Why Are So Many People Addicted To Online Dating?

two women smiling while looking at the computer


Dear Evan,

Having the experience you do with online dating, I was wondering what you think about some of the psychology of online dating.   Is there a phenomenon of addiction to it?   I was wondering because it seems like so many people have profiles online either the same site or multiple sites for lengthy periods of time. I can search Match.com and then come back a year or two later and the same guys are still on the site and usually with the same picture.   Also, I dated a guy for a time who almost seems to be addicted.   What do you think?

Dear Barb,

There are two things going on in your question, and I want to address them separately:

First, let’s dispel the notion that there’s something wrong with someone who’s a) on Match.com two years after he signed up, and b) signed up for multiple dating sites.

Essentially, you’re saying, “I’m not a loser, player, commitmentphobe or dating addict, but any man who does the same thing that I’m doing must be.”

It’s pure hypocrisy. The only way you’d know if the same guy was on Match.com two years later is if YOU were on the site two years later. The only way you’d know that he’s also on  eHarmony is if you’re ALSO on eHarmony. Essentially, you’re saying, “I’m not a loser, player, commitmentphobe or dating addict, but any man who does the same thing that I’m doing must be.”

So to set the record straight: going on multiple dating sites means that you’re looking to expand your options. Maybe your month ran out on JDate and you want to try  SawYouAtSinai. Maybe the pickings were slim on Chemistry, so you branched out to PerfectMatch.

There is another myth in your question, Barb–the idea that someone who signed up on Match in January ‘06 and is still on in January ‘08 has been on for two consecutive years. Let’s say he dated seven people in his first two months and then found a happy relationship that lasted for a year and a half. After a month of mourning and attempted make-up sex, he reposts his profile once again. All YOU can see is that the same face is still on there, two years later, when, in fact, this guy is the perfect example of an online dating success. He loved, he lost, and he came back for more.

Yeah, I’M that guy….

Naturally, I’ve long been an advocate for online dating, not because it’s perfect, but because it ALWAYS created a love life for me. As a writer without a close-knit group of friends, who worked from home, and who bristled at the idea of picking up women at bars, this medium was a godsend. I had my first online girlfriend in 2000 for five months, fell in love in 2003 in a seven-month relationship, did it again in 2004 for four months, and had my last online girlfriend in 2006 for eight months. However, if you were watching my profile on JDate, you’d have assumed that I was online from 1998-2006 without any success.

In fact, in my dating heyday, I didn’t just try JDate. I tried Match, Chemistry, eHarmony, Nerve, AmericanSingles, Matchmaker… I’m probably even forgetting one or two places. You date someone for a month, you go back on. Three months, you go back on. Sometimes, when you leave, you don’t take your profile down–which leads you to be labeled an online dating addict by a woman who is on every single site herself.

And so it goes.

But you ARE onto something, Barb, which is that online dating CAN be addicting.

Just like alcohol can be used recreationally or abusively, so can Match.com. What’s similar is that the users always think that they’ve got it under control, and that nobody’s getting hurt in the process.

This is clearly not true.

There’s a delusional aspect to successful online dating–one that I’ve embodied–one that I’ve seen in my clients as well. You sign up on eHarmony because you’re serious about a relationship. You want marriage, you want kids, you’re ready for love. And then you start the process. Dozens of women parade across your screen, each younger, smarter, more attractive, more tantalizing than the last. Suddenly, you’re corresponding with 12 people online, have five phone numbers, and three dates scheduled in a weekend. This is not the GOAL, but an almost uncontrollable byproduct of the choice and volume inherent in online dating.

Don’t worry about the guys who seem like addicts. We’re all addicts–until we find the person who makes us want to kick our addiction.

And this is what gets lost on all the people who say that every man’s a player who’s just out to get laid. In fact, the vast majority of men (75% in an old Match poll) are looking for a long-term relationship. It’s just super difficult to settle on one person when you perceive that you have better options that are just a click away. This is the false temptation of online dating. We THINK we have the choice of everyone, when, in fact, we don’t. Why would I write to the 38 year old when I can write to the 28 year old? Why would you write to the guy who makes $50K when you could write to the guy who makes $150K? Or the 5’6” guy, when there’s bound to be a 5’10” guy somewhere in the system?

In real life, we meet people organically, feel attraction and learn about them later. We don’t know their age or their sign or their likes and dislikes. Online dating reverses that process. We learn about them first, and discover attraction later. This makes connecting easy and instantaneous, but it also allows us to dissect people and compare them to others side by side. And if you have anything going “against you”–height, weight, income, age–you’re often going to lose by comparison.

The real upshot, Barb, is that by understanding this–by being more open and forgiving of men, by keeping a positive attitude, by going on multiple sites, by persevering despite the frustration–you give yourself a much greater chance of success than if you said, “Online dating is bullshit, men are bullshit, I quit.”

Quitters never win. Winners never quit.

Don’t worry about the guys who seem like addicts. We’re all addicts–until we find the person who makes us want to kick our addiction.