Online personals: You fail and they succeed!

Disclaimer: There is no scientific research on this one. Everything in this article is based on limited research, observations and some thinking on my own. I am happy to listen to alternate opinions and conclusions

The first time this thought came to me was more than a year ago. My friend John (name changed) and I met for coffee and were catching up on things. John told me that he had found “her” and was on top of the world. I was happy for John and wished him luck. Two months later, when John and I met again, John seemed to be VERY happy and said “This time I really found her” and I thought something was wrong. I said “John, I thought you found her two months ago” for which John replied “I don’t know Raj. That person was not much into hiking. My concept of hiking and her concept of hiking was totally different. This time I think we have a great match. I am really excited.” I wished John all the luck. One more month passed by and by now you would have guessed – yes, you are right – John had found this new “her” again. John’s success was apparently short-lived. If you look back, it was a series of “failures” that appeared like “successes” at that time.

The above was one simple example of someone being obsessed with an online dating service and want to find the “perfect” mate so that there is no mistake in one of the VERY important decisions in life. Of course, this is not the only example I have seen. I have met several people who are eternally in search of that “perfect” someone and instead of helping, the online dating sites are making their life more complex. In fact, if I have to say it straight – these sites are making people more frustrated than ever. They provide you with fantastic tools and they hope that you continue to use those tools for a long-time – meaning you don’t succeed in your quest to find a relationship very quickly.

Here are a few reasons for my conclusion:

1. Search for the “perfect” someone

There may be exceptions but as a general rule I don’t think there is that “perfect” someone out there. The first step of filtering people based on certain attributes will still lead to a large set of people from whom you have to choose. This can be daunting as there is a possibility of that “perfect” someone being in that set. You won’t know it until you finish the search. This would mean that you spend a ton of time in the search rather than building relationships.

2. Mismatch of expectations

When you are trying to hire candidates you would have seen that there are some (slight) mismatches between what is represented on the resume and what actually the person is. People have come to terms with it. That’s why there are a series of interviews to determine the right fit. If one could exactly represent who he or she is in the resume, the job of hiring would be very easy. In dating, the problem is more complex because there is a two-way interview happening. Both parties are checking out each other. While putting their best foot forward, each party is also trying to figure out what criteria the other person is using to determine whether they are the right match for that other person. Think about this process for a second. Imagine repeating this with a totally new person until you find the “perect” one. Would that be stressful? You bet!

3. Inflated expectations on both sides

May be there is that “perfect” someone on the dating site – you see there more than a million profiles in several dating sites. There ought to be  right match. So the expectations are high on both sides and the quest is to find the “exact” match. The requirements can be very specific – tall, fun-loving, caring, intelligent, software executive, love outdoors, action movies, must be a republican, god-fearing, long hair, must love dogs of a particular breed, must enjoy cruises and so on. Most of all what people forget is that the person with all those characteristics should like them. In fact, they should not only like them they should love them and accept them for who they are. Do you see the complications?

4. Shortcut to relationship building

I don’t think there is. What the dating sites can do is that they can accelerate the step one in relationship building. Imagine a relay race where the first leg is shortened by half. You may complete the first leg quickly but you still need to run the other legs to complete the race. If you forget this, it may appear like there are shortcuts because of technology.

5. The “Best of All” syndrome

You can browse through the profiles very quickly and find a few attributes in a few people attractive. However, now you want to combine the “best attributes” from several people and find a person that has all of them. That is a sure shot ticket to disappointment, don’t you think?

6. Low tolerance

One strike and you are out. Reason: Why give a second chance? There are so many people out there that may be available. This makes it too easy to quit.

7. Chooser’s remorse

When you finally decide to buy something, there are cases of “buyer’s remorse” where you are not happy with your choice – just because there could have been a better item from the choices that were available. The same analogy holds good here too. When you choose someone, you can always feel sad that there COULD have been someone else that was better.

If these dating sites would have helped connecting two people to form a long-lasting relationship quickly, the “Personals” business would not be so big. People would come to a site, find someone that they like quickly, form a relationship and stop visiting the site again. No more membership fees. However, that is not the case. If the personals business has to succeed wildly, majority of the members should not succeed – meaning they have to continue to pay the monthly membership fees in search of that “perfect” someone. If everyone succeeds, there won’t be volume in the business.

I am no expert on dating and I don’t have anything against these sites. I am only trying to dissect their business models. For me, these companies provide some tools. It is upto you to use the tools right. You can use them as tools or you can get carried away by them. We should never let tools take over our life, should we?