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Why Having So Many Choices Could Be The Worst Or The Best Thing About Online Dating

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Too many cooks spoil the broth, but do too many dates spoil the romance?

People love online dating because it offers so many choices, including potential partners you may never have met otherwise. Falling in love with someone who lives halfway across the world was almost impossible before the Internet.

But all those choices could be making dating harder. Instead of making your life easier, online dating might be making it more stressful thanks to a psychological phenomenon called the “paradox of choice.” The more choices you have, the more difficult it is to actually make one. Instead we consistently feel unsatisfied with our choices, or simply refuse to choose at all.

Increased choice has been scientifically proven to cause anxiety and “choice overload,” which is exactly what you think it is. Your brain can become overwhelmed when faced with too many online dating profiles, causing it to misremember what it sees in each. It can also cause you to make decisions that are less than optimal, and settle for partners who don't match your own stated preferences.

And let's not forget about the time factor. Online dating is a notorious time-suck, and it gets worse the more options you have. A 2009 study found that "more search options triggered excessive searching," making it harder for participants to weed out incompatible options and hone in on what they really wanted.

The famous experiment that tested the paradox of choice was conducted by Columbia University professors in 2000. Grocery store shoppers were presented with 6 jam samples on one table and 24 on another. More customers visited the table with 24 choices, but fewer actually purchased from it. That means that while we are initially attracted to having many options, we find it more difficult to choose when actually presented with them.

Online dating is a table full of thousands and thousands of jams. The variety is endless and the supply is bottomless. It's hard to decide what's going on your toast under those circumstances, and the end result is apathy.

But there's hope. Other research has found that, under the right circumstances, more options can actually make you more certain of your choice by heightening the distinctions between possibilities. Online dating allows you to get hyper-specific about what you want, meaning you can narrow down your options to maximize effectiveness.

In the end, the real benefit of online dating sites is a little bit of both. By getting hyper-specific, they put the most relevant, compatible people directly in front of you. And by offering so many choices, they also leave open the possibility of meeting someone you didn't even know you were looking for.