Before the days of online dating, people had to somehow meet and connect with desirable, compatible romantic partners while living their normal, daily lives (and maybe avoiding dating people at work). Set-ups and blind dates are great, but without that help, just meeting someone out there in the world is tricky. And then to figure out if that person is single? And further, if they’re interested?
Online dating solves a lot of these problems. All of the hard work of simply finding someone is gone. You log on and soon you’re “introduced” to a set of people you might otherwise not meet on your own. Further, dating websites sort potential partners for you, based on your preferences, giving you option after option of good matches. If one doesn’t strike your fancy, check out the next profile. If not that one, how about the next? Or the next?
The problem with online dating? Too many choices.
Know any serial online daters? If so, you’re probably not surprised to learn that sometimes more choices are worse when it comes to dating.
Culturally, we tend to think that more choices make for a better experience (think of the Cheesecake Factory menu!); but, research shows, again and again, there’s a pernicious dark side to providing many options. Too many choices can lead to choice overload: when the sheer quantity of choices leads individuals to be less satisfied with the choice they end up making (Schwartz, 2004).
In the face of so many other options, people can start regretting the choice they made.
Online dating can make you less happy.
You probably can see where this is going. Researchers presented participants with either 6 or 24 attractive prospective partners using a framework similar to popular online dating sites and asked them to complete a series of related surveys (D’Angelo & Toma, 2017). One week after making their choice, participants who chose from the larger set of options were significantly less satisfied with their choice.
If 24 options has this effect on satisfaction, how about the seemingly endless stream of potential partners available on some dating websites?
Too many fish in the sea.
The perception that there could be better options out there could be preventing people from being happy with an otherwise satisfying match. Sure, this person gets my humor, shares my love of hiking, crab dip, diners, and open-mic nights… but could there be someone else who fits me even better? Maybe, but maybe not. The pull of the unknown could undermine a potentially healthy and very happy relationship.
One way to manage this problem is to limit the number of choices you allow yourself to consider. Some online dating websites do this for you by providing only a limited set of matches based on your criteria. However (and herein lies the problem), you can easily get additional searches and essentially, open up your options to larger pools. Foregoing this temptation and setting stringent selection criteria might help you narrow the number of options presented, which paradoxically, could lead you to be more happy with someone you date. Another idea: stop looking as soon as you connect with someone.
Finding a life partner – if that’s your goal – is a major decision, so there is reason to cautious. And caution might make you want to search and search and search for that elusive perfect person. In other words, decision regret is powerful and compelling…, but there’s another kind of regret, too: the regret that comes with not giving someone a real chance at being a good match for you.