Online Dating? Don’t Fall Into This Common Trap

Online Dating? Don’t Fall Into This Common Trap
Photo: Tory Rust

Have you ever said yes to one date and then canceled a day later because someone more enticing popped up on your dating app? Hey, if you’ve fallen victim to the “grass is greener” mentality when it comes to romantic prospects, you’re not alone according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Researchers Jonathan D’Angelo and Catalina Toma gathered 152 undergrad students looking for dates online to find out just how satisfied they were with their selection after choosing from a large set of potential partners (i.e., 24) vs. a small set of partners (i.e., six). They discovered that the group who had the most potential dates to choose from was also the most likely to be dissatisfied with their selection (and more likely to change it) just one week later.

Researchers chalk this phenomenon up to something called counterfactual thinking, which basically means that having more choices allows people to generate counterfactuals, or negative thoughts about the merits of the discarded alternatives. As a result of wondering what might have been, people tended to feel dissatisfied with their original choices.

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I think we can all admit to the occasional wandering eye when we’re out with a newish partner or scrolling through online matches immediately after agreeing to a date — just to, you know, make sure there’s no one better out there. “Even though you’re meeting people who are potentially similar, there can be downside to having that much access,” says D’Angelo.

It’s kind of like what happens when a toddler’s playing with a perfectly good toy and then you wave something shiny and pretty in front of him or her — they’re going to forget about the first toy and be totally preoccupied with checking out the next. Anyone who’s dated in a major metropolis (*cough, cough* New York City) is probably at least vaguely familiar with a dating scene in which people tend to have a bit of an attention deficit because there are just so many people to choose from.

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Plus, online dating creates a false sense of intrigue and abundance. Sure, there are dozens more people you can swipe right on after agreeing to a date with someone, but there’s no way to really know if they’re available and compatible. That leaves us to our imaginations, which can definitely build up potential partners in ways that are tougher to live up to in reality.

Even though the researchers found that it’s not always better for online daters to have more choices, they still say the benefits of online dating outweigh the drawbacks. So the next time you go sifting through the list of potential matches, just remember the tip you received in high school before any major multiple choice test: always stick with your first choice.