Love Lessons: A Choice In Online Dating

One of the most common topics brought up during my online dating workshops is the number of potential options people have. I hear from people who have just begun the process of online dating in search of a partner and from those who have re-entered the dating scene after years of being away or off the market. People often express their frustration with the size of their pool of eligible partners, however, the two main complaints are diametrically opposed to one another. On the one hand, people take issue with too much choice, and on the other, people lament the limited amount of matches they receive. I want to take a moment to unpack these frustrations, as well as provide some helpful tips for anyone out there about to embark on their online dating journey.

Too Much Choice

People who are put off by the sheer volume of options they have, often note that sifting through the profiles feels like a full-time job, and that it’s often difficult to discern one profile from another. This can be potentially problematic as people may get lost in the sea of information, which can prevent them from making a well-thought-out and informed choice in who to spend their time with. 

While to some the idea of too many options may seem wonderful, it can present a problem. As noted, research has shown that when we have large samples, we may have trouble ignoring irrelevant information. When presented with large online dating pool samples, research participants spent more time searching through the profiles and had more difficulty screening out inferior options. This is related to the “paradox of choice,” which notes that the more choice you have, the more challenging it will be to select an option. In addition to making the selection of a potential partner more challenging, it can also create a sense of uneasiness in that a person feels there may be someone better out there for them on the dating site, preventing them from giving the person they are seeing a fair shot. 

Too Little Choice

People who complain about the small size of their dating pool often lament that upon the entry of the parameters that are important for them to find in a mate, they are left with few options. In 2010, Dr. Peter Backus, an economics lecturer in the UK, adapted the Drake Equation, used to figure out how many places in our galaxy are capable of supporting extraterrestrial life (yes, you read that correctly) to figure out how many available women there were in his dating pool. By using available population data, and entering in specifics as to what he was looking for in a mate, he came up with 26 potential mates. Please note that he wasn’t being overly picky.

The idea with this equation is that through a series of over and underestimations, we wind up with a relatively accurate number. As people check off boxes on dating sites to indicate what they want in a partner, they shrink the size of their dating pool in a surprisingly quick fashion. This can be problematic, as you leave yourself with little choice, and may miss the opportunity of meeting someone who is a great fit for you, simply because he/she did not make the cut.

What to Keep in Mind

There is no right way to approach online dating, and you should do only what you feel comfortable with. However, keeping the issues related to choice in mind may help us in making strategic decisions when it comes to clicking through profiles. 

To avoid getting lost in all of the potential options, it is important to focus on the aspects of profiles that are important to you, and that you feel are most indicative of the type of match you’re looking for. When you meet that person, give him/her your undivided attention and allow yourself to explore the potential match, without wondering who else may be out there. 

To avoid the problem of too few options, take some time to reflect on what your non-negotiables really are, and abandon any stringent wish lists that may be superficial and don’t enable you to assess the character of your potential match. Avoid checking off options because of the pressure you receive from others and take the time to consider what is most important to you in a match.

Using these ideas, you may find that you wind up with a pool size that you are more comfortable with. Happy clicking.

Marisa T Cohen
Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, is a psychology professor, relationship researcher and relationship coach. Learn more about Marisa at

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