s truly important (views on relationships, aspirations, flexibility, compassion, etc.) is too complex to evaluate.
Finally, there is one more characteristic of your psychology that’s working against you:
When you have access to such a large number of potential partners, you could become too picky.
Even after browsing through dozens of profiles, you know you’ve barely scratched the surface of this bottomless dating pool. Maybe you should keep browsing, in case you find someone better than all the profiles you’ve seen. Yes, a few profiles met most of what you were looking for, but they didn’t tick all the boxes. With all these other singles you are yet to look at, some of them might.
A study led by Eli J. Finkel, Ph.D., for the Association for Psychological Science shows how people with access to a large pool of partners become more judgemental and intransigent when evaluating potential partners. This explains why you might reject almost-perfect candidates. Browsing takes very little effort, so you keep on shopping for the perfect person, in a sea of potentially great partners.
On top of that, the same study established that people in this situation often make lazy or ill-advised decisions. They explain this by the fact this surplus of choice makes online daters overly critical. This in turns affects their interactions, which become less spontaneous, less fluid. First dates are already tense and awkward enough. Let’s avoid adding tension to them!
You might be forgiven for thinking this plenteousness of choice is a curse. However, used correctly, it can actually be great. If you had too few choices, you’d run the risk that none would be satisfactory. So, keep in mind you have access to all these attractive single people. Just don’t let it overwhelm you.
A good way to do just that is to limit your choices so you don’t get paralyzed by them. You could, for example, decide to make a short-list of 5 to 10 people you like, and try interacting with them before looking for greener pastures. Or you could decide to message users you like right away, when their profile is still fresh in your mind. Simply choose a strategy you are comfortable with and try it out.
The key is to find a middle ground, where you have enough options making you happy, just not too many. Keep an open mind until you really get to know the person you are talking with. And remember: less can be more.
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