Online Dating: Just an Endless Merry-Go-Round?

On a shuttle headed to the airport, I met a kindred spirit. She was an intelligent, successful former-pageant-model-turned-spokesperson forMiss America. Naturally, the conversation drifted to our love lives. She told the tale of meeting an attractive prospect through Match.com and dating him for a few months. He met her family, accompanied her to church, and the future looked bright. Until: “I’m just not ready for commitment,” said he. As quickly as he had arrived, he vanished into the fog of former faces that she had dated. “I just don’t understand why he was on a dating website, then! Wasn’t that the whole point?!” She wanted long-term commitment; he didn’t.

People everywhere are logging into an online world in search of that “it” factor. But the rise of online dating in recent years has altered the landscape of romantic relationships. According to the 2011 study, “How Has Internet Dating Changed Society?”, low quality marriages are being destroyed and the bar is raised when defining a good relationship, but people have become more disposable. While the results are clearly a mixed bag, it’s important to understand how virtual relationships alter the climate of commitment so that we can still achieve our hopes for love.

In the recent Atlantic article, “A Million First Dates,” Dan Slater takes a candid look at how online dating provides a wider access of meeting people, creating a perception of abundance. In the face of a litany of new prospects, dating becomes a numbers game-the “mass mailer approach” to love. When click after click provides access to a world of romantic possibility, young adults experience the “FOMO” syndrome, or “fear of missing out.” One can almost hear Bono singing, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Slater questions: What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?

Sure, it can be easy to be allured by the prospect of “what-if”; if you’re not looking for looking for another lap around the track, try these tweaks to help you focus.

Firstly, as my friend learned, it’s important to clearly state your expectations when evaluating a potential relationship. If your Mr. Perfect is looking for holiday arm candy and you’re hoping for a year-round commitment, find this out sooner rather than later.

Secondly, if you have found someone interesting, consider deactivating your online profile. Nothing is so distracting as getting notifications on your phone while heading home from a great date stating that “Ben26457” sends you a wink.

Thirdly, speaking of phones, am I the only one who doesn’t like them out during a date? I’ve seen phones resting on the table too many times to count. It sends the message that “I’m here with you, until things get boring and then I’ll be elsewhere.” Dan Slater describes one gentlemen who fielded texts from prospects throughout a dinner date. Put yours away and be present. The simple act of courtesy speaks volumes.

Finally, with the ease of meeting people online, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that one should have a gut feeling instantly whether this is “it.” And while sometimes this happens, don’t underestimate the value of a second look, or fail to remember that compatibility is something that is created together.

With so many prospects, does online dating make it more difficult to fall in love? Maybe. While online dating can be a helpful tool to start an interaction, take care to navigate the waters thoughtfully when getting to know a real live person. Behind the smiling face and pleasantries, the favorite movie and elite hobby, there’s another beating heart searching for that same “it” factor.

This article was written by me and first appeared at Verily Magazine.