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First comes Tinder, then marriage: UBC professor examines online dating

Psychology professor at UBCO examines romantic relationships in the age of online dating

More people are finding love in the palm of their hand with a variety of romance-related apps.

But how did this happen and what does it mean for the future of romance?

Jocelyn Wentland is an adjunct professor of psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus whose research explores interpersonal relationships, adolescence and human sexual behaviour.

Question: Online dating once had a stigma and now it’s the norm. How did that happen?

Wentland: There is not one simple explanation that captures the popularity or success of online dating. This is because the rise of social media and technology coincide with the rise of online dating popularity. With so many people using various online dating sites and apps, there are bound to be many success stories – just as there are many online dating fails. Just ask anyone who has used an online dating app to share their horror stories.

Most likely, some of the early adopters of online dating were viewed as weird or desperate simply because they were doing something that was not considered the norm. However, those early adopters are not really any different compared to the people who used to post advertisements in the newspaper or use early telephone dating services.

What I think is really cool is to imagine what people will be doing in 20 to 25 years from now. Will they look back at the likes of Tinder or Bumble and think that those sites are downright antiquated?

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Question: How accurate is some of the matching software?

Wentland: The accuracy of matching software is tricky to comment on because some of the biggest players who state they will ‘find your best match’ have been unwilling to cooperate with researchers who want to test their algorithms. This has been a long-standing issue amongst relationship researchers who have requested to see if they can verify the algorithms with their own participant samples.

My hunch is that these fancy algorithms are based on some simple “matching” – which aligns perfectly with long-standing social psychology research from the 1970s. That research asserts that similarity in values or background is one of the most important predictors of individuals striking up a successful relationship.

Question: Are there serial online daters who will never commit, always looking for someone better?

Wentland: I think that the serial online daters are most likely in-person serial daters, too. In an online context, the illusion of more choice and ‘greener grass’ gives these serial online daters an excuse to keep looking. We do know that people do not always do well when given more choices. More choices can cause anxiety and discomfort if someone feels they should have made an alternate choice and makes them feel unhappy with their current choice. The nature of online dating, unfortunately, caters to these serial daters who can delay meeting up with anyone in particular or simply ghost someone if they feel like things are progressing too far and they want to step back.

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