In the 10 seconds it takes to click around the dating sites, your small man-pool can expand into a teeming ocean:
It's a fact. Match.com has MORE dates, relationships and marriages MORE than any other site, reads the site's homepage.
At eHarmony: You've come to the right place. The place where millions of people are brought together.
And at Plenty of Fish: 135 Million Monthly Visitors, More Dates, More Relationships Than Any Other Site...20,000 New People Every Day.
Thousands of fresh singles? Millions of great catches? Who can't snag love with all these options?
Sorry, ladies, but here's a nubbly little paradox. Science has noticed something called consumer vertigo. "It's very well known in the online dating business that the more people you give someone to look over, the less likely they are to choose anybody at all," says Helen Fisher, PhD, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor to Chemistry.com. Sam Yagan, co-founder of OkCupid agrees. "If you can't solve the problem of consumer vertigo, the customer experience deteriorates."It all seems to all go back to a famous jam experiment out of Stanford and Columbia universities. The researchers set up two booths-one with 24 flavors of jam and the other with only six. While more shoppers stopped by the table with the larger selection, they were much less likely to make a purchase there-only 3 percent did. But 30 percent of those who visited the 6-flavor booth bought a jar. Since that study came out ten years ago, the same principle has been shown to apply to many decisions we make, including whom we go out with. "We want more opportunities and alternatives," says Fisher, whose latest book is Why Him? Why Her? "And yet the brain doesn't handle that well. It may, in fact, shut down. From an evolutionary perspective, it's possible that we're just not used to this amount of choice."
Before your cynical wheels start turning-as mine are, because, obviously, if you do a little math, this could be good news for the dating business, which benefits from customers staying single-both Fisher and Yagan are quick to point out that their sites have gone to great lengths to help narrow the choices. After all, their products need to deliver a certain number of matches, or who would sign up? "There's no better marketing for us than having couples who meet on our site," says Yagan, noting that OkCupid doesn't spend money on advertising. And here's another sadly excellent point I never thought of: "Most couples don't last," he says. "If a customer leaves our site dating someone, they'll probably come back when they break up."
To enjoy the large singles selection without suffering dating paralysis, Fisher suggests that once you've met ten guys, pick one to get to know better. And look for reasons to say "yes" rather than "next." Here are a few other considerations to think about:
Are you stuck in perma-scan mode? Scott Haltzman, MD, author ofThe Secrets of Happily Married Women, compares cruising dating sites to being hungry and driving down a strip of fast-food joints-Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy's, T.G.I. Friday's, Taco Bell. "It's like you're always wondering if you're making the right decision. And sometimes you think the best decision is to keep looking."
Do you have a case of the WIMOs? Having too many options can also encourage us to be shallow, according to a new study in the journal Psychological Science. At large speed-dating events, both men and women made decisions based on superficial traits like height and weight versus at smaller events, where they considered education and jobs. "If the brain is faced with abundant choice," the authors note, "it may make decisions based on what it can evaluate most quickly."And that brings us to WIMOs: "What if I miss out?" as Andrea Syrtash, author of He's Just Not Your Type, puts it. Sometimes we fall into the trap of focusing so much on a guy's specs, we forget to pay attention to how we feel about him, or how he makes us feel about ourselves. "We get obsessed with the paper checklist," she says, "and end up putting criteria over connection. But that can mean missing out on some great potential matches."
Are you lost in post-Oprah self-discovery land? "Everybody is getting so in touch with what makes them happy, they're losing some of the interests and skills that would help them connect to the opposite sex," says Rachel Canis, president of the Chicago dating service Best Foot Forward. "And people's expectations are getting way over the top." Haltzman agrees, saying that it's natural to consider a partner somewhat responsible for your well-being. "The problem is," he says, "if you release your hold on that person, often you'll still find that you don't have the things you want in your life."
Do you have all the time in the world? OK, we just heard about the baby born from an embryo that was frozen for 20 years, which sets a new bar for how long we can procrastinate in creating a family. "I worry about this," says Alice Domar, PhD, whose Domar Center for Mind/Body Health treats infertility. "For a long time a woman needed the legitimacy of marriage to have children by a certain age. Without the time pressure, we can be much more picky about the man we marry, and, who knows, maybe never even get around to it."Hey ladies, what's your take? Do you think having so many options is getting under our skin and making it harder to settle down?
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