“One in three marriages begins online,” eHarmony boasts. Additionally, in the past few years, studies have claimed that relationships initiated online have lower divorce rates and higher levels of satisfaction. Which would lead one to believe that its better to hit the web instead of a bar to find a soul mate. Not so fast. A study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that couples who met online were less likely to stay together compared to couples who first met offline.
Aditi Paul, a Department of Communication doctoral candidate at Michigan State University, decided to dig into these too-good-to-be-true claims by online dating services. She conducted a followup to a survey (administered by Stanford professors Rosenfeld and Thomas) to 4,002 adults. Her methodology included acknowledging three key elements that were overlooked in previous research. First, she accounted for the fact that many people dating aren’t necessarily looking for marriage, and, second, that there are several different types of relationships that should be examined individually instead of as a group. Finally, there was a need to recognize “other factors” that could contribute to the ending of a relationship.
Sifting through her survey responses, Paul found some interesting patterns. For example, couples who met online were less likely to be married versus the couples who met offline. And even if the online couples got married, they broke up at a higher rate. And perhaps counterintuitively, online engagement on average takes longer to lead to an actual relationship. “We don’t put in too much thought into online relationships,” Paul writes. “Maybe this casualness that is associated with online relationship initiation impedes the development of the relationship in the long run. This, coupled with the reasons like trust issues and commitment issues, all contributes to the slow development of online-initiated relationships.”
This doesn’t mean online dating is objectively less successful than offline dating. In fact, Paul is an online dater herself. “Just like the findings suggest, I will take my time [online] to find my prince charming, and when I do, I will take a little bit more time before sealing the deal,” Paul told me. “And it will be an even longer wait to see if I will be one of those three people who get married to my online found partner as eHarmony suggests.”