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How online dating influences our choice of partner

Dating apps provide you with an overload of potential dates. You can hook up with someone with a single swipe. How does this influence your choices for a partner?

This post is also available in Dutch.

Dating apps provide you with an overload of potential dates. You can hook up with someone with a single swipe. How does this influence your choices for a partner?

It’s a match! Image: Pexels

On a dating app you can only see someone’s age and a few pictures. Maybe it is even accompanied by a fancy introductory text. Based on this limited amount of information, you decide whether or not there could be a match. And even then, after an offline coffee together, you can still decide to go back to the online world where there are countless singles within reach.

All these easily available options can cause a lot of stress about making a choice. Research from (amongst others) the Technical University Delft shows we are aiming to have as little regret as possible when choosing a partner. To minimize regret as much as possible, we base our choice on comparing a potential match with its competition. In this way, we try to find someone who does not fall below the group’s standard on valued qualities. We do this because we regret our choices when we go for someone that is less likeable than their competition.

The more options we have, the easier we experience feelings of regret. You would, for example, feel more regret when your date has a poor sense of humor and you realize there are many other options for dating people with a good sense of humor. American scientists have beautifully demonstrated this in their research. They had people pick a partner out of either 6 or 24 potential partners. In additional, a number of people had the option to either change their decision while others did not have this option. Results showed that the participants who picked from 24 options were less satisfied with their chosen partners in the end. This dissatisfaction was even worse when they had the option of adjusting their decision.

So, we try to minimise regrets as much as possible, while at the same time online dating is flooding us with options. This is why we start to select in different ways. For example, we automatically filter out people without a beard, with short hair, or with a low educational level. Dating apps have already cleverly adapted to this. A special app has emerged where bearded men and women who like beards are brought together. Even millionaires, farmers, sailors, tattooed people, dog lovers and even (ex-)convicts have their own platform for finding a good match. Besides that, there are many apps and websites devoted to highly educated people finding their smart match.

While this is nice and all, researchers are worried there might be a possible problem to all this selective matchmaking. It might actually lead to assortative mating; a form of sexual selection where people have a tendency to start a relationship (and possibly have children) with someone that has similar characteristics. The scientists are not worried about beard-dating per se, but more so about, for example, matching highly educated individuals. This could lead to people sticking more and more to their own social groups, which would then become more and more monotonous. So maybe it is not such a bad idea to go offline to look around for a potential date; with or without a degree, with or without a beard.

Want to know more?
Learn more about how you decide who you will or will not date in this lecture from Universiteit van Nederland.

Find out what the reasons for using a dating app actually are in this earlier blogpost.

This blog was written by Angelique, adapted by Mahur and Jill, and translated by Rowena

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