3 Psychology Lessons that Explain the Way We Date Online

This is your brain on dating apps

Online dating has become such an ingrained part of our love lives.

We’ve gone from being set up by friends or meeting someone at work or in a bar to being presented with thousands of tiny faces and endless options that are always just a click away. It can feel unreal — almost like a game. And that has had a real effect on how we date.

But understanding how behavioral psychology and online dating collide is incredibly useful. It can help you date smarter and be more aware of biases within your dating behavior.

Here are three important psychological phenomena you should be aware of — because knowing how your brain works can keep you from sabotaging your own dating lie.

1. We’re Naturally Competitive — And Dating Apps Bring That Out

Competition is a part of human nature — and who doesn't like to feel desired? But with online dating, this can have a huge impact on how we treat potential partners.

Swipe-heavy sites like Tinder bring out that competitive edge and enable us to satisfy our intellectual curiosity: finding out not only about other people's interests and personality, but what they think of ours.

Why is that a problem? Because we become more focused on winning the game, not finding a partner (If all our love lives resembled what passes for courtship on the Bachelor the divorce rate would probably be closer to 85%).

And, with online dating, winning the game is being the most desired. It’s having people interested in you and chasing you — while you remain aloof and move onto the next person. It may be an ego boost, but it’s not going to find you a partner.

Stop trying to attract the most number of people, and focus on attracting the ones who will be drawn to all of your quirks and passions. It’s better to get specific and find the person you want than be general and attract the world.

The constant swiping can jade even those of us looking for a serious connection, so try to take a break from the swipe-heavy sites and head to a site like Zoosk that employs smart matching to pair singles - matching based on personality and your behavior on the site.

Or try a dating site that does all of the matching for you, like Elite Singles. When you’re matched - and those matches are limited to a few every day - there’s more effort and patience placed in really getting to know someone.

2. We Crave Genuine Connections, Not Just Bios

You already know that you don't get a full picture of someone from an online dating profile, but what you might not realize is how much that affects your dating process.

When Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of The Upside of Irrationality, ran an experiment having people actually share their opinions on art or books through an online message service, it translated into twice as many real life dates as traditional dating apps.

Why? Our brains crave holistic versions of our potential partners and a chance to actually connect over something — over anything, really. But dating apps tend to focus on looking at one photo and sending a few awkward messages about how your weekend was.

Try talking about things you're passionate about and asking questions about their interests, if you want to feel like you're really connecting with this person.

3. Loss Aversion Makes Us Focus On The Negatives

Loss aversion is a very common theme in behavioral psychology, which basically comes down to the fact that we naturally avoid loss more than we seek gains. Potential losses scare us more than potential gains tempt us.

But Dr. Eyal Winter explains that this simple concept can wreak havoc in our dating life. We become very aware of what we don’t want — our deal-breakers — and become preoccupied with trying to detect any flaws in our partners.

As he puts it, rather than looking for our prince it means that we’re constantly trying to sniff out frogs. Plus, with an endless supply of new potentials available at the swipe of a thumb, we let any little problem turn us off completely. We’re convinced that the perfect person is out there, somewhere — so we don’t want to settle for less.

But the truth is, nobody’s perfect. And how many great matches are we turning down because we’re convinced something better must be out there? It’s time to be more realistic — and let people’s good traits do the talking, rather than just searching for the bad.

Online dating is a great resource, but you need to be aware of how it affects your attitude toward dating. Try to be mindful, give people a chance, and don’t treat the entire experience like a chance to “win” a game — because it’s not a game, it’s your life.

And if online dating seems to bring out the worst in you (which happens to a lot of us), then maybe it’s better to focus on dating sites that aren’t quite as gamified. Zoosk doesn’t allow swiping — or sites like Elite Singles which only give you a limited number of matches, so you’ll be less tempted to move onto the next thing.

It can be tricky to control the way our brains work and the way technology affects them, but knowing what to look for is half the battle.

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