Online dating has been around for a while and has led to various positive and negative experiences. Some find their one true love through online dating, some find the no strings attached romantic relationship they have been looking for and others get catfished. Signing up for online dating does not guarantee you will find your one true love without being at risk. A US study showed that 66% of internet users think that online dating is dangerous (Homnack, 2015). For all these people and others who are interested, this article will provide an insight into the risks of online dating.
It’s not that new
Online dating may sound like it's only been around for a couple of years, but in fact, a similar practise started long before the advent of the internet. The longing for human contact has always been there and can be found in the 1970 song "Piña Colada" for example, which describes a way to come into contact with a possible romantic partner that is often used and has been around since the late 17th century. The lyrics include the following line: "So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad", after which the song describes how the narrator met his wife via this personal ad, even though he was actually looking for something he thought his wife did not have.
The same thing was the case for his wife, who wrote a response to his ad, thinking she would find something else as well. Even without the help of the internet, this song shows that we still looked for connections with other people and used personal ads to do so. Even before papers were invented, lonely shepherds carved detailed works of art into the bark of a tree to communicate their longing for human contact. In short, online dating is really just a manifestation of what people have always been doing, which is creating new tools to communicate and then turn use them to find sex, love and companionship.
In the early 1900s people started to prey on the vulnerable people who were looking for love
Personal ads started around 1695 and became mainstream mid 1800s. This was mainly because magazines and periodicals like The Wedding Bell in the US and The Correspondent in the UK became extremely popular. These magazines and periodicals included match making and personal ads. Sadly enough, there are always people who ruin the party. In the early 1900s, people started to prey on the vulnerable people who were looking for love. This made looking for contact by taking out a personal ad less safe.
In the 1920s, personal ads became mainstream again. However, this time around people were more in the market for pen pals and friendships and this is something online dating offers as well. This was especially popular under soldiers during the First World War who had become lonely because the war kept them away from their loved ones. In the 1960s, personal ads became a popular way for homosexual people to find love, which caused the police to hunt people down who used personal ads (Lee, 2016).
By 2010, different online dating websites and apps were available. This made it easier to meet people outside the groups you interact with most ánd to find exactly what you are looking for in a partner (Lee, 2016). With every new wave of inventions, humanity progressed, but the recent technological advances are indescribable. With the rise of technology, the notion of a Network Society came into existence. This has influenced the dating world. Due to being able to build a network faster, it became easier to meet people from across the world and via other people as well. It meant that the dating pool was not limited to the people that lived in your town. This has given people the opportunity to meet their soulmate 1000 miles away from home.
The big question
Nowadays, online dating is more popular than personal ads, but like taking out a personal ad, online dating is not without risks of its own. What are these risks exactly and how can we decrease them? This is the question that will be answered in this article.
In 1965, a team of Harvard undergrads created the first computer dating service
Using scholarly articles, I will show how the risks that come with online dating can be managed. To explain this question in more depth, I will first specify the terms 'risks’ and ‘online dating’. The last term is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as: ‘a way of starting a romantic relationship on the internet, by giving information about yourself or replying to someone else’s information’. Risk has been defined by Beck (1999) as: ‘the modern approach to foresee and control the future consequences of human action, the various unintended consequences of radicalized modernization’ (Couch & Liamputtong, 2007).
When browsing the web for risks related to online dating, the first hits that pop up are STIs and HIV. According to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (2015), dating apps are increasing the rates of STIs (Kelsey, 2015). With dating apps being included in the online dating definition, it makes sense that the number increases in this field as well.
Honesty is rare
Another risk related to online dating is meeting dishonest people. Sadly, lying is already very common and not just on online platforms. Even when you meet a person face to face there is a high chance of being lied to. The video below shows a couple of facts about lying.
Since people are more likely to lie to you when they are writing as compared to when they are talking to you face to face, being on a dating platform could lead to meeting more dishonest people. ‘The truth about lying in online dating profiles’ mentions that a survey reported that 86% of online dating participants felt that others misrepresented their physical appearance (Hancock et al., 2007).
Only 10% of people are honest in their profile when they are looking for a date on the internet
Table 1: Percentage of people who lie about their height, weight or age (Hancock et al., 2007).
Even though these are ‘small’ lies, this does provide a picture of how much people (already) lie. Please note that this number is not included with people who lie about personal characteristics, which means that this extremely high rate will become even higher when these people are included. According to a study done by the Scientific American (2007), this percentage comes at 90%. Only 10% of people are honest in their profile, when they are looking for a date on the internet (Mirsky, 2007). However, a study by the University of Toronto (2010) has shown that people who always tell the truth are also better at spotting others' lies.. In other words, honest people spot liars sooner than liars do.
Are you looking to date or to marry?
Studies have also been conducteds that compared differences in the outcomes of relationships that started offline and online. These studies have mostly looked at marital status. However, one study with 4,002 respondents has also investigated the breakup rate of marital and non-marital relationships. The results showed that couples who've met online are more likely to break up than those who've met offline. This is not only the case when they are married, but also when they are not married (yet). People who've met on the internet also usually have shorter relationships than those who met offline (Aditi, 2014). Whether you're looking to date or to marry doesn't really matter when it comes to online dating, because the statistics regarding the strength of the relationships and their duration are not in your favour.
When couples have met online, they are more likely to break up than couples who met offline
In an article by Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts (2012) respondents stated that a risk of meeting people online is that it can build your hopes up about that person, but once you meet them it can be a let-down. Moreover, a few women mentioned that sexual violence is a risk as well. These things are harder to avoid than the first two risks mentioned above. However, most respondents also stated they did not find online dating more dangerous than meeting somebody offline for the first time. After all, it means meeting somebody new and new people can do unpredictable things (Couch et al., 2012).
To sum it all up, there are some risks that come with starting a romantic relationship on the internet, such as a higher risk of STIs and HIV, bumping into a dishonest dating profile, dating and marriage odds not being in your favour, let-downs that can cause emotional pain and sexual violence that can lead to physical and mental harm. The picture these risks paint is one of needing to be careful, because bumping into dishonest profiles, for example, isn't very easy to avoid.
Aditi, P. (2014). Is Online Better Than Offline for Meeting Partners? Depends: Are You Looking to Marry or to Date? CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 17, 10, p. 664-667.
Buck, S. (2017). From the battlefield, lonely WWI soldiers found love using newspaper personal ads. Retrieved from Timeline.
Couch, D., & Liamputtong, P. (2007). Online dating and mating: Perceptions of risk and health among online users. Health, Risk & Society, 9, 3, p. 275-294.
Couch, D., Liamputtong, P., & Pitts, M. (2012) What are the real and perceived risks and dangers of online dating? Perspectives from online daters. Health, Risk & Society, 14, 7-8, p. 697-714.
Hancock, J., Toma, C., & Ellison, N. (2007). The Truth about Lying in Online Dating Profiles. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, p. 449-452.
Homnack, A. (2015). Online dating technology effects on interpersonal relationships. Advanced Writing: Pop Culture Intersections. Paper 4.
Kelsey, R. (2015). Dating apps increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections, say doctors. BBC.
Lee, S. (2016). The History of Online Dating From 1695 to Now. Huffpost.
Mirsky, S. (2007). My Unfunny Valentine: The Truth About Online Dating; and The Myelin Repair Foundation--A New Model For Outcome-Oriented Biomedical Research. Scientific American.