Happily Ever After (Virtually)
Relationships that begin online are often more successful than their “IRL” counterparts.
Fifteen years ago, Internet dating was still so scandalous that when I met my future husband online, I initially told my friends and family that we’d found each other in a coffee shop.
Now Internet dating is commonplace, and new research suggests that meeting your significant other online may actually result in a happier marriage. More than one-third of all Americans who married between 2005 and 2012 met their partners online, according to a new study led by John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. The study also found that couples who met online were less likely to break up and that the partners reported higher satisfaction in their relationships.
Cacioppo is also a scientific advisor to eHarmony, an Internet dating company that commissioned the study of nearly 20,000 participants. Independent statisticians reviewed the data, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Couples who meet online are also twice as likely to end up at the altar as their conventional counterparts, says Stanford University associate professor of sociology Michael Rosenfeld, who has studied the trend.
Widening the Search
Rosenfeld says these results may have more to do with a powerful search engine than with the romantic prowess of tech-savvy suitors.
In generations past, many couples were able to meet within their communities—places like bars, schools, work, or church. But others had to look harder to find a good match, either because they lived in a rural area, had specific and unusual interests, or had other needs that made it hard to find the right partner within their immediate social circle.
Online dating has allowed people to broaden the search and filter the results to find the perfect match, Rosenfeld says. People who forge an initial connection online also tend to open a dialogue that’s more direct and authentic, experts say. Those who are truly looking for a love match are more likely to discuss goals, family values, finances, religious beliefs, and political views, says clinical psychologist and marriage therapist Susan Heitler, author of The Power of Two.
“By the time people meet in person, they’ve already had an exchange of information that covers a lot of emotional ground,” Rosenfeld adds.
A Good Match
This kind of opening salvo often makes for a better long-term connection, Heitler says. The more people align themselves early on the big issues like family, marriage, money, and religion, the less negotiation and conflict there will be down the line.
Still, no matter how good the chemistry online, every couple must learn how to navigate day-to-day challenges to make a real-life romance work, Heitler says.
Those who learn to share intimately, listen empathetically, and express appreciation are going to have a more satisfying connection no matter how they met.
“People don’t realize that it’s not just the personality that makes a relationship work; it’s also a skill set,” Heitler says. “Every couple needs skills for dealing with the differences.”