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Looking for online places?

Are you looking for love, like millions of other Australians? If so you might find yourself wondering whether your modern day fairytale will emerge from online dating. 

While Internet dating services have become a common way to facilitate interactions between potential romantic partners, are they really a new way to meet your Prince or Princess Charming or a nightmare waiting to unfold? I decided to take a look at psychology and relationship research to find out more. 

For the uninitiated, the first challenge is to work out which online dating site is for you. The online dating website reviews conducted by Choice may help you decide what feels right for you.

Instant attraction? Or Shallow Hal?

On the surface, the tools used online to create an individual profile, search for and appraise other’s profiles and initiate interactions with potential suitors may seem to differ from traditional face-to-face relationship formation. Yet, the underlying motivation to connect romantically with another and the way we assess potential suitors is guided by the same underlying principles.

Each of the dating sites are similar in that profiles with photographs are generally more successful in facilitating an introduction to potential suitors. Intentional or not, dating websites draw on evolutionary mating preferences by including photographs as the primary source to assess others. The impressions we form about others are usually spontaneous affective (emotional) responses to visual stimuli. We are wired for the instant attraction felt towards another person.

Spontaneous affective responses determine whether we would approach someone in the first place, as well as interpersonal evaluations we may make about another person, and act as a conduit for more conscious, deliberate decision making processes about compatibility or shared interests that may follow down the track.

In this way, online dating is similar to the way couples potentially meet offline. However, offline social situations may provide the opportunity for us to re-appraise in a more deliberate way and override our initial affective responses. We’ve all heard the stories of the hottie and the nottie or someone “batting above their average”. The reality is online we might miss opportunities by being too quick to judge. 

Relationshopping and Great Expectations

Dating apps provide an immediate source of others open, willing and interested in having a relationship. It makes it easier to know who is looking for a relationship and available without too much collateral.

For those who are time-poor the efficiency of the swipe when we like the look of someone, means we can get to know them by going on a real-life date. Unfortunately, for some the plethora of available options creates a paradox of choice. Instead of making a decision about dating, some find themselves “relationshopping”.

Armed with a checklist, some selectively shop for their ‘perfect match’. In the process, potential suitors are filtered out from the onset, creating missed opportunities and reducing individual people to “the sum of their parts” (Heino et al., 2010, p. 437). Alternatively, initial encounters may not live up to expectations or there maybe the fear of missing out (FOMO) on someone better.

In such situations, the experience of online dating in the early stages of relationship development is comparable to a market place. With such a large pool of potential partners available, we may become fixated with great expectations of finding ‘the one’ or indifferent and apathetic as there is a multitude of back ups online just a swipe away.

Here online and offline dating diverge, as a perfect dating profile (perfect on paper) does not necessarily translate into the reciprocal connection those who are searching for love long for.

Knowing me. Knowing You.

Relationship formation requires repeated experiential interactions for a relationship to develop. Humans need firsthand experience, involving direct person-to-person interaction with someone to form a holistic impression, and evaluate the romantic potential of another.

“Relationshopping” means that unless someone is on a dating app for the purposes of a ‘hook up’ or a casual thing, a satisfying relationship will only unfold in the initial stage at least, opportunistically. It is only with repeated interactions, with successful communication involving vulnerability and accountability that both people will be able to determine whether or not a satisfying relationship may unfold.

So what does that all mean? Dating apps have the potential to be your fairy godmother. They create opportunities for you to meet a wide pool of people outside of your existing social circles. With a simple swipe, magic might happen as long as you are prepared to dance with as many potential suitors at the ball as possible before the stroke of midnight, not just snigger and snarl from the sidelines. You may indeed kiss a couple of frogs along the way but as long as you are prepared to risk being open, curious and real you may just find your happily ever after.



Frost, J. H., Chance, Z, Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2008). People are experience goods: Improving online dating with virtual dates. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 22(1), 51-61.

Gawronski, B., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2006). Associative and propositional processes in evaluation: An integrative review of implicit and explicit attitude change. Psychological Bulletin, 132(5), 692–731.

Gawronski, B., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2007). Unraveling the processes underlying evaluation: Attitudes from the perspective of the APE Model. Social Cognition, 25(5), 687–717.

Goh, D. (2016). Tinder: The modern fairy tale? Psychology of Relationships Interest Group, Australian Psychological Society.

Heino, R. D., Ellison, N. B., & Gibbs, J. L. (2010). Relationshopping: Investigating the market metaphor in online dating. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(4), 427-447.

Lenton, A. P., Fasolo, B., & Todd, P. M. (2008). “Shopping” for a mate: Expected versus experienced preferences in online mate choice. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 51(2), 169-182.

Sridharan, R., Heilpern, K., Wilbur, C. J., & Gawronski, B. (2010). I think I like you: Spontaneous and deliberate evaluations of potential romantic partners in an online dating context. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 1062-1077.

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