One-third of all single Americans now use dating websites to find potential mates. Has this shift in the way we meet changed the way we think about relationships? In his book “Love in the Time of Algorithms,” Dan Slater argues that an efficient, easily accessible pool of singles has made people less likely to stay in unsatisfying relationships out of fear of being alone. But does it also make it hard to commit when a better option may just be a mouse-click away?

Dan Slater, journalist and author of "Love in the Time of Algorithms"; he has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and GQ

  • Hamartia

    Dating sites are the pits. They’re full of fake profiles, abandoned profiles, people impersonating others (a practice called catfishing), and I have even encountered one dating website, I think it was Plenty of Fish, that had a program running pretending to be a person, so you could send “her” a message and “she” would respond with some randomly chosen response. These websites would never be profitable if they were not selling users’ information to advertisers and, quite possibly, to nefarious government agencies illegally spying on Americans.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Would be interesting to know if speciality sites like for folks over age 50, or sites for Christians, Jews, vegans etc have a better success rate.

    Wouldn’t getting involved in real activities (skiing, lectures, cooking classes) provide more real down to earth interaction with someone?

  • mikeweston

    I met my wife through in the early days (1996). I was also pursuing some more traditional avenues at the time, but the online approach is what worked.

  • Having used both and OK Cupid for several years, I can say the results were disappointing. In my experience, it’s like flipping through a large catalog; there’s no chemistry or instant attraction, just a lot of quick judgements before moving on to the next person. Not surprisingly in our instant-gratification society, people are looking for the most “bang for the buck” as it were and not too serious about finding or sustaining a real relationship. Or perhaps they’re trying to maintain some impossible check-list of “must haves.” Ultimately, I was left feeling a bit used and pretty embittered about the whole process. I’m back to meeting people the old fashioned way!

  • mike
  • Mary

    Though certainly fun and entertaining at times, the overall experience is proving to be disappointing. I’m not interested in online dating as sport. I’m being real, and wish those I’m interacting with are also being real. Sadly, too many of the participants are fake… which ends up being a huge waste of time. I will say that I’m learning to trust my intuition more and ask direct questions.

  • Adara

    I met my boyfriend through OKCupid after just 3 weeks, and we have been together for well over a year. Despite the fact we have mutual friends, we never would have met without this site. However, I am one of only a few people I know who have had success on dating sites. Many of my friends have tried various sites without any luck. What made the difference for me was knowing what I was searching for (a relationship) and having 5 characteristics I was not willing to comprise (nothing to do with looks, everything to do with personality). When my friends are “just seeing what’s out there,” they do not find success.

  • mulza

    online dating has ruined the natural flow of getting to know someone. all the meetings are simply formalities ; when do we have sex?
    i have met several fellas who “seem” great & have actually created profiles that state they want monogamy & commitment….until they realize there are some many videos they haven’t rented yet….& decided to withhold this information while i played the fool.

  • victoria s.

    Just like anything that is worth having, doing… it takes work!

  • Charlotte O’Hanley

    I am a 50 year old divorced mom of two. After my separation from my husband of 25 years, I used, eharmony and okcupid. I met a lot of men for coffee. Overall I found the whole experience a little disappointing and I did give all three dating sites a real try. There were a lot of married men looking for an affair, a lot of unemployed men who couldn’t afford to date. Some men were still living with their ex-wives. In the end I used the internet to reconnect with my first boyfriend in college and on valentine’s day — in one week we are getting married. I am glad I had the opportunity to meet a lot of guys and I know now that I have found the right one!

    San Francisco

  • Den

    I think there are strong expectations in online dating. We expect it to be a magic bullet. However, I see it mainly as a space to meet people, everything else is up to you. I have had one significant relationship on it and to me that tells me it work. In the end, it will take a little serendipity like all things with love.

  • Jordan Stewart

    As a guy, I found the experience emasculating and detrimental to confidence. It was difficult to land a date let alone get a response from a person. I had girls bail out before the date, suddenly claim to be busy, or just stop talking to me. I don’t know if some guys have ruined chances for others or I just go unlucky. The experience was confusing and frustrating, and felt more like a second job than an experience. Ironically, after I stopped using okcupid for six months, I had better luck with girls.

  • Eduard

    Hello, my name is Eduard and I am from Spain. I knew my italian girlfriend in a language exchange site 2 years ago. After several months chatting everyday I decided to take a plane to Rome to meet her during summer. It was the most exciting thing I have ever done. I wasnt looking for love or dates, it just happened. We are still together and really happy 🙂

  • Aaron

    I’m bothered by the consumer choice aspect of this. We’re treating each other as commodities to be evaluated and picked through like produce. And oranges can’t fake their shape or color.

    I know the psychology of expansive choices was referenced earlier. I’m a married man who using the online world to cheat on my wife a few years ago. The short story is that I got caught and we stayed together. I made the mistakes and behaved like a coward. The sites simply made it far easier for me to act upon my instincts and avoid any real solution. I suspect dating sites encourage similar behavior in single people. Though it is far more socially permissible, I think these are still dangerous habits for adults to learn.

  • Best “dating service”? Volunteer for a political campaign. Much intellectual and values screening done ipso facto by the choice of the cause. Take it from there.

  • Geoff Dalander

    I solved the ‘always something better’ problem by simply accepting it. There IS always something better – for me AND for them. Once I realized I needed to make my choice and be ok with it, I met the love of my life. We met online and our growing family is better for it.

  • Guest

    My wife and I met on-line in 2002. We have been together now for nearly 13 years, married in 2007! We are both tall she is nearly 5’11” and I am 6’6″. We would never have met in that she lived in Stockton and I lived in Walnut Creek. She is an RN and I was working in Oakland. I was 51 years old and had two boys still in school. I got onto on line dating and went through several possibilities that didn’t work out (but with great possibilities and no disappointment at least on my part)- I never lied and always was upfront. Interesting enough my profile attracted responses, I rarely solicited. I had just come through a divorce and was too far out of the dating scene to just try that again and all my friends were married anyway by that time. in the end it work out great! We both live in Berkeley and she is working harder than ever at a Walnut Creek hospital. I am doing some consulting after working for 40 year – still very young though becuase she makes me that way! Steve
    PS I read the article in the Atlantic with interest

  • Dating Goddess

    I’ve dated 112 men since my 20-year marriage dissolved — almost all of them I met online. I met some wonderful men who have become treasures after the romance ended. And I met folks who had absolutely no social skills. It’s a numbers game. I have learned so much I wrote 13 books on dating over 40!

    • Hamartia

      I can top that! I taught my cat how to type and she has seduced six “humans” online who apparently though she was just a bad speller!

  • Erica

    I had a really positive and fun experience using OK Cupid. I met my partner of 4 1/2 years on OK Cupid after months of dedicated dating. We are expecting our first baby any day now! I think what contributed to our success was being really clear on what we were each seeking, being direct with each other. I used online dating to cut through the awkward small talk that can take several dates to get through. As I started this process in my thirties, I felt I did not have time to go on date after date getting to the meat of someone’s values. My advice to those using online dating is to be as clear as you can be with who and what you are seeking and communicate on your profile and you will be more apt to attract the appropriate person. Good luck to everyone out there!

  • stuff’n’cats

    I met my boyfriend of a year and a half through OkCupid. I had been using the service off and on for about five years before meeting him. I messaged about 200 dudes, exchanged lots of chats, and went on about a dozen dates out of all of that. I still know one of my friends from OkCupid and he has met his fiancee through

    I loved/hated online dating. When I didn’t get any dates, I hated it. But given that it’s how I’ve met my boyfriend, I am eternally grateful to OkCupid, because I would not have met him otherwise.

  • Ron Grandia

    As a DJ specializing in private events, I get to talk to a lot of couples in the course of planning their wedding and am astounded at the number of couples who have met through online dating. Furthermore, I am always impressed with the quality and depth of their relationships, (and the quality of their wedding celebrations!) Maybe it’s not for everybody, but I’ve seen some great successes. A few years ago meeting online was a dirty secret, and now couples proudly and readily share that fact. And as for cocktail-party stories, I can tell you that some of the circumstances of meeting online make for entertaining tales.

  • chrisnfolsom

    I wish they had online dating when I was looking. Really – what is the actual success of “natural” dating – which in reality is very new to our culture. The thought that hormone driven decisions based/colored by looks and then hoping that a person (many young) know how and what questions to ask, and how to judge the long term implications. We train our child to do math and read, but when it comes to picking a mate they are on their own…. ridiculous!!

    So many people complain about this “new” thing, but really what we currently do is new – in the not so distant past we were more like current Muslim cultures in that women/young girls were not galavanting around and “personal love” took a back seat to making a good match for the children and the family.

  • MV

    The future will be far more personal as technology gets more intuitive and social networks expand. I’m in a 3 year relationship with someone I met online, who I definitely could have and should have met in person, based on our overlapping social circles.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    I used in 2000, and we hit it off and were together for three years. However, the site changed 5 years later, and I was was sent scam “inquiries of interest” from dozens of people, only to find out they were ‘plants’ by the service. I dumped that and used a pay site for jewish singles. Anyone have experiences to share about free vs paid sites?

    My key suggestion is just have coffee or tea AND importantly, set a time limit in advance that the first date will be an hour or so – that’s when decisions of attractiveness get made anyway – it also takes the ‘heaviness’ out of a first meeting.

  • Nana Phadnavis

    Indians have adapted the western online dating concept very well for the great indian tradition of “arranged marriage”. Family members or the person themselves create online profiles to meet potential brides or grooms. With a huge population of indians moving overseas for work, these sites are doing a great service of connecting people with very high success rate. Mainly because it is an extension of family based matrimony for the digital age. The only rule is that the potential matches are not allowed to date indefinitely, but need to decide in 2-3 meetings if it is a good match, else move on.

  • Julianna

    Its pretty easy to dismiss potential matches when you are flipping
    through profiles on a dating site and I agree with previous comments that people often have a checklist, which is pretty absurd. But I have met a couple of pretty great guys online with okcupid, although not great matches ultimately. With each one I felt an instant interest in their profile picture, the messages between us came easy, and there was a simple mutual interest when we met. So there’s hope.

    I have to say I’ve also had plenty of duds and have learned not to message people who a) state they aren’t looking for anything serious, or b) don’t have decent and descriptive photos of their face! Its amazing how many blurry, far-away, or sunglassed faces people stick up there!

    Online dating isn’t easy, but I don’t think meeting people in “real life” is either.

  • donna diehl

    we think of online dating as a modern concept. Consider the recent book, “The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka. Descriptions of Japanese Picture Brides in the 20’s are not all that different from some described in online dating.

    • Hamartia

      If only those photos had been scratch-and-sniff, that service could have really taken off.

  • Marie

    I love online dating. Am in my mid-forties and divorced for 3 years. Because of my circles, I had pretty much dated every single VP of Engineering at every startup in the valley. eHarmony and Match allowed me to broaden my dating pool. I met my current boyfriend online. I think using online dating as a way to meet people is an amazing new option for people. But after you meet them, the responsibility goes back to you – determining the right values, chemistry, compatibility, etc. No technology can replace that.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Suggest the first date be set as a limited time thing, say one hour. That takes the heaviness out of a first meeting and decisions such as attractiveness get made in an hour anyway. Coffee, tea, and then you’ll see …

  • Scott McGregor

    I think that people not staying in unhappy relationships is healthy for our society, just as people leaving dead end jobs and finding other jobs that are a better fit is better for the economy. People have so much identity wrapped up in jobs and relationships, that we benefit from people who feel empowered to benefit themselves and the world, not “stuck” and bitter about unsatisfyiing situations they accept due to limited options.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    So let me tell you about! In 2000, it was a free service and I actually met my significant other thru it and we were together for four years. I tried it again a few years ago and it had turned into a scam – specifically, I would get messages purporting that so-and-so “is really into you”. After, a little digging, only 1 person had even looked at my profile, and yet match said a dozen people wanted to contact me! Total bee-ess so bad I took screenshots at the time and complained. Never heard anything from match’s mgmt, so I took my profile down. So beware! Not sure if paid sites are any better – anyone with opinions? Sidebar: Does anyone remember how when myspace was new, people treated it as a dating site? LOL. A million years ago in internet time. Phone conversations are still best yet so few do them before meeting. Words to the wise.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Final comment as my mind keeps working about this topic. For your first date, “go dutch” – PAY for yourself and make that clear! That way, you own the time you invest, and there is less awkwardness with the man wondering if feminism applies or not.
    Sex role behavior has no place in a first date. It’s a matter of “could i stand being with this person” and “am I attracted to them” situation. Yes, that may sound ‘look-ist’ but that’s online dating in a nutshell. Before online dating, we have always seen each other first in real time and made that ‘looks’ decision, so don’t kid yourself it’s not crucial.

  • Kati H-P

    I tried eHarmony for a few months in 2008–it was my New Year’s resolution. I put together a nice profile (being an English major helped), and went on several dates (messaged many others who did not turn into face-to-face dates). Met one really nice guy (but no chemistry), and many, many weirdos. Gave up and figured the old-fashioned way of meeting people would have to suffice, and if not, I’ll just have to be single–it was THAT disappointing and I am not desperate to be attached. Met a new friend who had a ton of guy friends, and was fixed up with my current boyfriend of over 3 years. The old fashioned way! We met at a party his brother was throwing–at his house. So, I was delivered to his doorstep. Online dating can’t even beat that!
    Having said that, I have heard many online dating success stories–meeting people is meeting people. I always suggest to others to VOLUNTEER so you are at least doing something beneficial to your personal growth while you “look” for people. But whatever works.

  • MattCA12

    This is a dreadful phase in our society. These sites perpetuate our modern inability to think meaningfully about the right way to interact with people. Point, click, soulmate! We want it now, and don’t want to put in the work. My advice: put down your smartphone and try talking to another person. Try remembering people’s birthdays without checking your Outlook calendar. Be interested in others and you will be interesting to them.

  • Justin

    Interesting show today. I’ve been online dating for about 3 years on and off. I would never expect an online service to do all the work. It’s a tool. It’s been quite a learning experience for me as well, and has allowed me to look deeper into what I would like in a partner – both in the things I need and those that I’m open to explore. The best part is that I’ve met some incredibly amazing people in different spheres outside my already large circle.

    Online dating is not a quick fix. What online dating is good at is showing you singles in your area. What it’s questionable at is matching you with people you’ll love. You must do that work. You have to be willing to spend some time both online, and in real life. If meeting that special someone is important to you, than put some time/experience/learning into it. I’ve often see people that are having a difficult time with finding someone the “old fashioned way” as well as online haven’t fully figured out what they want and need. If it’s hard to project and express those needs, than it’s likely going to be a challenge in any form of dating.

    I believe online dating is the new “old fashion way” of meeting people. The reality is you still have to go on dates. That hasn’t changed. Or as one caller expressed, you can use it to find quick sex, but that’s a different discussion all together.

    Here are basics that I’ve learned:

    Learn to use the tools. This will narrow down the people that you feel don’t match what you want. There are two fronts to this method. How you search, and how others find you (your profile). When you search, try different things, don’t just rely on the basic results that any site might provide. Be direct in age, body shape, occupation etc. And or type in keywords, like “photography”, “Brahms”, “surfing” etc. If you find your searches overwhelming then you’re not filtering enough. If you’re finding your searches limiting, then you needs to either open up your filters and or find new ones.

    Your profile is the other filter. Unsolicited messages you might receive are based on your profile. And not surprisingly, one of the most important aspects of that is your photo. Post current photos, it’s helpful to show your face, and shots in your favorite places.

    But just as important (and in some cases more important) is your written profile. Say what you like and what you don’t like. More importantly, don’t be generic, be specific. Based on my experience every female wants someone quick witted, easy on eyes, honest, serious about finding someone, and responsible. You can say those things, but get to the point. If you can spend 4 hours staring at one painting at a museum, that would be a nice thing to know. If you like to surf, say it. Also, if you have aspirations, that’s a good thing to mention as well, i.e. I want to have more dinner parties, or learn to surf, or do more writing.

    As a guy, I want to know your areas of interest and your direction in life. The profile isn’t the entire picture, it will never be. Comments about how online dating leaves no mystery are ridiculous. I’m not sure what profiles you’re looking at but even the very few novella profiles I’ve read still leaves some mystery. And sometimes even more. Seriously, sometimes I just want to meet the person who wrote such a profile. There are many unique ones and they spark my interest more than the typical.

    Related to the above, when messaging, try and write a brief message about what you saw in the profile that sparked your interest. I hear many guys just write short generic messages. That’s no good. You don’t have to write a long message, but make the person feel like you read their profile and connected with it.

    After that, don’t expect a response. It’s likely you’ll never get one. Move on. There’s more fish in the sea. Seriously, there is. That’s the great thing about online dating. You have to spend some time sending out messages. Keep sending them. Stephen King had over a 100 rejection letters before he published his first novel. If you expect to bat 500 in the online dating world, you’re going to be disappointed. The reality is, there’s another person on the receiving end of your message and they might have a few different ideas on what THEY want, and it may not to be you.

    BUT, don’t lose hope, don’t obsess, just do the a little work every few days or so. Your profile as well as your messages are a beacon, it’s a note to the world that you are there, you are unique and that you are available.

    Which is the next point.

    As soon as you can, meet the person on the other end of the internet. I’d advise not to go into lengthly email discussions about interests and “Q” and “A’s”. NOTE: Do make sure they are a real person (not scams), don’t pass out any information like emails, phone numbers, and especially not your address until you confident about that person.

    Meeting someone, is where the mystery and excitement begin. Now it’s up to you to figure out what is what. Be honest, thoughtful and discuss what’s important to you. When you meet, do so in an environment that will allow you to talk without interruption or confusion. The best is a coffee shop. Walks are good, but do so in public a public place.

    Also, make sure they’re within your potential comfort zone of the type of person you want to meet. Sometimes it’s good to step out of the box but never (and this goes with all first meetings) feel that it’s an “all or nothing” scenario. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself when you meet people. Have fun, and ideally, even if they are not a match, try and put some effort in making the other person feel good about the experience.

    If you keep the first meeting simple you’ll likely not waste too much time on something that both of you know won’t work out. This is the time to get past what’s written in the profile and find out a little how this person tics.

    If all goes well, there’s plenty of time to go to the movies, have a romantic dinner, do the activity you both love, and or experiment with new adventures.

    In short, figure out if there’s CHEMISTRY, before you spend a day, or big money on someone. It’s fun to just get past the vainer and learn about each other. Express yourself, and who you are. Tell the other person that you like them, or that it might not work out. Try to be honest without being rude. In short there’s plenty of people trying to figure all this out as much as you are, so a good practice is to express your thoughts. I’ve often found people who like me, but are not interested in dating. Once that’s out in the open, we can carry on with what might be next, sometimes it’s being good friends. That’s a win in my book. I’ve just met an amazing person that can contribute to my overall happiness in life. And I know many people write that they have a great circle of friends already, so they’re just looking for that special someone. The allusion that they have enough friends. My response to that – you can’t have too many friends. Really. I wonder if anyone on their deathbed has said, “I wish I didn’t have so many friends.”


    We spend a lot of our time learning about how to be good at our jobs and how to find new jobs, but often forget about how to date, or even how to express ourselves to someone who we may want to live with for the rest of our lives.

    You can take advantage of online dating (or dating in general) and practice on how to be better at being you. Learn how to express your qualities and downplay/fix your negatives. You do that at a job interview right? Every date is a chance to be better. Every person you meet (date or not) is a chance to learn something. It might sound, “new age”, but I believe you must understand yourself in order to find the right match. And part of that is the practicing your dating and interpersonal skills.

    You have to feel comfortable in who you are, and when you are comfortable, things become much easier. It’s a common note in profiles, “confident” and or “comfortable in oneself”. Isn’t that a good thing to have in any aspect in life?

    Don’t expect the same tools to didn’t generate success to suddenly be successful. Take what you’ve learned, and use it. Most importantly, use it in your profile and your messages. Your profile is how the world sees you, and evolve it to better your results. If not, you’re just wasting your time and others.

    On a personal note, I’ve met someone and we’re figuring out where it can go. We’re from different worlds and different experiences. She wasn’t in my filter range, but she contacted me. Who knows what might happen, but for now I’m enjoying having a wonderful person in my life.

  • Jackie Crawford

    I agree with you Dana, I too have tried different online dating websites but I much prefer meeting someone face to face. To me, those first few minutes of initial physical interaction is critical. A friend of mine just gave me a book she recently finished reading called “The Club Rules” by Johnny Mac and Kimberly D. You can check them and the book
    out on their website It’s a great book so far and is perfect for anyone in the dating world. Thanks for the post!

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