Modern Dating: 5 Tips for Finding Lasting Love [Online]  

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If there’s one thing most people have in common, it’s the desire to find their partner. By partner, I’m not referring to just a boyfriend or girlfriend. I mean the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. A true partner knows your flaws and quirks, and loves you anyway. Your partner can make you laugh when you’re consumed by anger or sadness and their touch makes you feel safe, despite how hard and scary life can sometimes feel. Sounds great, right?

As a young female therapist in New York City, I know the search for love can be exhausting. At times, finding a partner can even seem impossible, especially when the norm for meeting someone special these days involves swiping a screen populated by selfies. And while some lucky folks meet their significant others in college, through work, or through friends, many singles spend over an hour per day on dating sites or apps eager to find love.

So how can we make this tiresome process more efficient and successful? How can we stop wasting our time on the person who will never turn into more than just a drunken hookup or a situation consumed by two months of back and forth texting followed by radio silence? Maybe the process of online dating can never be a quick means to finding love, but there’s got to be a way to at least increase our chances for finding a lasting, meaningful relationship this technological era!

And there is! Research on dating in the 21st century shows certain attitudes and behaviors can help people successfully find love online. You are more likely to find your partner and a healthy, satisfying relationship online by sticking to the following steps. 

  1. Don’t Judge Pictures Too Much

It’s very easy to shutdown a prospective date based solely a picture. Physical chemistry is an important component of any romantic relationship, so it’s completely understandable that when faced with the decision to show interest in a potential mate online we base a fair amount of weight on looks. But the truth is, there’s a lot more to physical chemistry than just appearances. You can never actually know if chemistry exists until you meet someone in person.

Studies show that in general people are more selective online than they would be if they met the person IRL (in real life). When comparing user activity data from OkCupid to a blind date app to understand the extent to which pictures affect response rates, OkCupid creators found that women who received higher ratings in attractiveness were less likely to respond to men with lower ratings; however, when the same couples were matched for a blind date through the second app, these women reported having a good time. Christian Rudder, a co-founder of OkCupid, explained “people appear to be heavily preselecting online for something that, once they sit down in person, doesn’t seem important to them.”

This is all to say that in the pursuit of love, a few good or not so good pictures on a profile are even less meaningful than we believe. By swiping left or not responding to a message because the person “doesn’t look that cute” or “isn’t your type,” you are immediately eliminating a potential match you may have been stoked about had you met at a bar or at a coffee shop. Makes you think twice about your next swipe, right?

  1. If You Are Unsure, Go On At Least Three Dates

One of the best parts about online dating is the overwhelming arena of options where there is constant exposure to men and women of all ages, ethnicities, careers and passions – and they are all (supposedly) single! While one would think having endless options is ideal for finding a match, psychologists have found that having more options makes it more difficult to actually choose something, in this case a person. Additionally, having more options may cause us to be less satisfied with the choices we end up making since we are always left to wonder what else is out there and what we could be missing.

In our attempts to find the perfect person in a sea of endless options, we all too often shut down potential partners before getting a chance to see who they really are. Since there’s always someone else to meet, if we aren’t immediately impressed, we move on. This haste often leads to missed opportunities for connection. The importance of continued interactions in dating is supported by what social psychologists call the “mere exposure effect”: repeated exposure to a stimulus tends to enhance one’s feelings toward it. In the context of dating, the mere exposure effect implies that the more we hang out with a potential partner, the more likely we are to develop strong feeling towards that person. Not only do you become more familiar with the person the more you see them, but you also start to get a picture of how that person relates to others and views the world, providing a better a sense of whether compatibility truly exists.

So if you go on a first date and come away from it feeling unsure, don’t feel discouraged. Love at first sight may exist, but most love takes time. Give the person a chance, let the exposure effect kick in, and allow yourself the opportunity to sort out where your feelings really lie before saying yay or nay.

 

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  1. Be Your Honest Self From The Start

Have you ever gone on a date and pretended to like something you really don’t? Maybe you said you were a fan of Kanye or you love working out. Maybe you said you live with two roommates, but you left out the fact that your roommates happen to be your parents. Maybe you didn’t even lie, but you tried to adapt your image to appear more like the other person, perhaps buying a new wardrobe so you could wear something particularly hipster or preppy. If any of the above scenarios ring true, you are definitely not alone. According to multiple studies, more than 50% of people lie either before or during a first date. Whether it’s about looks, interests, wealth, profession, or past experiences, people often enter relationships trying to act like someone they are not in the hopes it will make them more appealing.

Not being honest from the onset of any relationship is a red flag and a potential recipe for disaster. As you get to know each other more and more the truth becomes clear and no matter how big or small the lie, its existence can lead to a rupture in trust. Trust is one of the most, if not the most fundamental qualities of a relationship, so by being dishonest you are building the foundation of your relationship on rocky grounds. In addition, being honest about who you are on a first date shows confidence, strength, and character – traits that are especially endearing to potential partners. This is not to say you should over-share about topics like your family or past, but when asked a question or when the conversation is relevant, being honest about your values and what makes you unique as an individual can only help, not hinder, your chances of finding a connection.

One 2013 study examining college students’ behavior in relationships found people who reported being more true to themselves also reported more positive dating relationships. This was measured by their ability to see themselves clearly and objectively, act in ways consistent with their beliefs, and interact honestly and truthfully with others. According to Amy Brunell, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Newark Campus, “If you’re true to yourself, it is easier to act in ways that build intimacy in relationships, and that’s going to make your relationship more fulfilling.” So instead of adapting your self-image to be more like someone else, be honest about who you are from the start. You may get less second or third dates or things may end faster with someone you think is right for you, but ultimately you will waste a lot less time dating someone you are not compatible with and have more time available to build an authentic relationship with someone who appreciates you.

  1. Seek Out Similarities

In the previous tip I suggested avoiding changing who you are to be more like the person you are interested in, but the reality is, having things in common with someone does make it more likely the relationship will move forward. Research has shown that the old saying “opposites attract” is actually false — we are more likely to seek out a mate similar to ourselves and as the relationship continues, we tend to grow even more like our partners. In a study of 500 people married for forty or more years, Dr. Carl Pillemer, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, found nearly unanimous reports on what makes long and happy marriages. According to Pillemer, “You are much more likely to have a satisfying marriage for a lifetime when you and your mate are fundamentally similar. And if you’re very different, the elders warn although that marriage can work, is likely to be much more difficult.”

So does it really matter if you have the same taste in music or food? It may make the relationship a little easier or more fun at times, but it seems as long as you believe the same things in life are important, your relationship has a higher chance of sustained happiness. Due to the importance of aligned values, knowing where both you and your potential partner stand on issues such as marriage, children, finances or sex before committing may save a lot of time and pain down the line.

  1. Wait For Sex

If you are looking for a partner and not just casual sex, what’s the best way to avoid the latter as well as the potential heartbreak that follows? The answer is: wait for sex. Every person and every relationship is different, so unlike Patti Stanger’s “no sex before monogamy” rule, many psychologists and dating experts believe there’s no exact timeline for how long one should wait. That being said, it should be enough time for both people to process the emotions involved and get on the same page about the direction the relationship is headed. Waiting for sex is not about making sure you don’t look “easy” or that the other person doesn’t loose interest (although both typically come with it), it’s about having time to let emotions build.

According to Christie Hartman, PhD and Dating Expert, having sex early causes the relationship to move faster than many people can handle. Studies show that sex has a strong effect on our hormones, brains, and emotions for both men and women. She writes, “Once you’ve had sex, you release hormones that make you more inclined to “bond” with your partner, but the relationship may not be ready yet because you’re still getting to know this person!” Having sex with someone too soon can rush emotional intimacy and this is when things take a turn for the worst.

We see this false sense of intimacy ignited through sex when one person starts to get worked up after not receiving texts or feels rejected when the other person doesn’t offer to meet up on a night out. While this person may begin to unconsciously expect too much, the other person may begin to feel implicit pressure to act as boyfriend or girlfriend and as a result begin to withdraw. Even when things seem to be great the first few days or weeks after sleeping together, too much too soon can have unwanted consequences. Dr. Hartman explains, “When a relationship gets intense right away, couples tend to spend way too much time together and share too much too soon. This tends to freak people out, especially men.”

Having sex after the first or second date doesn’t necessarily lead to a failed relationship; however, it seems if you wait to sleep with someone until you know there’s a real emotional connection – experienced through some expression of emotional vulnerability as opposed to physical – you can decrease the chances of your brain chemistry misguiding you into a pre-mature relationship, potentially causing one or both people to eventually pull back.

Not putting too much emphasis on pictures, giving an adequate amount of time to get to know someone, being honest, evaluating fundamental similarities and differences, and waiting for sex may all be helpful in the search for a partner. While the current research on modern dating can hopefully help to reduce effort expended in the search for love, part of what makes relationships special and ultimately work are the experiences we learn from along the way. So while the search for your partner may not be graceful or easy, it’s important to recognize that as an individual you are ultimately benefitting from the opportunities dating provides for learning about yourself and what you are really looking for in a companion.

Allison Lewin, LMSW

KIP Fellow

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