As the former CEO of eHarmony Inc and a veteran of the online dating World from its beginnings, you can imagine that I get peppered with questions about online dating in general but I also get some very specific questions. No matter what the situation or group of people, when it comes up that I helped launch eHarmony, and eventually ran the company someone wants to know, “Does Online Dating Really Work?” … It’s the single most asked question I’ve received during the last ten years of my life.
This question of “Does Online Dating Really Work?”, typically comes from someone who is thinking about getting into the fray. They figure that if anybody knows whether online dating is worth their time and money it is probably going to be me. Unfortunately, my answer is the same whether we’re talking about online dating, getting in great physical condition, learning to play guitar, or even just baking bread.
“It can work if you let it.”
Here’s a little perspective for you, just to give you some insight into how important (and growing) online dating is in creating new relationships. In 2000 basically, 0% of all marriages started online. By 2012 that number was in the mid 30% range, and now in 2020, it’s approaching 50%. Also, the divorce rate among couples that met through and online dating site is significantly lower on average than couples that met the “traditional ways”.
One could argue that the sheer volume and efficiency of being exposed to so many more people that are screened by your online dating sites search criteria helps to narrow down the field and makes interactions with the people that do want to meet with you that much more productive and efficient. So, clearly, lots and lots of people are meeting partners while online dating. So, yes it CAN help you find someone to live with and love. But I don’t think that’s exactly what they are asking me specifically.
Rather, I think they are asking two questions:
Question #1: Grant, you see me standing here in front of you … WILL I FIND LOVE ONLINE DATING? and/or
Question #2: Grant, will online dating help me find a better person than if I do it myself?
Let’s look at each question separately…
Question#1: Does online dating work and will I find love using online dating?
Answer: Yes, It can work, if you let it. Online dating is just a marketplace. Tinder isn’t making your matches in the basement. It’s just people who are coming together in search of something. Uber is a marketplace — people selling rides and people needing rides. Airbnb is a marketplace — people needing a place to stay, people renting a place to stay. If you’re using an online dating site and your value in the marketplace is high, you will attract a lot of attention. If George Clooney was on eHarmony, even if his name was Billy Jones, he would be flooded with attention.
Occasionally, I would review emails or correspondence from clients who would complain that they were paying for a subscription but that they were not getting the attention they felt they deserved from the other people on the online dating site, clearly they felt that Online dating didn’t work for them. It always made me chuckle a little bit since I knew that there’s no one to blame, except yourself. Paying for a subscription (or not… even on a free dating site) on an online dating site is not a guarantee of dating success.
Since, as I’ve mentioned it is fundamentally a marketplace, you need to think about how you market yourself and what your target market is. In any marketplace there is competition. You need to prepare for that and use every tool available to you to create a “presence” even a “brand” that will attract others in the marketplace to you. Your goal, presumably if you joined a site and pay a fee, is to be as successful as possible in searching for, finding and connecting with another person who would be an excellent match for you and vice versa
You would think that this would define “successful online dating” and even overall proof that online dating does work. However, there is a whole group of people that regularly fail at online dating or even sabotage their online dating experience through the actions and inaction they take. Thankfully, they usually continue to pay month after month without addressing the problem.
There are, in my opinion, three reasons people who join and pay fail at online dating:
1. You are trying to attract the kind of people who are out of your “league”
Men often take the attitude, “I’m paying for this service so I will only accept women who are 9s or 10s.” They never seem to wonder what they might have to offer a 9 or 10. They typically cannot attract a 9 or a 10 off of the dating site but they seem to think that just because they are paying the monthly subscription that this is somehow going to make a 9 or a 10 start to notice them and be interested in them. This leads to great frustration… and a few angry emails or calls to the support group.
Women are often more fixated on “success” than looks. They want a man who “has his shit together” which is just code for “successful”, which is just code for “has money”. They might forget that they are not alone in wanting to find a successful man and that, in general, “successful” men attract women/men on and off of the online dating sites, hence they might tend to have a lot of options to choose from… and a lot of competition from other online daters. Thus, you might want to ask yourself, “What do I have to offer this successful person that would make them interested in me”? Are you wealthy too, successful too …are you a 9 or a 10? What do you bring to the proverbial “table” to generate their interest?
Here’s the thing, if you spend your time chasing people who are at the very highest end of your league, you will find that most of them, maybe all of them, aren’t very interested in you. That’s life. But if you play in the zone where you have the most interest then it can be a lot of fun and online dating will work and be fun for you.
Here’s a fun little exercise I learned years ago from another dating expert. Write down up to 15 attributes and/or traits you would want in YOUR perfect match. It could be things like looks, age, success, education, career, etc. Anything that is vitally important to you, you should note it.
Now …. work back down your list and honestly compare yourself to your ideal match. Do you have enough to offer that there is parity between what you want and what you bring to the table? If there is not a fair amount of parity then they are probably not going to be interested in you… and that’s ok because there are plenty of people out there that are going to be interested in you and be a great match for you!
Speaking of what league you’re in, many people neglect the first and foremost tool they have to attract a match on the site; their profile photo. It’s the first thing that anyone sees and the only thing they have to go on in deciding whether they want to interact with you or learn more about you.
I’ve seen 9’s and 10’s upload photos that downgraded them to a 6 or 7. Which made them question ”does online dating work? Once they upgraded their photo there was a dramatic change in the quality of matches they would get.
Conversely, I’ve seen someone who, realistically was more of a 5 or 6, lead with a great profile photo and attracted the attention of people at the highest end of their league to great success.
So how do you know what league you’re in because self-reflection is hard and your friends lie? Well, I’ve seen two methods to get feedback on which range you operate in because if you want online dating to work, you need to know. You can either go high tech or use a more “manual” approach.
There are even Artificial Intelligence photo analysis tools out there that compare your profile photo to billions of other photos and in essence rate your looks, age, emotion, etc. This is interesting because different photos of the same person can leave entirely different impressions. You might just be choosing a “bad” photo of you that is sending the wrong message and essentially downgrading you.
On the other hand, if you’ve got time, you can try the more manual approach. If you aren’t sure what league you are in, go back and look at your matches. See who has responded to you and who hasn’t. If no one has responded, start from scratch and reach out to 20 people. Some you consider 2’s, 4’s, 6’s and 9’s. You’ll find out soon enough what league you’re in your area.
2. You won’t put in the work needed to make online dating successful
All things in life that are worthwhile take effort. Sometimes tremendous effort. You might think that someone who is looking for a partner to live with and love seriously would be willing to work hard in that search and put in the effort necessary to use every tool at their disposal to succeed in their search.
For the most part, you’d be wrong. I’ve often found this to be very perplexing. If you made the conscious decision to join an online dating site and started paying them money monthly AND you knew that empirically online dating works. You know this because online dating sites across the board result in far more relationships than when people try to meet people on their own at work, church a bar or any other place you can think of. So why wouldn’t you at least give finding your true life partner some serious effort?
Over the years, I’ve found they usually break down into one of four groups.
Many people it turns out are lazy or are overworked in their other activities. They toss a half-assed selfie of themselves on their profile and scribble some lame text together for their profile all while complaining how long it takes to complete the survey or questionnaire. They seem to hope that others will overlook the bad photo and the poorly written profile all the while expecting others to put in “real effort” so they can do a proper search for their true match.
Another group of online daters tend to want to pretend to be “very casual about the whole dating thing” so if it doesn’t work out then they can claim they didn’t really try. They create a lousy profile and answer the minimum number of questions seeming to expect someone to peer through their very slim profile and “see” the real(!) person behind the profile and then come sweep them off their feet.
A variation of the “casual” group is the “I just want sex group”. They desperately want someone to love them, but they protect their egos by pretending to just prefer casual hook-ups with people. They cannot even admit to themselves that they want a serious partner.
The last group is the one that is so fearful of rejection they actually join an online dating site and then try to hide. They upload obscured photos, group photos (Where’s Waldo anyone?), or “arty” photos that cover their face, better yet are the ones that upload cartoons or avatars in place of their actual profile picture. They write nondescript profiles with vague references or try to be overly witty. When no one contacts them they are usually the first ones to call customer support or demand their money back. They can’t muster the courage to dig down and see what’s out there for them.
No matter which category you fit into, the result is the same. If you don’t want to invest serious time and serious dollars in a search for a serious partner then; surprise, surprise, online dating will not work for you.
Here’s a little bonus for you. You can tell you’re ready for online dating when you’re willing to put in the effort to create a great profile, realize it’s going to take some effort, that not everyone is going to click with you and that you need to keep a certain sense of humor about the whole process. If you can do this then online dating will work for you. Please don’t be fooled by the couple you met in the airport who are deeply in love and say they met at the Grocery store. They are probably lying.
3. You won’t resist your worst instincts.
You might think that all adults would understand that superficial judgments of people lead to bad decisions. That’s the stuff teenage girls do. In the world of online dating, many people fail because they degenerate into the worst version of themselves — flipping through human beings who might love them like pieces of tile at Restoration Hardware. Of course, you’re thinking. “Grant, I want to be attracted to the person. Is that wrong?”
Attracted? You don’t know the first thing about whether you would be attracted to the people you’re dismissing. Attraction is a mystical process involving body language, smells, hair flips, laughs, skin tone, and a dozen other things that are so subliminal you don’t even understand them.
Ok, maybe you know that you wouldn’t be attracted to someone who weighs 300 pounds, but most of the people you’re flipping past don’t weigh 300 pounds. They just don’t seem sexy in their terrible, florescent-lit selfie. If you put them outside on a sunny day, with a smile, and a funny story then you might find they turn you on. The point is when you bring a superficial attitude to dating you often get exactly what you put out there.
As for the last question…
Question: “Grant, will online dating help me find a better person than if I do it myself?
Answer: “It can work if you let it.”
Here’s a little historical perspective. Back in 2012 eHarmony did a study on 20,000 people who were married in all the ways that people get married. Over a seven-year period, the eHarmony couples had a divorce rate of 3.86%, which is lower than the national average of 50%. It was half the 2nd place option, and far better than “church”.
If you’re asking me, there’s no question that eHarmony is a better way to find a partner than picking someone up in a bar. I also don’t think that’s surprising once you understand the amount of work and science that is used to bring people together. Dating sites, like eHarmony, invest a great deal of effort, research and dating behavioral science to unlock the best ways to bring people together, and they have the results to prove it. Based on all of the technology, expertise, and experience it just makes sense that they get better results. Makes sense, right?
What’s the right dating site or dating app for me?
Well, the fish you catch depends on the pond you visit. I’m not saying that good couples don’t start on Bumble or Tinder or Coffee Meets Bagel. But the men on some apps are there to collect sexual partners, plain and simple. If that’s not what you want don’t be shocked when he sends over a pic of his junk. He is there to have sex with a stranger. If a particular online site works pretty much like a pick-up bar, then there’s no reason to expect that you’ll have a better relationship result by meeting there.
There is a strong element of popularity or herd mentality to online dating apps. The number one reason people choose an app is that they believe the people they want to meet are there. Hence, it can be a fad-driven industry, with the media and most users rushing to whatever they think is the new, hot thing. This makes you think you’re meeting the right people, when in fact, you might just be meeting the kind of people who follow fads.
Just know this. If you set your sights realistically, have coffee with everyone who seems mildly attractive to you, invest the time responding to people, take care in your photos and written descriptions, think about the pool of people you’re going to find on any particular dating app, you’ll have a far better chance of meeting a great person than if you sit home, watching TV, and thinking that you might like a relationship.