The rules of dating are not simple and finite -- they're complicated and constantly changing, especially when you factor in online dating. Now, a new study has unearthed yet another thing you could be getting wrong: Online daters can doom themselves to disappointment if they wait too long to meet prospective partners in person.
A new study published recently in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication describes an online dating "tipping point," when too much online communication before a first date causes a person to idealize someone they're interacting with prior to actually meeting them face to face. This, naturally, leads to a letdown upon meeting someone who doesn't match lofty expectations. That "tipping point" occurs after 17 to 23 days, according to the researchers, so you don't want to wait longer than that to pencil in a get-together.
Lead researcher Artemio Ramirez, Jr., Ph.D., an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida, had some personal inspiration for conducting the study: He met his wife on eHarmony in 2005.
"We actually met face-to-face within that 17- to 23-day window, where we say the impressions and idealizations are at that peak, the most positive level that they'll be prior to meeting face to face," Ramirez told The Huffington Post. "I'm saying this in retrospect, because I had no idea at the time."
If you wait too long to meet, you'll start making assumptions.
Ramirez and his colleagues were interested in looking into how people process information they read in online dating profiles, hypothesizing that most would make assumptions, fill in the blanks and elaborate on the limited, highly curated information they were given.
"For instance, if you say you have a great sense of humor, I start thinking: Not only do you have a great sense of humor, you have a great sense of humor the way that I think of sense of humor," Ramirez said. "There's a difference between the 'pull my finger' sense of humor versus the Monty Python sense of humor."
After conducting a national online survey of 433 online daters who had been on an in-person date within the last year, the researchers were able to support their hypothesis. They found that the longer people waited to meet an online match, the more likely they were to be disappointed when they finally met in person, an effect that was particularly seen after that "tipping point" period.
"That runs counter to what we're taught in face-to-face situations: You should get to know the person and learn a little bit about them," Ramirez said. "We're saying, 'Yes, getting to know them is good, but you're going to reach a point where you really should go meet them face to face, otherwise you're running the risk of thinking that this person is perfect, that they are The One.'"
Not to mention, people lie in their profiles all the time.
The people in Ramirez's sample reported that their disappointment often stemmed from their date not communicating in person the same way they communicated online. Perhaps their sense of humor was a bit different or their pictures didn't adequately represent them. Or maybe the person lied about something in their profile. Someone might claim they're 6 feet tall when they're 5 foot 6 or that they're avid rock climbers when they haven't scaled a wall since college. Hence, the disappointment.
"There's a learning curve in terms of being able to read between the lines on profiles," Ramirez said. "We want people to think positively of us."
Essentially, too much online interaction makes you think you know a person better, Ramirez said. Plus, even if someone isn't lying in their profile, people aren't the sum of their favorite books, movies and music, so there's only so much one can glean from such limited data. But since it's natural for online daters to read between the lines and assign additional characteristics to prospective partners, the "real" person that meets them on that first coffee or movie date may not live up to their expectations, particularly if they've had too much time to craft a "dream" version of the person.
That said, Ramirez cautioned against considering this "tipping point" a hard and fast guideline. He said it's just another thing to consider while navigating the intricate universe that is online dating.