Dating & Relationships, Myth vs Fact

Are Couples Who Meet Online More Likely to Break Up?

February 20, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

Ever since the Internet arrived in our homes, people have been using it as a tool for making love connections. In fact, research indicates that about one in five heterosexual couples and two in five same-sex couples in the United States today met online [1]. Despite the frequency of Internet dating in the modern world, looking for love on the Internet online carries some degree of stigma [2]. For instance, people are often embarrassed to tell others they belong to an online dating site because they are afraid this information will make them look desperate. Another factor that makes people cautious about online dating is the well-known fact that lying is rampant on Internet personal profiles [3]. Between the prejudice and the lies, online romances would appear doomed to fail right from the start. But is there any truth to this idea? Are online daters really any worse off than couples who meet in other ways?

In spite of the shame and concerns expressed over online dating, Internet relationships appear to be just as successful as relationships forged offline. In fact, a recent, nationally representative survey of over 3,000 romantic couples found that couples who met online were at least as satisfied with their relationship as couples who met through family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers [1]. Perhaps even more important, breakup rates did not differ substantially depending upon how the couple met. Specifically, among couples who met on the Internet, 15.6% of them broke up within one year, compared to 17.8% of couples who met offline.

At least in terms of the outcomes considered in this study (i.e., relationship satisfaction and breakup), couples who got together online did not appear to be any worse off than couples who met through more traditional means. Thus, it would appear that online dating gets a bum rap—relationship quality is not a function of how a couple meets.

The key thing to take out of this research is that there is no “correct” way to initiate a relationship. If you want to maximize your chances of success, the best thing you can do is keep your mind open and explore different avenues to love.

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[1] Rosenfeld, M. J., & Thomas, R. J. (in press). Searching for a mate: The rise of the internet as a social intermediary.American Sociological Review.

[2] Wildermuth, S. M. (2004). The effects of stigmatizing discourse on the quality of on-line relationships. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 73–84.

[3] Toma, C., Hancock, J.T., and Ellison, N.B. (2008). Separating fact from fiction: An examination of deceptive self-presentation in online dating profiles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1023-1036.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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