Online Dating: Popular and Stigma Is Gone, but Don't Pay for It

PHOTO: Ilana Friedman, a 24-year-old singer from New York City, says shes dated a lot of "frogs" online.
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Ilana Friedman has met some losers using online dating sites -- so many that the New York City singer has created an entire cabaret act around her experiences, called "Kissing Frogs."

First there was the 29-year-old her mother found on The JMom.com -- his last girlfriend was his first cousin. "If he had been from Alabama, I could almost forgive it," quipped Friedman, 24. "But he was from Philadelphia."

Then, Friedman met a 36-year-old on another dating site who had lied about his age. She nearly canceled the date when he told her beforehand that he'd had an "inappropriate" dream about her. The next morning, he texted Friedman a "vulgar" photo of his naked body.

"I don't put any stock in [online dating] at all. It's like window-shopping -- fun, but not fulfilling," said Friedman. "But you never know if someone you meet is your soul mate."

Now researchers confirm that romance and dating has gone digital. It is the second most-popular way of connecting, surpassed only by meeting people through friends.

But, they caution, Internet dating is not scientific, and singles should not waste their time on websites that charge for their services.

A review of 400 psychology studies and public interest surveys was commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science and will be published in the February edition of its journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

"Online dating has entered the mainstream, and it is fast shedding any lingering social stigma," said researchers from the University of Rochester, Northwestern, Texas A&M, UCLA and Illinois State.

Dating sites don't have "published, peer-reviewed papers" to explain their methodology, and they do not explain in sufficient detail how people are matched, said the researchers.

"There is no particular reason for people to use sites that charge a lot of money to offer something they cannot deliver," said co-author Harry Reis, a nationally known relationship expert and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

However, he said online dating does provide wider opportunities to meet people.

"The Internet holds great promise for helping adults form healthy and supportive romantic partnerships, and those relationships are one of the best predictors of emotional and physical health," he said.

When dating online, it's fine to rule out those who have unsuitable habits, such as smoking, or belong to a different religion, but beyond that, making a check list "leaves out the magic another person can bring to you," said Reiss.

"We suggest they try not to have the shopping mentality and not view alternative people the same way they do a pair of pants," he said.

Instead of checking off the different qualities to look for in a mate, imagine talking to the person or going on a vacation with them, he said.

And don't look at more than a "handful" of profiles in a given city. "With 250 profiles to go through in 20 minutes, you can't have a check list," said Reiss.

As for what makes a good match, "You can't quantify it," Reiss said. "You can define it, but we do not know how it occurs and where it comes from. ... Science isn't there yet."

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