The pros and cons of online dating have been debated by single (and married) folks long before Tinder's "swiping" function was added to the mix. Now, new research suggests that some of the touted benefits of online dating may have been a bit overblown -- it's quite possible that the practice can lead to more breakups and fewer marriages.
"In no way do I want to challenge eHarmony," Aditi Paul, author of the paper and a final year PhD candidate in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University, told The Huffington Post. "I'm an online dater myself!"
Paul's article, published this month in the "Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking" journal, compares both married and dating couples who met either offline or online. The data she used is from 2,923 respondents of a longitudinal survey conducted by Stanford University entitled "How Couples Meet and Stay Together."
It may be easy to meet people online -- but it's just as easy to break up.
The bad news? After analyzing the data and controlling for other variables, Paul found that couples who met online tended to break up more than couples who met offline. Over the course of the survey, 32 percent of online unmarried couples had broken up, while only 23 percent of offline unmarried couples had parted ways.
"This could be because people think, 'You know what, I met somebody online, so I understand that there are other people available once I break up with this person,'" Paul said.
Essentially, people who online date believe they have plenty of prospective partners at their fingertips, so breaking up seems like less of a big deal. But this effect was much less pronounced when comparing the married couples in both categories. Only 8 percent of online couples were separated or divorced over the course of the survey, compared to 2 percent of the couples who met offline.
Online dating also might make you less likely to end up married.
Paul found that couples who met online had a lower chance of getting married in the first place -- only 32 percent of people who met their partners online were hitched, while 67 percent of people who met their partners offline got married.
There are a few reasons for this discrepancy, according to Paul. For one, all of those options online daters have may cause them to take their time before entering into a permanent, monogamous relationship. This concept echoes that famous jam study from 1995, which found that people were more likely to purchase a jar of gourmet jam if they were presented with six choices, rather than 24 or 30. Paul explained that shopping for jam -- or anything, really -- and online dating aren't such separate concepts.
"Think about women going dress shopping. We always think that the better dress is in the next shop," Paul said. "Now we're shopping for relationships; we're looking for the better deal."
There's also the idea that when you meet someone offline, you don't share a social network, so it may take you more time to gather information about the person you're with and trust your own judgement. That, combined with the stigma of online dating, could make someone more hesitant to develop a strong enough relationship to lead to marriage, Paul said.
If you're looking for love online, try to remember that more choices aren't always a good thing.
These are all concepts that Paul has become personally acquainted with, as she's in the online dating pool herself. She especially sympathized with the lure of all of those aforementioned choices.
"Through my experience online, I was accepting a lot of invitations from different people, but I was not locking myself in with anyone," she said. "I knew that more and more people were joining the website, so maybe I'd find someone more befitting for me tomorrow."
Through her research (and her own experience online dating), Paul was able to offer up some advice for people looking for love online: Don't get bogged down by all of those choices and become too distracted to commit to a person.
"What I'd encourage is once you find a partner, delete your profile and give it some time," she said. "Nothing can replace the old-tested principles of time and intimacy and letting things develop."