Why Are So Many People Addicted To Online Dating?

two women smiling while looking at the computer

Dear Evan,

Having the experience you do with online dating, I was wondering what you think about some of the psychology of online dating.   Is there a phenomenon of addiction to it?   I was wondering because it seems like so many people have profiles online either the same site or multiple sites for lengthy periods of time. I can search Match.com and then come back a year or two later and the same guys are still on the site and usually with the same picture.   Also, I dated a guy for a time who almost seems to be addicted.   What do you think?

Dear Barb,

There are two things going on in your question, and I want to address them separately:

First, let’s dispel the notion that there’s something wrong with someone who’s a) on Match.com two years after he signed up, and b) signed up for multiple dating sites.

Essentially, you’re saying, “I’m not a loser, player, commitmentphobe or dating addict, but any man who does the same thing that I’m doing must be.”

It’s pure hypocrisy. The only way you’d know if the same guy was on Match.com two years later is if YOU were on the site two years later. The only way you’d know that he’s also on  eHarmony is if you’re ALSO on eHarmony. Essentially, you’re saying, “I’m not a loser, player, commitmentphobe or dating addict, but any man who does the same thing that I’m doing must be.”

So to set the record straight: going on multiple dating sites means that you’re looking to expand your options. Maybe your month ran out on JDate and you want to try  SawYouAtSinai. Maybe the pickings were slim on Chemistry, so you branched out to PerfectMatch.

There is another myth in your question, Barb–the idea that someone who signed up on Match in January ‘06 and is still on in January ‘08 has been on for two consecutive years. Let’s say he dated seven people in his first two months and then found a happy relationship that lasted for a year and a half. After a month of mourning and attempted make-up sex, he reposts his profile once again. All YOU can see is that the same face is still on there, two years later, when, in fact, this guy is the perfect example of an online dating success. He loved, he lost, and he came back for more.

Yeah, I’M that guy….

Naturally, I’ve long been an advocate for online dating, not because it’s perfect, but because it ALWAYS created a love life for me. As a writer without a close-knit group of friends, who worked from home, and who bristled at the idea of picking up women at bars, this medium was a godsend. I had my first online girlfriend in 2000 for five months, fell in love in 2003 in a seven-month relationship, did it again in 2004 for four months, and had my last online girlfriend in 2006 for eight months. However, if you were watching my profile on JDate, you’d have assumed that I was online from 1998-2006 without any success.

In fact, in my dating heyday, I didn’t just try JDate. I tried Match, Chemistry, eHarmony, Nerve, AmericanSingles, Matchmaker… I’m probably even forgetting one or two places. You date someone for a month, you go back on. Three months, you go back on. Sometimes, when you leave, you don’t take your profile down–which leads you to be labeled an online dating addict by a woman who is on every single site herself.

And so it goes.

But you ARE onto something, Barb, which is that online dating CAN be addicting.

Just like alcohol can be used recreationally or abusively, so can Match.com. What’s similar is that the users always think that they’ve got it under control, and that nobody’s getting hurt in the process.

This is clearly not true.

There’s a delusional aspect to successful online dating–one that I’ve embodied–one that I’ve seen in my clients as well. You sign up on eHarmony because you’re serious about a relationship. You want marriage, you want kids, you’re ready for love. And then you start the process. Dozens of women parade across your screen, each younger, smarter, more attractive, more tantalizing than the last. Suddenly, you’re corresponding with 12 people online, have five phone numbers, and three dates scheduled in a weekend. This is not the GOAL, but an almost uncontrollable byproduct of the choice and volume inherent in online dating.

Don’t worry about the guys who seem like addicts. We’re all addicts–until we find the person who makes us want to kick our addiction.

And this is what gets lost on all the people who say that every man’s a player who’s just out to get laid. In fact, the vast majority of men (75% in an old Match poll) are looking for a long-term relationship. It’s just super difficult to settle on one person when you perceive that you have better options that are just a click away. This is the false temptation of online dating. We THINK we have the choice of everyone, when, in fact, we don’t. Why would I write to the 38 year old when I can write to the 28 year old? Why would you write to the guy who makes $50K when you could write to the guy who makes $150K? Or the 5’6” guy, when there’s bound to be a 5’10” guy somewhere in the system?

In real life, we meet people organically, feel attraction and learn about them later. We don’t know their age or their sign or their likes and dislikes. Online dating reverses that process. We learn about them first, and discover attraction later. This makes connecting easy and instantaneous, but it also allows us to dissect people and compare them to others side by side. And if you have anything going “against you”–height, weight, income, age–you’re often going to lose by comparison.

The real upshot, Barb, is that by understanding this–by being more open and forgiving of men, by keeping a positive attitude, by going on multiple sites, by persevering despite the frustration–you give yourself a much greater chance of success than if you said, “Online dating is bullshit, men are bullshit, I quit.”

Quitters never win. Winners never quit.

Don’t worry about the guys who seem like addicts. We’re all addicts–until we find the person who makes us want to kick our addiction.

Join our conversation (105 Comments).
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  1. 2

    Online dating as Evan describes it is one thing, but the addiction end of it stems from people constantly wanting to see who viewed, or hot listed them…or whether the hot chick or guy you emailed opened your message. I lived that existence until I stopped online dating. It can become exhausting, if you let it.

    1. 2.1
      Sputnik Sweetheart

      I personally feel that online dating fosters a shopper mentality where human beings are put on a shelf to be examined for their relative desirability — basically, they are “product.” If you always know that there’s something “better” out there (hypothetically), you can’t commit to the thing you have.  
      I was with a man for two years. I met him on one of these sites. There were a lot of “red flags” about him that suggested he had this type of personality. He dumped me in a most egregious way, making lame excuses about not wanting to be in a relationship, not wanting to date, just wanting to be alone, etc. Acting on a hunch, I checked the dating site where we met, and there he was, smiling back at me.  

      1. 2.1.1

        A lot people on those sites are just that way, and they keep numerous profiles to keep their toe in the water for when they either dump you, or get bored. Its sad and beyond frustrating but online sites are a feeding ground for Sociopaths just looking for another feed. If you meet someone on a site, check a few other sites , if they’re on 3 or more? You can rest assured you wont be the only one they’re in contact with …even while you’re with them.

        Listen to your intuition no matter what, if a red flag hits you in the gut? walk away… your gut will never lie…

        1. Shelly

          Exactly!..my ex was a narcissistic sociopath!..he was on every dating site out there..sex sites..would log outa one..and log into another..off n on all day long..

  2. 3

    I have a major love/hate relationship with online dating. I’m gotten plenty of dates and a few quality gf’s from it, but I think it’s way too narrow of a field of prospects and I hate that I get disqualified based on things like height, weight, income, etc. This happens in-field of course, but I can make up for it with boldness and my charming personality 😉

    On the other hand, I do see it as another tool in the box for getting dates, so it’s not all bad. I’m certainly not addicted, and what kiboshes the addiction for me is the monthly cost of the subscription. Subscribed to three different sites? We’re talking over $100 a month there. That’s before the date even starts!

  3. 4
    Evan Marc Katz

    Ah, yes, but Lance…for people who are not pick-up artists in “the field”, for people who find the bar scene distasteful, online dating might be the only game in town. A huge part of my job is to help people master that medium, to generate the kind of success that would be IMPOSSIBLE to replicate in real life. Truly, if you’re not adept at picking up strangers, there’s no better place than the internet.

    As far as $ goes, you can spend $100 to get dates or you can spend months of your life lamenting that you don’t have enough dates. What’s it gonna be? Anyone who values a shirt, a meal, a concert ticket, or a phone bill over their LOVE life isn’t that serious about their love life…

  4. 5

    I think where it becomes an addiction is with people that do not actually meet anyone in real life and use online dating to replace a real world social life.

    Online dating should be a way to extend the possibilities of who you can meet, not replace going out and actually meeting them.

  5. 6
    Just a gal

    “We’re all addicts until we find the person who makes us want to kick our addiction.” I couldn’t agree more Evan!

    I found my ex-boyfriend back on his old dating site within days of our breaking up (he has had past success online so I wasn’t surprised he’d be back so soon). We had both noticed each other’s profiles online. We eventually ended up back together but I noticed that he was still online when I went to delete my account. I told him that I’m committed to making us work this time and hoped that he was on the same page. He said he was into us completely but he did admit that he was caught up in the fantasy online dating world where he had dozens of beautiful women writing to tell him that he was desirable. I told him that if he ever needs to be reminded of that he should call me up. Anyway, he promptly deleted his account and we are both devoted to building a future together.

    By the way, love your blog Evan. I’ve been quietly visiting for a while now. Keep it up!

  6. 7

    Lance May 14th 2008 at 06:16 pm 3
    Subscribed to three different sites? We’re talking over $100 a month there. That’s before the date even starts!

    Bar hopping for dates isn’t free. Cover charges, drinks, dry cleaning, and cab/metro rides in the city, etc. Those things can add up to $100 a month.

  7. 8

    Well you’ve got to hand it to Evan this is his forte and he nails the question with a great answer. I think people both men & women can get addicted to the emotional rollercoaster that BEING on an online dating site (or sites) can give them. Notice how I didn’t say “ONLINE DATING” ? That’s because most MEN never actually get to the point of going on dates. They’re lucky if they ever get a response. But they stay on these sites day after day because like online gambling. They always think today’s the day When in reality the odds of them getting a response and going on a date with a woman they’re really attracted to is slim & none.They’re chasing rainbows.Like gambling though, it feels so good when you win.

  8. 9

    Like I said, it’s another tool in the box. I don’t think online dating should REPLACE traditional socializing methods, ie meeting strangers, but it’s fine as a supplement.

    What’s distasteful about bars and clubs, besides drunk people? If you can get past the drinking, bars and clubs are just places where people congregate and socialize. What most people find distasteful about the bar scene is that it’s so COMPETITIVE…everyone is good looking, everyone is dressed to the nines, everyone is running game. Hey, I hated the bar scene until about two years ago…why did I hate it? Because I was invisible and I couldn’t hang. I felt like an outsider, and it sucked. In fact, this is the very reason I got myself a match account!

    Now I love the bar scene, because I know how to socialize and have fun in these venues, and I’m no longer an outsider. It took me a couple of years to get to that point, but it was certainly doable.

    Also, EMK, it’s never impossible to get results in-field for any person. I’m nothing special in looks, height, financials, or any other typical metric of social value…if I can do it, anyone can.

  9. 10

    I LOVED online dating, and if the price tag is a factor there are free accounts like myspace where you can practice a little bit. It’s how I met my BF after 4 years on Match. In my experience, having accounts on multiple sites was likely to bring up the exact same people, unless you choose sites with different foci–I might choose Match, a veggie singles website, and an animal lovers website to diversify my options.

    For me, the club/bar scene doesn’t suck in and of itself, just as a way of meeting people. Who wants to shout over loud music, fight your way to the bathroom, or have some smarmy guy come up behind you and start grinding on your ass when you’re not looking? I think they’re fun to go out with your friends, or maybe on a date once you have someone, but not as a way to meet people. I’ve never had a single relationship come out of a club/bar and neither has the BF. I think our experiences are the norm.

    I do see how it’s possible to get addicted. Even now that my Match profile has been hidden for well over two years, I tell myself, “I don’t need to cancel this account. What if things don’t go as planned with the BF? My handle is AWESOME and I’ll never get it back!” But I just moved in with him, so I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and do it…


  10. 11
    Evan Marc Katz

    I hear ya, buddy. But understand that for 45 year old single parents, “running game” in a club is not something you want to be doing.

    And those are my clients. Intelligent, successful, way-past-the-bar-scene people. More power to you for having fun with it.


  11. 12

    Yeah Lance, I don’t know how old you are but I’m 47 and where I live their are very few bars where people between the ages of 35-50(my dating bracket) hang out for me to do my approaches. The last couple of places that did cater to our age range closed down. Now I’m FORCED to rely on the internet more than I used to and I hate it. I used to have a place or places to go 4 or 5 nights a week that were “target” rich for the 35 and up crowd but now they’ve almost all dried up. It used to be the internet is where I met only about 10 or 20% of the women I might date but in the last year it’s about 75%. Evan is right and wrong. I don’t want to be “running game” in bars at my age. But I’m single, I love to dance and meet women in a live atmosphere and mingle as well as enjoy an adult beverage so what’s wrong with that ? Everyone puts in their online ad “tired of the bar scene” yadda, yadda, yadda….I’m the one who once put in my online ad “tired of the online dating scene,I’m going back to the bar where I actually MEET women and KNOW what they look like” …LOL

  12. 13

    Excellent response by Evan and the others here. I wouldn’t say that I was addicted to it as, like Evan has said, it’s not the “goal”. You’re looking for the goal. The problem is the perception of choice and that “the perfect mix” is right around the corner. Now, one wee sociological phenomenon that Evan didn’t mention is that when you do get “in the zone” which happened to me a couple of times, when you are literally juggling talking to/dating 3-5 women at once, can create a coldness that maybe wouldn’t happen otherwise. I have my kids a few days a week and am working a 40 hour job and a part-time job to make ends meet. Trying to squeeze dates/calls with several women in there gets exhausting and frustrating. You start resenting the dates, at least a bit. Because out of all those dates you might actually meet one or two that you say “I could go exclusive with her”. Problem is she doesn’t feel the same way. Or maybe you do go exclusive for a bit but it breaks up. In the meantime you had to end things with other nice, attractive women who you now can’t get back. More frustration but you go back trying to find someone like the one you were willing to go exclusive with. Online dating can be addicting and it’s because we are human.

    “We will always be much more human than we wish to be.” Pain of Salvation

    “Year after year, and with renewed ambition, we scale the walls to find there’s nothing there.” Fates Warning

    1. 13.1

      u should change your username to superman, Markus, fulltime job, parttime job, kids few times a wk and talking/dating 3-5 women at once??? i felt sleepy just reading that! i have a fulltime job, no kids, and can barely find tyme/energy to go out on 1 date a wk!! u’re amazing!! hope u suceed at finding the dreamgal cuz noone deserves it more 😉

  13. 14
    Michael Ejercito

    One reason why Internet dating is so popular.

    For one thing, almost everyone online is available.

  14. 15

    I thought it was ironic and amusing Barb would even write in about this topic. How would you know the same guys were on the same sites if you weren’t yourself? And why wouldn’t they be for the same reasons?

    A few years ago I considered trying internet dating-thought it might be fun, but I ended up meeting someone in person before ever getting around to having my picture taken, or composing a profile. NOW, after reading this column for nine mos., the picture I get is that online dating is really a younger woman’s game. If men in their 40’s & 50’s are seeking women online in their 20’s & 30’s, Because They Can! (if only in their imaginations) it doesn’t seem an ideal venue for us cool, middle age chicks to meet the men who’d like to meet US.

    I kinda think of online dating sites as a type of catalogue shopping: Flipping the pages, I might be really attracted to that sleek pair of stilletos. But when I go shopping, what I really want is a flexible pair of sandals that fit. To that end, it’s best to try the shoes on in the store.

  15. 16

    Selena….very very few men online who are in their 40’s and 50’s get ANY younger

    1. 16.1

      Yeah, but that sure as heck doesn’t stop them from trying, does it? I’m 32 and I’ve lost count of the number of 40+ guys who have contacted me on Match, even though my preferences say “28-40”. Do these guys figure there’s a “times 2” hiding in there somewhere?  

  16. 17

    Honey, post #11. As a single vegan I had your experiences too.

  17. 18

    Evan; I liked your observation that in online dating you get to know people in reverse from when you meet them (first) in person.

    Lance; I agree with you. Online dating feel artificial and a bit stifling.

    Looks, money, height, personality, etc are all issues in both dating venues. What I like about meeting people in person ( when it is an option ) is that many of those things are discovered right away instead of an awkward situation. In some ways online dating is a sophisticated form of blind dating.

  18. 19

    For some reason my posts keep getting cut off after 1 sentence. Anyone know why ??

    My post should of read:
    Selena….very very few men online who are in their 40’s and 50’s get ANY younger

  19. 20

    Nope it still didn’t take it. If this doesn’t go thru just omit them all.This happened yesterday too.

    Selena….very very few men online who are in their 40’s and 50’s get ANY younger

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