Met Online? You May Be More Likely to Split

Met Online? You May Be More Likely to Split

Digital daters know another mate is just a click away.

Photo by CORBIS

No dating website will ever advertise “#1 in Break-ups!” — but if your relationship started online, Splitsville may be exactly where you’re headed. Couples who meet on the Internet are more likely to break up than those who meet in more traditional ways, according to a new study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

The majority of Americans still meet their spouse offline — say, at work, school, or through friends. But as any single can attest, online dating is rapidly becoming the norm. In fact, one-third of marriages in the U.S. now begin online, according to a 2013 study commissioned by eHarmony

That’s good advertising fodder for dating sites — but how do those relationships fare after online profiles have been deactivated and reality sets in? 

To answer this, study author Adita Paul analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of 4,002 people, called “How Couples Meet and Stay Together.” Her goal: to determine whether the couples’ meeting venue affected their odds of success. 

As it turns out, the way you meet your partner may influence whether you part company down the road. Over the course of the study, eight percent of married couples who met online either separated or divorced, versus just two percent of those who met offline. And the online-dating effect was even stronger for courting couples: Nearly a third of dating couples who’d met online split in the year after the survey, versus 23 percent of people in relationships that blossomed offline.

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Call it the kid-in-a-candy-store effect: “There are so many other people online,” Paul told Yahoo Health. “So you get into this mentality of the bigger, better deal — hey, if this person isn’t working out for me, I can just log in and look for other people.” And, as this line of thinking goes, you may not only be able to replace your current partner — you may be able to upgrade to a more attractive person, with more shared interests. 

This effect is likely being exacerbated by the hook-up culture that’s increasingly taking root, both on and off the web. “The whole casual [sex] culture is just being reinforced by apps like Tinder, where it’s as convenient as swiping the screen to get to your partner,” said Paul. “It’s almost like shopping on Amazon. If you visit a website, you don’t feel compelled to buy anything, because the cost involved in going to the website is very low.” 

By contrast, if you’ve physically driven to the mall, you may be more inclined to make a purchase, if only to justify the trip. Similarly, offline, it’s tougher to meet a compatible partner, potentially encouraging you to cling to the one you do find, said Paul. 

There’s also the issue of trust. Although online-dating sites create a false sense of immediate intimacy — I know she loves margaritas and pugs! — it may actually take a while for these relationships to mature, since there’s no shared social network. “Theoretically, these profiles are helping us develop intimacy, but they really don’t help us develop trust, because trust is related to how much you disclose yourself to me, how vulnerable you make yourself to me,” explained Paul. “I don’t develop any of that just by reading information in your profile. You’re pretty much meeting a perfect stranger.” 

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The effect? If you hit a bump in the road three months into your relationship, you may be more likely to split, since your bond may not be as strong as if you’d met offline, say, through a friend. 

These factors may also explain why couples who met online were less likely to tie the knot than those who first crossed paths in the real world. 

This study shouldn’t discourage singles from exploring all avenues of meeting their match, though — you just need to approach your dating life with the right intentions, said Paul. Instead of viewing online dating as a way to hook up, view it a legitimate step toward a serious relationship. “If you go into a bar looking to hook up with the next girl you see, you’re not going to [find the one],” she said. “Same with online dating. More than meeting online or offline, it’s about the intentions with which you are approaching dating.” 

And if you do meet a compatible person online, expand your relationship beyond just the two of you as quickly as you can. By meeting each other’s friends, you prove you are who you say you are (and vice versa) — a critical step in overcoming the trust issues that can be inherent to online dating, Paul said. 

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