Why Online Love Strikes Sooner…Or Really, Really Later

finding love onlineAfter I met my boyfriend online a year ago, he later told me that I was the third woman he had met on the site. I could barely bring myself to reveal that he was my 33rd, give or take a few over the previous couple of years. I worried that he would think I was a serial dater who was always looking for someone better. I wasn’t. I had agreed to go on lots of first dates (and occasional second and third) with mostly great guys, but none were a good fit. That’s because after ending a three year relationship, I was still trying to figure out what was a good fit for me. My boyfriend, on the other hand, was enviably methodical. He’d been dating for a few months since he split from his wife. So by the time he dating sites, he knew exactly what he was looking for, which happened to be my particular blend of “San Diego spice.” And despite my peripatetic history, I liked him from the start.

I’ve often wondered why the timing of online dating works so differently for people. I have one friend whose future husband was her second online date ever and another who met his future wife after bouncing around several sites for seven years. And both found really good matches for their unique personalities.

There’s no consensus among experts about how many people you should try to meet before focusing on one. Who’s to say that face time with five or 15 dates increases your chances of finding a sweetie to share your Netflix password?

Let’s look at the benefits and pitfalls of both extremes…

In Praise of Fast-Trackers:

The appeal of meeting online dating newbies is their fresh perspective and positive energy. Unsullied by disappointment and tolerant of profile clichés, they’re generally excited about meeting people and expect the process to work. They look for common ground or are open to new adventures. They say, “Here I am. I’ve posted my profile and am ready to find love. That’s great you’re into skiing because I love to ski!” or “You like ballroom dancing? Well, I’ve never tried that before, but why not?” When you approach love with that kind of open mind, you leave room for magic to happen.

Or if you’re like my boyfriend, you’re less wide-eyed and more efficient. These kind of fast-trackers don’t rack up dates with people “who seem nice enough,” if they don’t sense true compatibility. They put more stock into the matches they think might go somewhere. The upside of this approach: Your dates take you more seriously when they sense you’re taking them seriously. When my boyfriend drove from New Jersey to Manhattan to take me to a wine bar on a Saturday night for a first date and remembered details from my profile, I didn’t get the impression I was one of a dozen women he was juggling. As result, I sat up in my chair, accepted a second drink and gave him my full attention.

There is a potential downside, though: Even if you’re thrilled with your new love, you can’t help but wonder if you’ve put enough time into your search. One colleague whose boyfriend was the first person she met online confessed that she sometimes wonders if she should have spent a few weeks to see who else was out there before committing so quickly. Even if you’re smitten from the beginning, it doesn’t hurt to meet a few more folks before taking down your profile. That way you’ll be extra confident of your choice.

The Lure of Serial Dating:

Serial dating gets a bad rap. Players have been long accused of being too picky or too reluctant to commit, instead preferring to binge in the “Candy Store” of online love, where it’s relatively easy to meet someone new. But sampling the dating buffet can serve a good purpose, namely by giving you a chance to find out exactly what floats your boat. It’s a sort of self-discovery process, especially if you’re coming off a long relationship or bad breakup. Perhaps you’ll learn that it’s important for you to date someone who exercises every morning or who likes a similar amount of cuddling or television. By becoming clear about what you want, you’ll more likely to recognize that person when he or she shows up on date 29.

The challenge, of course, is becoming too committed to your checklist and not giving people who might be good partners in the long run a fair chance. Resist the temptation to seek out the reasons you shouldn’t date them and stay positive. But be mindful of going on so many dates that you feel burned out. When you arrive at dates feeling as though you’re checking a box – your butterflies having flown away a long ago – it’s time to slow down.

So what makes serial daters finally become serious? All that volume doesn’t necessarily improve their chances of finding a “soul mate.” One friend admitted that after years of dating, he wasn’t sure his current girlfriend was any better of a match than the others. He was just tired and wanted to stop dating.

Richards-book coverBy the time I met my boyfriend, I had a clear sense of what I wanted in a partner, yet I was no wiser about knowing what created chemistry between two people. I had no expectations, and I arrived with a seasoned attitude of surrender. “Who knows if we’ll like each other?” I thought. “So let’s just enjoy this glass of Malbec.” But I stayed open to being surprised, and indeed I was.

Are you more of a serial online dater or a fast-tracker? Where are you in your online dating process?


Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.


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