Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Online Dating Pros and Cons, Part II

Last time, Singletude reviewed the reasons that online dating is the best thing since going steady. But before the Match.coms and Yahoo! Personals of the world start gloating, let's be frank--dating sites aren't a quick fix for bars or setups. For the sake of balanced discussion, let's focus in on the dark side of meeting a mate in cyberspace.



CONS



1. Online dating services create the illusion of a larger dating pool but don't always deliver on that promise. While metropolitan areas may have oodles of singles, rural locations may not turn up a blip on the 20-mile search radar. Even if you're willing to travel, you may find that the residents of those teeming cities are not. For those who do choose to begin a long-distance relationship, their budding romance will be tested by the constraints of physical separation, a burden that has broken many a stable long-term partnership.

Plus, matchmaking sites have a dirty little secret--the millions of members they flaunt aren't all paid subscribers, and in most cases, only subscribers can initiate and respond to communication. For example, as of 2004, Match.com had 20 million members but only 910,000 subscribers! (Match.com has apparently stopped reporting updated statistics since they've been losing traffic.) So out of every 20 members you write to, only one will be able to respond. Statistically speaking, the odds are the same as your chances of becoming a victim of violent crime. Better cross your fingers you're his/her type!


2. While this may not be a con for everyone, singles seeking serious relationships will find that the web is a magnet for serial daters attracted by the endless supply of fresh pickings. Thus it can be easy to book a date for the movies but not so much a date for the wedding. On the plus side, there are sites like eHarmony, Chemistry, and True which cater to those who want long-term commitments, but they expect you to pay for the privilege of meeting men and women who are interested in more than sex or free dinner.


3. Online dating sites are very competitive, especially for men. On many sites, men outnumber women seven to three. So it's a buyer's market for the ladies, who can afford to be choosier. However, this doesn't mean that women automatically get their pick of the litter, particularly if they've all set their sights on the same subset of handsome, successful guys. The outcome is that members of both sexes rant and rail about how often they're snubbed and passed over. This can make for a frustrating, disheartening, and even soul-crushing experience if you don't have rock-solid self-esteem.


4. If you want to succeed at online dating, you must be photogenically blessed. On the World Wide Web, the photo is king. Many members won't look twice at profiles that don't include one, which means you'll have to throw anonymity to the wind. Moreover, it's not enough for you to just post a photo. It has to be a good photo, defined as one that makes you look like Niki Taylor or Tyson Beckford. The attractive girl- or guy-next-door look won't get you a wink, much less a date.

The problem is that lots of people aren't too photogenic. Still shots focus attention on facial flaws, which aren't as noticeable in person due to the distraction of continuous motion, speech, and nonverbal expression. Critics of online dating services complain that they get few responses even though they have no problem attracting interest in real life and people who know them personally consider them physically appealing.


5. What you see on a dating site isn't always what you get. Despite the certainty of eventual humiliation and rejection, some members fudge their age, height, weight, hair color (or lack thereof), income, and even marital status. Exaggerations, omissions, and outright lies also abound in the freewriting sections, in which some singles magically become far more outgoing, charming, witty, intelligent, confident, sophisticated, and comfortable in both dress clothes and jeans than they'll ever be in the real world. Granted some of these lies are unintentional, the product of wishful thinking combined with a lack of self-awareness. But the effect is the same--when you meet Mr. or Ms. Too Good To Be True, you feel disappointed and deceived.

Now, it's important to remember that liars don't just lurk online; you can get conned by someone you meet at a bar, in a class, or on the job, too. But when you meet in person, at least you know upfront if you're getting a Cameron Diaz or a Camryn Manheim, a George Clooney or a Boy George. Plus, the more integrated someone is into your world (as with a coworker or friend of a friend), the harder it is for them to hide behind a facade. When your only point of contact is the Internet, a player can keep the game going longer.


6. The shopping mall setup of Internet dating sites enables users to treat other people like commodities. Visit any online dating review site, and you'll see plenty of grousing about this one. Whether online dating encourages this mentality or online daters bring it to the table is anybody's guess, but dating site members are quite vocal about its entrenchment in the web community. Their argument is that dating sites, with their customizable search forms, impersonal methods of communication, and constant influx of fresh blood, enable users to be overly selective, treating people like consumer goods who can be disposed of and replaced as soon as something better comes along.

As a rebuttal to this theory, there is no proof, as far as I'm aware, that online dating site members are pickier than the general public. The fact of the matter is that dating sites allow singles to interact with more people on a given day than they might meet in months or even years of barhopping, so of course they're going to collect more rejections, too. It's a numbers game. The difference is that rejection on a dating site is more obvious because it requires people to be blunter than they would be in person.

If you ignore an email--or, worse, reply with a "no"--you've sent an undeniable message of rejection. However, if you go out to a bar and you're a man, you simply won't approach the women you're not interested in. At the end of the night, those women will go home, and not one of them will think, "Hey, only five guys hit on me, so the other hundred in the bar must think I'm unattractive." If you're a woman approached by a man you're not into, you might make some small talk and then leave for the night with an excuse or a noncommittal "see ya around." Often the guy will massage his ego with the assumption that you were just shy or really did have to get home to feed the abandoned baby porcupines you adopted. On a dating site, however, there's no room to misconstrue a rejection, so naturally you seem to get more of them.

This is not to say that people haven't become overly selective or don't treat their fellow humans like recyclable plastics, but my theory is that this is a widespread phenomenon in contemporary society and is not exclusive to the web. In my experience, most singles I know don't use Internet dating services (and most couples I know didn't, either), and they still reject(ed) and are/were rejected by lots of potential mates. Nevertheless, the immediacy, candor, and volume of the rejections on a dating site can make it a poor choice of stomping grounds for all but the thickest skins.


7. The Internet is a subpar communications forum that fosters a disconnect between single daters. Or so the theory goes. There's no doubt that emails and IMs can't match the richness and complexity of in-person communication. It also may be true that the facelessness of cyberspace depersonalizes people, making it easier for them to be rude, inconsiderate, and dismissive to one another. Some critics go a step further, claiming that Internet dating erodes real-life social skills, although that's stretching it in my book. Most of us still have to interact with colleagues, friends, family, and retailers every day, so we have plenty of opportunities to practice. More threatening than the Internet, I think, is the permissive parenting that teaches kids it's okay to dehumanize each other. The web is simply the field on which these internalized lessons are played out. However, it does seem easier to get away with this on the 'Net, and singles wishing for more personal accountability in their interactions might want to stay away from online dating sites.


8. Yes, Virginia, there really are safety hazards in online dating. Contrary to popular perception, though, they don't usually include psychotic killers. What you're more likely to encounter are dating site scammers, a new breed of criminal who create false personas and lure hopeful, sympathetic singles to send them large sums of money. Also, like any other web site, a dating service is subject to hackers and credit card or identity thieves.


9. The monthly fees of online dating services can add up, and calculating the cost isn't always a straightforward task. Yes, most dating sites allow you unrestricted access for the cost of one dinner date a month. But don't forget that you'll be paying for that access in addition to the dinner dates that you land as a result. Obviously, this is an inequity that tends to fall squarely on the shoulders of the guys. On the other hand, you may never score a date while you keep emptying your wallet to the matchmaking site month after month, and when you finally do, it may lead nowhere.

Furthermore, you may get roped into forking over much more than you estimated. That's because dating sites that charge monthly subscription fees also enforce an autorenewal process, which automatically bills you for another subscription period if you don't take action to resign. (If you only signed up for a free trial, you will automatically be billed for the initial subscription period.) Since this is contrary to most other American subscription-based services, which lapse unless you actively renew, dating sites prey on users' understanding of consumer norms.

Also be aware that although many sites offer discounted packages to those who subscribe for more than one month at a time, unlike true monthly subscriptions, you won't be charged once a month. Instead, you'll be billed in one lump sum, and if you're dissatisfied with some aspect of the service afterward, chances of a refund are slim.


10. Some dating sites are rumored to engage in unethical business practices. For starters, nearly all of them force you to undertake a copious registration process before they disclose their fees. Oftentimes they use ambiguous language to convince you that you'll have free access to services that aren't free at all. More disturbingly, for years members have been accusing online matchmakers of generating fake profiles and emails to lure them in for a bait-and-switch, although such claims are unsubstantiated. Other users have attested that they were charged repeatedly even after resigning. Still others have alleged that some dating services failed to grant promised discounts or refunds. In addition, online dating services are notorious for poor customer service. Often they bury their contact information in remote, inaccessible corners of their web sites or fail to provide live service altogether.



At first glance, there are more cons than pros for joining an online dating service, and you may wonder why anyone would subject themselves to the anxiety, uncertainty, embarrassment, and pain of romance on the web. However, a number of the cons are not applicable to everyone or even to just online dating. Dating anywhere, at any time, is difficult, and some of us will have better experiences than others. Furthermore, for some singles, the pros of online dating sites far outweigh the cons.


Have you ever tried online dating? What are some disadvantages to dating online? Can you share any negative experiences that you've had?


Fun Link of the Day

6 comments:

doubtful dater said...

One of my best friends has been a fan of online dating. She met someone who gave her a year and a half relationship. They were engaged, they got a house, and of course she loved him. He ended up to be a scam artist who slowly drained her accounts within the last 3 months of the relationship. He pawned all her stuff, knocked up another girl and then took off. He sold her car back to the lot and she had nothing after he left. The dangers of online dating are scary.

Cat said...

I am a fan of online dating in the winter but tend to let my subscriptions end in the spring and summer. I agree whole heartedly with the cons you posted. No matter what you write, if your photo isn't sharp you aren't getting any love. And if you aren't like your pic well that gets you the boot really quick. Such drama.

s.t said...

I m nt dat unlucky like e fren of doubtful dater.
I got to know someone (nt through online dating site), bt through e internet of cuz, then we dated. Nice fella, bt we ended within a short 3mths. E info sharing over the internet, hw true are they? If u ask mi - i wont do it again.

Clever Elsie said...

Doubtful: I'm so sorry to hear that your friend had a close encounter with a sociopath! :( It's heartbreaking enough when you're the victim of a serious crime. When the perpetrator is someone you loved, it's ten times as devastating.

While you can meet a con artist anywhere, it does seem like these types tend to troll the Internet to find "easy prey." Thanks for sharing this story about the dark side of online dating!

Cat: Yep, the online dating arena is pretty cutthroat. Sometimes it feels like you're duking it out with a bunch of supermodels just to get a date.

Before online dating sites were popular, I met up with a few guys I'd met in AOL chats, sight unseen. If there was no attraction, we enjoyed a coffee and went our separate ways. No harm done. It kind of disgusts me how people can't give anyone the time of day anymore unless they're a perfect 10.

I also have to insert here that there's something to be said for attractive people who aren't photogenic. Twice I met up with men whose pictures weren't that appealing but who turned out to be stunning in person, and I've met several guys who looked great in their photos but weren't so hot in real life. I've also heard the comment "you're so much prettier than your pictures" directed at me. Needless to say, I'm not photogenic either.

S.T.: My own relationships that have resulted from online dating have been short-lived, too, although I don't know if that's because we met online or because singles these days are a lot less eager to get involved long-term.

I remember the guy you're talking about. Was he just noncommittal, or do you think he was actually dishonest with you as well?

s.t said...

i guess its more like - we dun noe each other dat well before we went into a relationship.
Online dating is merely juz typing ur thots and using of emoticons. As cute as the emoticons or as genuine as the sentences communicated, they might just be fake. Its only to a certain extent u wld get to noe e person well... but definitely not behind a computer.

Clever Elsie said...

S.T.: You're right that IMs and emails are no substitute for real life! While online dating sites may not be a bad place to initiate contact, you can't truly get to know someone until you take things offline.

It seems like the trend these days is toward meeting in person as soon as possible to prevent the kind of situation you just described. If you confine the interaction to the Internet for too long, you can get lulled into a false sense of familiarity.