Too Many Choices: Why Online Dating Is Unsatisfying (Even if It's Fun)

From what we know about the limits of human cognition, we appear ill-suited to sift through the thousands, if not millions, of potential dates waiting for us out there.

Taboo a short time ago, online dating is now widely accepted, but has the effectiveness of finding a mate on the Internet changed along with our opinion of it? Not exactly. From what we know about the limits of human cognition, we appear ill-suited to sift through the thousands, if not millions, of potential dates waiting for us out there. Indeed it wasn't until virtual networks came into existence that the smaller circles we once ran in--and dated in--became unsatisfying.


The logic goes like this: If I have a certain chance of finding a partner among the small group of people of I know, that chance must increase greatly if I extend my network to include thousands of people. And given the depths of our desire for partnership, that logic is hard to resist. But as writer and ethnographer Leah Reich explains, having more choices doesn't necessarily work in our favor:

"Here’s the problem with bigger numbers and endless possibility: They don’t go well with humans. We don’t have the processing power. Dating is not simply about finding like-minded people, but about limiting your potential set of choices. When we’re making a selection from what sociologists call a bounded set of choices, we can 'satisfice' — that is, reach a kind of threshold of satisfaction. Once we find something above that level, great, let’s try it."

Added to this, the metrics used by online dating services may not be the kind we naturally gravitate toward. As Dan Ariely explains in his Big Think interview, dating is a lot like tasting wine: being able to describe what you like is less important than the experience of liking it. Or put another way, the average online cup of coffee requires six hours of preparation through profile exchanges and personal messaging. That's a lot of time for coffee (which typically ends with just coffee):

Read more at the New York Times

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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