The Good and Bad of Online Dating

It’s no great surprise that this article in the Economist suggests that online dating with “smartphones have put virtual bars in people’s pockets”. Indeed a growing number of couples in North America meet their mates online and many do marry. As a therapist and marriage officiant, I can attest to this. The article rightly suggests that online dating allows people to look for specific types and traits and weed out potential dates that seem unsuitable; something that would not be available in the same way in-person. However, the article also states and I agree, “There are problems with the modern way of love… Many users complain of stress when confronted with the brutal realities of the digital meat market, and their place within it. Negative emotions about body image existed before the internet, but they are amplified when strangers can issue snap judgments on attractiveness [and I argue alter their own photos]. Digital dating has been linked to depression. The same problems that afflict other digital platforms recur in this realm, from scams to fake accounts: 10% of all newly created dating profiles do not belong to real people”.

In my own experience as a counselor and psychotherapist, I hear both the good and the bad. I hear additional, anecdotal evidence of people lying about their goals and desires for meeting others, which misleads and eventually frustrates potential suitors looking for a more serious relationship. I also see a real problem for individuals over 30 looking for serious long term relationships at this life stage. The issue appears in part to be related to “attachment styles” and a discrepancy around intimacy needs. Amir Levine writes in the book Attached that at a certain point and age, those who continue to circulate online (if they are not already in a long term committed relationship) may have an “avoidant attachment style” which generally means one is uncomfortable with or feel suffocated by deeper intimacy. Makes sense that they return over and over to the online dating pool — across multiple sites — which is also something I hear as a frustration, because they can’t find anyone new. Things get worse, especially if these “avoidants” meet someone with more of an anxious attachment style, who will likely provide most of the emotional enthusiasm for the relationship. This match will likely lead to a toxic rollercoaster; an off and on relationship, only reinforcing the avoidant’s belief that others are the problem; that they are ‘just too needy, demanding or too emotional’.  They tend to withdraw and the relationship fails. As a therapist and dating coach, I would love to see some dating sites where people test for and post their attachment styles, as well as other love oriented tests which are by no means foolproof, but at the least take us beyond looks, work and hobbies.

With real work, you can adjust your attachment styles. Want to learn healthier attachment styles for dating and real intimacy? Want to learn more about yours and become familiar with the warning signs? Want to find out more about the kind of person you are in relationships and whether it’s working for you? Get in touch. I’m here to help.