About a year ago, I started putting some serious time (and money) into online dating. I figured that for a person like me, who is looking to marry someone of a particular faith and has a profession where I don't meet a lot of new people all the time, this would be a good way for me to find like-minded people. (I recently made the joke that, unless I start dating my students, I have to meet people online.) I have profiles on several dating sites, some of which are small, local, and geared specifically to a latter-day saint audience and some of which are larger and more general.
After about a year in the online dating world, I have made some observations about the pros and cons of online dating and how it's different from meeting people in other ways. Here are some of the things I have learned.
1. Online dating sites represent only certain types of people.
That is, the kind of people who sign up for online dating sites are the kind of people who would sign up for online dating sites. Though there may be many people on the site, the segment of society that one finds on an online dating site is not really a sampling of all society but rather people who thought that online dating would be a good thing for them because they feel comfortable with technology (and because, perhaps, they feel uncomfortable with other ways of meeting people). And that implies that there are other people out there who I am not meeting because they generally meet people in other ways.
2. The site itself makes a big difference.
Certain features that exist or don't exist on the dating site have a lot to do with the kind of success I feel I am having at finding the people I want. In my case, faith is very important to me and I want to find a boyfriend and future husband who belongs to the same religious organization. Some sites, such as match.com, allow me to specify which characteristics about the person I'm seeking and how important those characteristics are to me. Other sites only search based on basic information such as age and place. I know there are a lot of guys in their early 30s that live in my area, but a lot of them are not the people that I specifically are looking for. So the more specific the search on the site, the more I feel like I can find people I would actually want to get along with. And who cares if eHarmony thinks I'm a perfect match for someone who lives in Alabama? I want to meet someone that I could actually date, which in my mind means that we need to be in reasonable proximity to each other. Nevertheless, I would say that my online dating efforts have been somewhat successful in the sense that I have done a lot more dating in the past year than I would have otherwise.
3. Meeting people online is just like meeting people in other settings...
Some people are flaky, some people are kind, some people say inappropriate things, some people seem to be conceited, some people seem to be normal, some people are superficial, and so forth. Just like in real life I have been rejected and have done the rejecting on a number of occasions. It's not really any easier on the ego than meeting people in other ways.
4. ...except it isn't.
The one major aspect of meeting people online that differs quite a bit from meeting in person is the fact that you get to know quite a bit of information (age, profession, whether the person is divorced, whether the person has children, etc.) before you ever talk to or meet the person. I have learned from experience that no matter what the person seems like on his profile, and even by e-mail or phone, I really have to meet the person to discover if there is potential for a romantic connection. This leads to a lot of "first dates" where we are just meeting up to see if there is any possibility. This kind of first date is different from what I would consider a traditional first date where you have already seen and talked to the person and therefore know that you have at least some interest in each other. I now consider the first date with someone that I met online to be "Date 0", that is, the date before the first date. I doesn't usually take long on a Date 0 to figure out how I feel about taking the next step. So in a way it seems like, when dating online, things happen in kind of a backwards order.
In sum, I have met some good guys, some weirdos, some perverts, and some platonic friends online. And I feel that I have more or less explored the possibilities that online dating offers. Though new people join the sites all the time, the population of people fitting the characteristics I am looking for gets new additions only occasionally, meaning that many of the profiles I see are profiles I have seen before. While I don't feel a need to remove my profiles from the various sites, I will definitely be spending less time and money on online dating. I plan to focus more on meeting people through activities for LDS singles of my age in my area.