Love In The Time Of The Internet: Will You Chat with Me?

Thirty-four-year-old Hana and thirty-nine-year-old Dino met more than 10 years ago. Just like many other couples, after a period of time dating they started to live together and plan a family. “We felt the chemistry between us right away, and the same chemistry is there even more a decade after,” Hana says. But this happy couple did not meet in a bar or a restaurant, but – on the Internet.

In the USA, more than a third of all marriages celebrated between 2005 and 2012 began online, according to several independent US research studies, which also found that online couples have happier, longer relationships. Although the study did not determine why relationships that started online were more successful, the reasons may include the strong motivations of online daters, the availability of advance screening, and the sheer volume of online opportunities. Online dating is one of the most popular ways to meet a new partner, not only in USA but across Europe as well, and there are thousands of web sites where people of various interests and backgrounds can meet.

On the other hand, researchers from Michigan State University and Stanford University have found that both divorce and separation rates of people who meet online are higher than those who are first introduced in traditional settings. The study reveals that relationships that start online are 28 percent more likely to end within a year.

The results of a US survey with over 4000 respondents suggests that if you are looking for a date, online dating is a better option; but if you are looking for a marriage, you should choose offline dating. According to the same study, married couples who were introduced online are three times more likely to divorce that those who initially met in person.

These conflicting data sets highlight two different perspectives on the non-traditional, computer-assisted method of human interaction, and there are people who are proponents of online dating, while others are radically against it. But how different is online dating from the traditional version, in actuality?

“Only the setting is different, as we have used our computer screens and Internet connection to get in touch with each other. But I don’t think it makes any difference in our relationship,” says Hana, who chatted with her partner for about two months before she decided to ask him for a date: “I already felt we knew each other, and when we first met it was only a physical continuation of our vivid online discussions. Of course I was nervous for the first couple of minutes, but it didn’t last for a long time.”

But twenty-nine-year-old Alma not been that lucky. She has been dating online for more than five years and has never met anyone interesting during that time: “I’ve gone out a couple of times with guys I’ve met on online chat platforms, but they always turned to be far away from how they presented themselves on their profiles.” Alma thinks that it takes a lot of time to meet Mr. Right and hasn’t given up. “Whenever I receive a nice message on my dating profile, I think to myself – it might be him. But still – nothing has happened.”

While it seems that love in the era of the Internet is far more complicated than it was before, and that computers take away our natural instincts and turn rules of attraction into algorithms, many sociologists agree that online and offline dating are quite the same. “Where else would you meet ordinary people? At a bar or club? At a friend’s party? At yoga class? Are these venues necessarily better than dating websites or apps?,” asks Dr. Dylan Selterman in one of his articles arguing that there are no real differences in the principles of dating.

No matter how people meet, the scientific evidence suggests that the principles of attraction are always the same. Online dating may simply be yet another, although imperfect, medium for meeting new people that can complement other types of social engagement.

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