Synopsis: For the first time in history, today more than half of American adults are single. Many are still looking for love–more than 40 million are members of online dating sites, which have their busiest time of the year between now and Valentine’s Day. A noted psychologist explains research showing most users have exactly the wrong approach when seeking a good match online, and discusses how they can better their odds of finding true love.

Host: Reed Pence. Guest: Ken Page, psychotherapist in private practice, blogger on Psychology Today and author, Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy.

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The Pitfalls of Online Dating

Reed Pence: Americans are getting married later than ever–the average is age 27 for women, and 29 for men. Many will never get married at all. In fact, today more than half of American adults are single. But they’re still looking for love, especially now as Valentine’s Day approaches.

Ken Page: It’s a time when people are really thinking about being in a relationship if they’re not already and what that means.

Reed Pence: Ken Page is a psychotherapist in private practice a popular blogger on Psychology Today and author of the best-selling book Deeper Dating How To Drop The Games Of Seduction And Discover The Power Of Intimacy. He offers research-backed ways to find a match that will last.

Ken Page: I think that there are a lot of single people who are very happy being single who might not even want a relationship. But I do think that the majority of single people would love to have a relationship that’s passionate and caring and kind with a person whom they could build a life and a world together with. And Valentine’s Day really highlights that and sometimes in a very painful way because everyone’s making such a fuss about relationships right and left. So it can leave people also with an empty feeling, and then many people want to try to find a relationship by Valentine’s.

Reed Pence: However, looking for a romantic partner with a clock ticking isn’t the best way to go about it. But then Page says most people have no idea what the best way is.

Ken Page: The choice of a life partner and the search for a good relationship is one of the greatest and most important missions of our entire lives. You know the quality of our days, our nights, our children’s lives, our futures depend on the quality of our primary relationship more than perhaps anything else, and yet we’re sent out into the world with the most woefully inadequate skill set in how to find that love. We’re taught just go out there and look for the person you’re attracted to and hope it’s mutual and hope it’ll work out. Well you know the odds of approaching the search for love in that way are just about the odds of a Las Vegas slot machine. They’re not really good. And what I found is that the ways we search for love really often determine the kind of love that we find.

Reed Pence: Part of the problem, Page says, is cultural, we search expecting instant attraction and if it doesn’t happen then he or she must not be the one.

Ken Page: People are presented with these kind of misty-eyed, over-romanticized images of what love looks like and what love should look like falling in love at first glance. These passionate kind of immediate experiences of just deeply falling in love and people measure themselves against these very over-romanticized notions.

Reed Pence: It’s not that falling in love head over heels doesn’t happen. It does, and Page says it can be a storybook romance.

Ken Page: But our culture teaches us that that’s the only way that real love gets found and that’s very untrue because that can happen, but that immediate head over heels experience is not the best indicator of the success of a long-term relationship. The best indicator–and this is actually really interesting–the single factor that is the greatest indicator of success and happiness in a relationship is one quality and that quality is kindness. If both partners have that quality of kindness, it’s one of the greatest forecasters of a healthy relationship. So if the two of you were falling head over heels, that’s glorious and wonderful, but be aware of who that person is and be aware of what your attraction is made of.

Reed Pence: But how do you know what your attraction is made of when you’re looking online? Today more than forty million Americans are members of online dating sites and right now through Valentine’s Day is their busiest time of the entire year. Obviously how online dating works determines the results people get.

Ken Page: I would certainly not say that it’s a bad tool, and I would say in many ways it’s an incredibly valuable tool. But I think that the road that people are led down and how they use online dating is a road that leads to a lot of unhappiness and a lot of false starts. When you were reduced to choosing the person that you’re to spend your life with maybe raise children with, share your future with, and that’s reduced down to swipe left or swipe right depending on if you are interested or not– that does end up being limiting and it ends up being limiting in a few different ways.

Reed Pence: It’s also dehumanizing when a person’s entire being is reduced to a picture, so Page says most people go online mostly with a picture in their minds their ideal of instant physical attractiveness.

Ken Page: When you’re doing online dating, because they’re such a vast multitude of people you think, well why don’t I just go for my exact scratch-the-itch physical type? Why don’t I go for the person who’s going to be it for me physically, just kind of my type? And because there are so many people you can hunt for that exact type. But what are you searching for? You’re searching for a set of cheekbones, a kind of shape of eyes, an exact physique that has nothing to do with the human being underneath that.

Reed Pence: That’s nothing like meeting somebody in person. Face-to-face you might start talking with somebody who you think isn’t quite your type.

Ken Page: But something about her makes you laugh. Something about him makes you feel warm and safe, and you start developing a sense of attraction that’s based on who the person really is. It’s very hard to make that happen in online dating because online dating guides people to ask this question: Who am I immediately most attracted to right now? We’re taught to look for the person who attracts us and then hope that they share our values and that they inspire us by who they are. Well It’s not smart to do it that way. We need to place inspiration on the same level or even a higher level than we place immediate physical attraction.

Reed Pence: Page says a good match needs to have some physical attraction, but the object of your affections doesn’t have to be a “10.” Many of the best matches are with people you might think are a five, a six, or a seven.

Ken Page: If somebody seems like they could be in the ballpark of attraction, take the next step and read what the profile has to say. If you see qualities of inspiration there, you might want to take the next step and speak to the person. But the truth is that attractions can grow that we can be attracted to people who excite us but aren’t good for us and we can also be attracted to people who excite us and are good for us. These are what I call attractions of inspiration. Those are attractions where we’re attracted to somebody because we respect who they are. We like how they treat us. We like the kind of person they’re trying to be in the world, and we like who we become when were with them. Those are the relationships that are the path to happiness.

Reed Pence: And if you have an absolutely incredible physical attraction page says it might be a reason to put up warning flags.

Ken Page: Couple’s theory teaches us the people who attract us the most intensely, the people who make us weak-kneed, often do so not just because they’re attractive, but because on some unconscious level they remind us — they have some of the most painful qualities that our primary caregivers (usually our parents) had as well. And unconsciously we feel that they are capable of hurting us in some similar ways that we’ve been hurt and we want to get them to finally love us right. Now most of this is unconscious, but God, is it compelling, and those attractions are so powerful because unconsciously we feel like if we can win this person over we’ll have healed a wound from childhood. We’ll have somehow gone back to the original scene of the crime and gotten healing.

Reed Pence: Okay now that you know what to look for in others on an online dating site how do you present yourself? If you are reduced to a picture what should it say?

Ken Page: You want pictures that make you look attractive, of course and don’t look like you’re just looking to hook up. You want pictures that make you look attractive, but are not overly seductive because that leads to a sense of distrust. But what you also want is a picture that not just makes you look good but kind of shows who you are. The kind of picture that you look at it, or your friends look at it, and they say yeah that captures you. And those are the kind of pictures that just kind of offer a little bit of a glimpse of who you really are.

Reed Pence: And then there’s your profile.

Ken Page: People think that it’s very important to write a very witty profile. Well, I can pretty much assure you that a witty profile might win some, but it’s not the key to what’s going to find you love. What does is writing a profile that really reveals who you are. That has warmth, that has vulnerability, and that has authenticity. A lot of people in their profile also give a long list of the things that they don’t want, then the things that they do want. And I really recommend that people pull back on that. There’re some definite maybes. For example, you want someone who’s not a smoker and that’s just definite and that’s really fine, but you don’t want to give a kind of list a long litany of what you’re looking for and what you’re not because that doesn’t invite people it pushes people away.

Reed Pence: But even if you avoid that temptation and seem to have found your perfect match, there’s still one very big hurdle to overcome. What Page calls the “wave of distance.” The single biggest saboteur of new love. He says most new couples go through it.

Ken Page: You meet somebody you’ve got some attraction to them and then over the next few dates you find that they are kind and decent and consistent and available and they like you back, and all of a sudden your interest plummets. They go down in value in your head, and you want to go back to the hunt. You think maybe I can do better, or you find that all of a sudden their laugh just irritates you incredibly. You find these little things that are just really frustrating and then you think well my attraction’s gone away, I better keep looking. I better not lead this person on, because that’s not going to be fair to them and you leave. But no one has told you that what you are experiencing was not the loss of attraction but the “wave” and the wave happens when we meet someone who likes us back.

Reed Pence: Page says what most people don’t know is that “the wave” is a manifestation of fear. It’s normal, and most of the time, it passes. So he says don’t run. Give it some time. And maybe think about celebrating, because if you experience “the wave,” you may have found “the one.” You can find out much more about Ken Page and his book, Deeper Dating on his website,, or through a link on our website, I’m Reed Pence.

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