Six Dangers of Online Dating

6 years ago

Let it be known: I am not a big fan of online dating. Yes, at least one of my best friends found her fabulous fiancé online. And if you live in a small town, or fit a specific demographic (e.g., woman over 45, ultra-busy businessperson, sugar daddy, sneaking around your spouse), online dating may expand opportunities for you. But for the rest of us, we're much better off meeting real live humans eye-to-eye the way nature intended. Here are six reasons why:

1. It's easy to be fooled by inaccurate signals online.

Do you think you're beautiful? What most people call "beauty" is actually evolution's very thorough system of broadcasting our suitability as a mate. Clear skin, good posture, broad shoulders, sonorous voice, bright eyes, shiny hair, graceful movements, pleasant aroma, facial symmetry, articulate speech: evolution has engineered features such as these into us to signal health, fertility, strength and intelligence.

When you go online, instead of seeing a person up-close, hearing him speak and watching her move, what you get is a blurry, postage-stamp size series of static photos which cannot be heard, felt, or smelled. You also get a fair amount of a person's writing, which has had no part in the eons of evolution of mate selection.

Most important of the missing signals may very well be smell, which some scientists believe underlies most of male-female attraction -- what literally constitutes sexual chemistry. Studies show that we sense immune compatibility through smell -- one way in which evolution decides whether two people should have kids together or not. This compatibility is vital to the viability of offspring, so it's bypassed at our peril.

Photo by Garry Knight.

So when you go online, you're subverting a process that has worked just fine for propagating the human species for the past 3 million years. Add to that the fact that pictures can easily lie about age, complexion and physique, and you've got yourself a lot of inaccurate signals to go on. Which brings us to our second point.

2. You can waste a lot of time online chasing what you don't want.

Here's the timeline of a typical online courtship for a guy: He sees a profile of a woman he likes. He writes her. A day or two later, he gets a response. An online correspondence ensues. If she's receptive, the conversation moves to email after a few exchanges.

If her interest continues, they speak on the phone, and begin to plan a meeting. A week or two later, after anywhere from three to 10 or more points of online- and phone contact, they meet in person. And it turns out that she has bad skin (which didn't show in the flatteringly lit photos) or her butt is gigantic (which didn't show in her waist-up photos), or he's 6 inches shorter than advertised -- or some other insurmountable shortcoming that could have been ascertained in the first 30 milliseconds of an in-person encounter.

In an instant, all those hours spent on witty emails, all of that effort to be charming on the phone, learning all about him or impressing her go whoosh! down the toilet. And worst of all, you kinda feel like a fool for building it all up in your mind for naught.

You're never getting those two weeks back again. So save yourself some time, and meet people in person before you decide to pursue.

3. Online sites present an unhelpful excess of choice.

The central premise of Barry Schwartz's 2003 book The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More -- which everyone should read -- is that more choice does not make us happier. More choice actually makes us more miserable.

Why? First, it makes the selection process burdensome. Picking one jam out of three possible tasty choices is easy. Picking one out of 43 is well-nigh torture. Second, it causes us to second-guess any decision that we do render. I got the blue Prius, but should I have gotten the red one? Or maybe a Nissan Leaf instead?

Online dating sites are a classic case of too much choice. A search on a major site for matches in your city may yield thousands of results. So much possibility! Or so it may seem. So which ones do you pursue? The good-looking ones that, because everyone else is also pursuing, never respond (see section above on wasted time)?

If you're a good-looking woman online, you’re probably inundated by unwanted attention. Let's say you pick seven good ones out of the pile of hundreds. If all seven of them say yes -- then what? If you pick one, will you always wonder how the other six would have turned out? This feeds right into the next issue:

4. Irrelevant information presented out of context can pre-empt a good match.

I've been writing and speaking on courtship for over 10 years now, and I'm always curious about how married couples first met. One of the most common responses I get from the women is, "Y'know, I really didn’t like him that much when we first met."

Really. So all that stuff about instant chemistry, butterflies in the stomach, the earth shaking underneath your feet are bogus? Turns out they're not nearly as important as you think for a successful long-term relationship. Especially if you're a woman, you have the useful gift of eventually finding attractive a man who makes you feel good, regardless of how good he actually looks. Ladies -- nod if you've ever ended up dating a guy whom you initially thought was kind of a troll, and had a fabulous time anyway.

The problem with online dating is that it puts right up front and center a whole bunch of extraneous information that could derail a potentially lovely relationship. When we're online, because of the overabundance of choice, we're in zero tolerance death-sort mode, tossing out contenders at the slightest provocation. Obsessed with the Cubs? Ew. Watches Jersey Shore? Spare me. Listens to Kenny G? Delete.

And so you may nonchalantly toss out the woman who makes a mean ravioli and really knows how to perk you up after a hard day at work, or the guy with iron hands to knead your tight back muscles into putty who'd make a great dad. All because you saw some randomass information first that tripped your prejudice button and precluded a beautiful connection with a person of character -- the most important quality in a mate, which is difficult to convey via a profile.

5. People online behave more rudely than they do in person.

Have you noticed how much sheer hatred and incivility there is online? Under the mask of e-anonymity, people have no compunctions about flaming one another with scathing remarks that they would never dare deliver in person.

Why is there such a discrepancy between online and in-person behavior? Animals have evolved mirror neurons to literally feel one another's emotional state. Mirror neurons are the physiological basis for compassion, and they're simply not activated in online interaction.

As a result, it becomes easy to dismiss summarily a message that an admirer has invested time, effort and emotion to craft in fervent hopes of gaining your attention. A man who would never be ignored in person can be blown off hundreds of times online. And, as the authors of the book Freakonomics pointed out, over 90 percent of men on dating sites never end up meeting a woman. Near-certain disappointment that you have to pay for doesn't sound like a fun party to me.

6. Strangers with low accountability can get away with antisocial behavior.

In my book The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Irresistible, I emphasize that women should only date men who are embedded within their social network -- a friend of a friend at the very least. That social accountability reduces the chances of their being axe murderers or other ungentlemanly tendencies.

When you go online, there's no guarantee of anyone having a back-connection into your social network. It's the wild west, baby, and anything goes. Especially in a big city, people will do bizarre, rude things under the cover of unaccountability. Stories abound about the girl who ordered everything on the menu at an expensive restaurant, or the guy who showed up to the date already drunk and proceeded to hit on the waitress -- or far worse.

Even though they make great stories in retrospect, these are not experiences that you need to have even once per lifetime. Going out with people whom you implicitly know and trust keeps you safe and reduces the chances of weird shit happening to you.

Dr. Ali Binazir is the author of The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible, rated first among dating advice books on Follow him on Twitter at

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