No, it’s not just you. An estimated 1.4 per cent of app conversations led to a phone number. But here’s how to improve the experience and possibly your chance for a good date.
As a clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C., area who often works with busy young professionals, I hear lots of complaints about how tough it is to find a partner. Many of my clients turn to their phones or the Internet, believing it’s the best place to meet singles — not a surprising assumption, considering that 18 per cent of Americans have used an online dating app or website. But they continually express disappointment, frustration and hopelessness about the process. Only a few have found significant others online, even after months or years of trying.
Sharon Rosenblatt, 31, a director of communications in Connecticut, had an experience similar to those of my clients. “I used online dating for seven years,” she said. “Sometimes it was fun, but it was also very time-consuming and exhausting. It’s easy to get discouraged.”
Research backs up that conclusion. A 2013 study of online daters conducted by the Pew Research Center found that one-third never met anyone in person and three-quarters never forged a relationship. Other research showed that almost half of the messages on dating apps were never reciprocated and only 1.4 per cent of app conversations led to a phone number exchange. So it’s not just you: Very few app exchanges result in a face-to-face meeting.
How can you improve your chances of finding a partner online without burning out? Based on psychological science and my therapy work, here are strategies that could help.
1. Figure out your motives for online dating and be honest about them
This might seem self-evident: Aren’t we all online dating to find love, or maybe just a hookup? It turns out that the answer is much more complicated. Research suggests that people use dating apps to escape loneliness, anxiety or boredom. Others use them for entertainment, socializing, self-esteem enhancement, trendiness, and excitement. And some people are just plain curious about who’s out there.
What are your reasons for online dating? Are you in it to distract yourself from negative emotions, have fun or find a serious partner? The point of this clarification is not to judge yourself, but to be honest with yourself.
It is also important to be honest with others. You might fear that revealing your true intentions will limit your pool of potential matches or make you stand out from other online daters. But chances are that hiding your goals will leave you with unmet needs, mounting misunderstandings, and little energy to keep trying.
“Once you are clear about what you want and what your expectations are, and you are brave enough to communicate them, you will have a much better chance of finding a partner,” said Adele D’Ari, a clinical psychologist who has treated individuals and couples in the Washington area for three decades. When Rosenblatt started being totally honest about what she wanted and valued, she told me, “I stopped wasting everyone’s time and opened a path to finding a partner.”
If you believe you’re ready to pursue a serious relationship, date with a purpose. Make sure your photos are flattering but not too revealing and that your profile doesn’t contain grammatical mistakes. Send personalized messages rather than generic one-liners. And reply within a reasonable time — research suggests that playing hard to get doesn’t work.
2. Be yourself
It’s natural to want to present yourself in the best possible light. But when you start to hide traits and interests you fear would be perceived negatively, you sabotage your online dating chances. The goal is not to get the biggest number of matches, it is to attract the ones who will fit well with the real you. And your guess about what other people might find (un)attractive is just that, a guess.
For example, research shows that highlighting rare or unusual interests leads to better online dating success — so trying to be like everyone else doesn’t pay off. And a recent study found that, contrary to popular belief, highly educated women are not “penalized” on Tinder.
“What finally worked for me was being completely myself — quirky, silly, smart. That led me to a wonderful man who appreciates all those qualities and we have been together for two years,” said Rosenblatt.
Finally, if you are outright deceitful in your online profile or texting, you run the danger of a face-to-face meeting going very badly. But even small omissions or embellishments — which studies find are common — are not likely to work in your favour, since nobody likes to start a relationship admitting or condoning a lie.
So, ask your friends and relatives to describe your qualities and quirks, put it together with a frank self-assessment, and come up with an authentic profile. “Eschew social expectations and let your traits speak for themselves,” suggests Joanne Davila, professor of clinical psychology at Stony Brook University and a coauthor of The Thinking Girl’s Guide to the Right Guy.
3. Limit time spent on apps and beware ‘rejection mindset’
It’s important to remember that online dating is designed to be addictive — the longer matchmaking sites can keep you clicking the greater their opportunity to make money off of you through advertising or signing you up for special subscriptions or added features. The sites’ ease of use, endless stream of profiles and intermittent reward in the form of a mutual match or a message may lead you to swipe frequently or spend hours browsing through profiles. But more choice is not always better.
People are often overwhelmed by too many choices, even though they might not realize it. And an average Tinder user swipes on 140 profiles a day, according to a 2016 research note by Cowen and Company! A 2019 study by Dutch researchers Tina Pronk and Jaap Denissen from Tilburg University found that online daters became more likely to reject the profiles the longer they swiped — a phenomenon they called “rejection mindset.”
“When people notice that they are rejecting more and more profiles, their dissatisfaction with the dating pool increases and they become very pessimistic about their chances of finding a partner online,” said Pronk.
You can take steps to avoid becoming overwhelmed and pessimistic. First, time how long you scroll through online profiles before becoming overloaded, irritated, or exhausted and start rejecting most profiles. Then select a time period 15 minutes shorter and pick a time of day when you can devote your full attention to this process. Your online dating searches should occur no more than once a day. That way, “you can be fully present, and give each new potential partner an undivided attention, even while examining their short profile,” said Pronk.
4. If you are not getting enough good matches, relax your criteria and initiate contact
Research suggests that both men and women tend to pursue people online who are more desirable than they are. Attractive and rich online daters are chosen and contacted at a much higher rate than others.
We are more likely to modify our behaviour based on cues in the environment at a bar or party; for example, if three men are trying to talk to a beautiful woman, it’s unlikely a fourth one will try his luck. But online, “context is lacking and the price of rejection is low, so we keep reaching for the stars,” says Paul Eastwick, an associate professor of psychology and relationship researcher at the University of California, Davis. The problem with this approach is that we might pass on people who don’t meet our criteria on paper, but might prove compatible in person.
“Compatibility cues — what we might call ‘click’ — are easily picked up face-to-face. Our idea of what we like quickly gives way to how we actually feel around that person,” said Eastwick
If you think your online dating pickings are slim or you’re meeting people you don’t click with, try widening or changing your criteria. For example, you could extend the age range of potential matches or swipe when you find yourself in a different part of town.
5. Meet online matches in person as soon as possible
The two most common complaints I hear from online daters involve frustration at how rarely they meet someone in person and how even more rarely they end up liking the person they meet. Indeed, research shows that interest generally wanes after the first real-life meeting. This is especially true if the online communication lasts longer than three weeks. Eastwick explains that we are bad at predicting whom we will like in person and that a prolonged texting period only serves to build up unrealistic, idealized expectations.
Meet your match as soon as you feel comfortable that they will not pose a danger to your safety. This has the added benefit of reducing or exposing any deception in online self-presentation. If the person you’re corresponding with refuses to meet within a few weeks or — as is often the case — evades the invitation or keeps postponing, it’s time to move on. Quickly.
Jelena Kecmanovic, a clinical psychologist, is founder and director of Arlington/DC Behavior Therapy Institute.