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Cristen Conger

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5 Fundamental Truths of Online Dating

Posted: 02/24/11 04:40 PM ET

Allow me to cut to the chase: I'm single and considering online dating.

I haven't lost faith in randomly meeting someone who rings my bell, but why not jumpstart the process a little bit, right? Why not see who's out there in my fair city and, if anything, get some much-needed practice small talking across the table from someone else?

But like any good journalist, I want to get my facts straight before diving in. And fortunately, I was assigned to find out whether online dating works for Discovery News and chatted with some experts about the pros and cons of searching for a special somebody on the Internet. In the process, I gleaned a handful of fundamental facts that should better prepare me for any online dating adventures ahead (if I get up the guts to go for it, that is).

  1. It Works.
  2. While commercials for online dating sites featuring picture-perfect couples making doe eyes at each other might turn you off, plenty of partners do meet online these days. According to a large-scale survey from 2010, around 10 million adult American couples met online. In fact, it's statistically less likely you'll find a future sweetheart at a bar, school or work than on the Internet.

  3. (Almost) Everyone Lies.
  4. Online dating profiles are often riddled with white lies. We're not talking about total misrepresentation, but rather embellishments to make a profile stand out in the crowd. Rutgers communications assistant professor Jennifer Gibbs says that someone, for instance, might say they're 35 instead of 36 to not get filtered out of demographics searches on dating sites.

  5. Approach Profiles Like Résumés.
  6. As an addendum to the previous point, it's wise to remember that people craft online dating profiles to showcase their best sides, rather than bear out all of their mundane life details. For that reason, sift through online dating profiles with the discerning eye of an employer examining a stack of résumés. When you find someone who looks like a decent fit, don't assume that they're exactly like the picture they paint in their profile. You'll get a better sense of who they are during in-person "interviews."

  7. Beware the Hyperpersonal Effect.
  8. To the same extent that online dating allows people to hide certain flaws, it can also foster intimate communication quicker than in-person interactions. Researchers refer to this tendency as the "hyperpersonal effect." But when you suddenly feel a deep connection with someone you've only briefly interacted with online, don't start fantasizing about a blissful future together. The hyperpersonal effect can easily spoil your first in-person date if you've built up an idealized version of a potential partner in your mind.

  9. Disappointment Happens. A Lot.

Yes, online dating works, but it isn't foolproof. Gibbs warns that people who expect to find the perfect partner with a few mouse clicks are in for a letdown. While online dating is a relatively quick and easy way to meet people, it only takes care of the first dating step. As Gibbs might say, it's important to understand the differences between "relationshopping" with online dating and "relationshipping" with face-to-face, real world encounters with people. And as we all know, building a solid relationship takes a lot more work and maintenance beyond the first meeting.

But maybe the bottom-line truth about online dating is that, when you really think about, it isn't all that different from "real world" dating. Either way, you meet somebody, hang out and hope for the best.