Online dating is killing commitment
Millions of women think love is just a click away. But easy-come, easy-go internet romance can ruin your chance of a lasting relationship
Jo Elliott has a successful job in advertising, her own home and a vibrant social life. She’s even published a book. But what the 42-year-old hasn’t got is a husband and children.
It’s not for want of trying. Twelve years ago, with her friends paired off and frightened of missing the boat, she started internet dating.
Over the past decade, she’s tried ten websites, had dates with 40 men and chatted — online or over the phone — to countless other potential suitors. But after one serious heartbreak and hundreds of pounds spent on subscription fees, love still eludes her.
‘In many ways, internet dating is a great way to meet people, but it’s such a whirlwind of highs and lows,’ she says. ‘I’ve met some lovely men, but I’ve also met many who lied about themselves and their intentions.’
Her experiences are mirrored by many women, who find that internet dating is great if you want a casual fling, but not for anything longer lasting because there are so many dishonest men seeking cheap thrills.
Others admit that the sheer choice available online has made them too picky when it comes to finding a partner.
Today, nine million Britons will log on to look for love. But is this a trend that could change the very nature of romance and turn long-term commitment into a thing of the past? Is the internet destroying monogamy?
‘Internet dating left men and women on a never-ending hunt for the perfect partner, thinking: “A few more dates and I’ll find The One”‘
There is striking evidence to suggest that the web is causing social change. Traditionally, women might have had one or two boyfriends before getting married; now, they are encouraged to date lots of people in a quest to find a perfect partner.
With an unlimited number of other people on offer via the internet, there’s little incentive to work it out if things get tough. And with the cloak of anonymity the net provides, it’s never been easier to be unfaithful.
Dan Winchester, founder of dating site FreeDating, predicts that the future will see lots of relationships, but more divorce.
‘I often wonder whether matching you up with great people is getting so efficient and the process so thrilling that marriage will become obsolete,’ he says.
It’s a view shared by Greg Blatt, global head of Match.com, Britain’s biggest dating site.
‘Historically, commitment has been the goal,’ he says. ‘You could say online dating is simply changing people’s ideas about whether commitment is desirable.’
With online dating being big business, it’s easy to see why the websites, many of which charge joining fees or monthly subscriptions, have a vested interest in not wanting people to settle down.
But the transient nature of internet dating is of huge concern to relationship experts. Agony aunt and counsellor Dr Pam Spurr says there has been a change in people’s attitudes towards finding love.
She cautions that, despite its popularity, there’s a dark side to logging on to find love.
‘The internet has opened up this sense of “Where do I stop?” ’ she says. ‘In previous generations, people met a partner and accepted they wouldn’t be perfect in every aspect, but internet dating is like a chocolate box that never stops giving.
‘It’s left men and women on a never-ending hunt for the perfect partner, thinking: “A few more dates and I’ll find The One.” In my work, I’ve met plenty of women who think there’s always a better guy out there.
‘The danger is that it results in a string of meaningless flings. Apart from the risk of sexually transmitted disease, ultimately a never-ending quest for grass that’s greener means that women (and men) don’t face the realities of relationships.
‘When you’re searching for perfection you’ll always be disappointed. You risk relationships becoming shallow and unfulfilling, leaving you feeling empty and hollow.’
‘There are men who say they’re looking for a serious relationship, but when you chat online it becomes clear they don’t or they’ve already got a partner’
Before she started online dating, Jo Elliott had two ‘semi-serious’ relationships. After travelling during her 20s, she decided she was ready to settle down. While she had plenty of male friends, nothing developed romantically, so she signed up to a dating site.
While insisting she is not after a fling, she agrees that internet dating is a numbers game that encourages you to get together with as many people as possible.
‘If you want to meet someone, you just have to keep going at it to find the man with whom you’re compatible,’ she says.
Jo, whose book I’m Celibate… Get Me Out Of Here! charts her often hilarious online exploits, says it can be difficult to trust what men tell you — whether it’s a white lie about their appearance or more serious fabrications.
One man she was emailing claimed he was from Florida, but was shortly coming to Britain to visit his mother. As the pair had struck up a rapport, Jo excitedly suggested they meet.
It was only when a friend pointed out that his so-called profile photos were all of a semi-famous Australian tennis player that she realised he was a sham.
Studies suggest a quarter of those surfing dating sites — in particular men — are in a relationship and are looking to be unfaithful. It’s something Jo learned the hard way.
She met Tom after she’d been internet dating for a few months. They agreed to meet and Jo says there was an intense connection that seemed to be reciprocated.
‘We ended up falling for each other, or so I thought,’ she says. ‘He told me I was perfect for him and I thought he was perfect for me. He was tall, had a good job and was into the same things as me.
‘But then, after just a few weeks, he disappeared. He wouldn’t answer my calls or return my emails. I’d fallen for him in a massive way and couldn’t believe it hadn’t worked out.
‘It’s exciting when you get an email in the morning that says you’ve had 20 views. It’s an ego boost. Unfortunately, you then look at who’s shown interest and your heart sinks’
‘But then he kept getting in contact over the years, claiming he hadn’t been in touch because of work commitments abroad.
‘First, I would meet up with him, though towards the end we just chatted online. But it only ended when I got an email from his wife.
‘While I’ll never know for sure, I think he’d split up from her when he first went on the internet. But they got back together, probably when he first disappeared, and later he wanted a bit on the side.
‘When you’ve invested time and emotion into someone, this kind of experience is very upsetting.’
It’s a sentiment echoed by author Samantha Priestley, 41, from Sheffield.
She began internet dating two years ago, six months after she and her husband of 16 years divorced.
She agrees that men have different motivations to women when dating online. Not surprising when you learn there are seven women for every man on dating websites.
‘Unfortunately, the majority of the men I’ve come across are just after flings,’ she says.
‘Some are upfront, but many are not honest. There are men who say they’re looking for a serious relationship, but when you chat online it becomes clear they don’t or they’ve already got a partner. They’ll write anything women want to hear on their profile.’ She admits she found internet dating addictive.
‘A friend married someone she met online and said it was brilliant fun and I should try it,’ she says.
‘It seemed perfect for me because I’m in my early 40s and don’t want to meet men in bars.
‘You get into the habit of logging on and seeing who’s viewed you or made contact.
‘It’s exciting when you get an email in the morning that says you’ve had 20 views. It’s an ego boost. Unfortunately, you then look at who’s shown interest and your heart sinks. But it still encourages you to think that if you keep going, there’s got to be someone better next time.’
Samantha has had first dates with six men, but none of these meetings led to a second encounter. She admits she’s partly to blame for allowing internet dating to make her a lot pickier.
‘The websites ask for your preferences on height, weight, hair colour and even eye colour. In the real world, a person is a package and you might not notice their eye colour, but online you cross off people for the most base physical reasons. You become judgmental.’
‘Internet dating got me out of my comfort zone when it came to men and it’s paid off in the most wonderful way’
She’s clearly not alone in her outlook. Psychologists from the University of Rochester in the U.S. warned last year that dating websites were making people more fussy.
Professor Harry Reis, who led the research into the efficacy of internet dating, said that skimming over the profiles and pictures of hundreds of potential mates encouraged a ‘shopping’ mentality. Another issue is that singletons who spend weeks or even months emailing a potential mate before meeting them often have unrealistic expectations.
‘I won’t chat with users of text speak or go out with coffee drinkers as I hate the drink,’ says Samantha.
‘I always look at the room the men are photographed in to check out the decor. Because you have such limited information, you have to look for as many clues as you can.
‘If you meet someone in the conventional way, you often know a little about them first through friends, work or whatever. Online, you are shopping among strangers.’
HR consultant Maria Carey, 46, started internet dating three-and-a-half years ago, ten years after she and her first husband divorced.
Within six weeks of signing up to eHarmony, she’d met her future husband Dominic, a civil servant, and says if it hadn’t been for online dating they wouldn’t have found each other.
‘For a start, he lived in Kent, while I was in Hampshire, so our paths would never have crossed,’ says the mother of two.
‘Also, he’s unlike any man I’d gone for before. He’s good looking, but in the past I’d always been attracted to macho men, while Dominic’s a real gentleman, a metrosexual who spends at least as much time as I do in the bathroom.’
When she signed up to eHarmony, Maria had to fill out an extensive questionnaire, covering everything from hobbies to her beliefs and values. She was then matched with compatible men.
She was surprised when Dominic was selected as one of her matches, but was determined to be open-minded and so got in contact.
‘We decided to chat over the phone and that first conversation lasted three hours,’ she says. ‘It felt as if we knew each other.’
The couple married last May in the Lake District.
‘Internet dating got me out of my comfort zone when it came to men and it’s paid off in the most wonderful way. Dominic is amazing and I feel very lucky,’ she says.
However, Samantha says because of her bad experiences she is giving online dating a rest for a while.
And as for Jo? Six months ago, having had a break from internet dating, she decided to give it one last go and met a new man. So far, things have been going well.
Only time will tell if she’s finally met The One — or if the search for love will continue.