What are online-dating sites really selling you?

Many dating sites advertise that they will match you with a partner who is highly compatible. Those signing up for Chemistry.com, eHarmony, or similar other websites, are asked to complete prescreening information about their background and personality, and then are given matches with similar others based on this information. But how much does background and personality really predict successful relationships?
Professor Eli Finkel at Northwestern University and UCLA’s own, Professor Benjamin Karney, discussed the “Dubious Science of Online Dating” in a New York Times Review. Finkel and Karney argue that while similarity on background information, such as race and religion, does predict positive relationship outcomes, most people already do this on their own. As a result, the main appeal of these dating sites is their capacity to match based on similarity in personality. Yet, similarity on the major dimensions of personality (e.g., neuroticism, impulsivity, extroversion) accounts for only 0.5 percent of how satisfied spouses were with their marriages, according to a 2010 study of over 23,000 married couples.

Finkel and Karney point out that relationship-specific interactions (e.g.,  communication patterns, physical attractiveness) and environmental factors (e.g., experiences with stress, financial strain) have been left out of the dating sites’ equations, but are crucial predictors of relationship satisfaction. They do not argue that dating sites are a worse method than traditional methods for seeking new partners, but they do call to question how successful these matching algorithms really are.

To read the full New York Times Review, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/opinion/sunday/online-dating-sites-dont-match-hype.html.

So, to online date or not? Despite this research, online dating sites have reported having a lot of success in making matches, and are continuing to receive new visitors seeking relationships. If dating sites are successful, but their algorithms questionable, perhaps the main capacity of these websites is not in making “matches.” Rather, they allow visitors to focus their efforts on pursuing eligible partners who are actively looking and motivated to find a long-term partner themselves. This may be better than what one can get in traditional methods for meeting a new partner, such as a visit to the local bar. Maybe online dating sites are selling access to motivated people, not necessarily compatible matches.