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 take the wrong approach when seeking a good match online, and discusses how they can better their odds of finding true love.


  • 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 Psychology 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 a half of American adults are single – but they’re still looking for love – Especially now, as Valentines 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.

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.

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

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.

Page: The choice of a life partner, 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 skillset 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 the odds of approaching a 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, the ways we search for love really determine the kind of love we find.

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.”

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 sort of immediate experiences of just deeply falling in love and people measure themselves against these kind of over romanticized notions.

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.

Page: But, our culture teaches us that that’s the only way 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 indication, 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 of over heels, that’s glorious and wonderful, but be aware of who that person is, be aware of what your attraction is made of.

Pence: But how do you know what you attraction is made of when you’re looking online? Today, more than 40 million Americans are members of online dating sites and right now through Valentines Day is their busiest time of the entire year. Obviously how online dating works determines the results people get.

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 are reduced to choosing the person you’re going to spend your life with, maybe raise children with, share your future with and that’s reduced to “swipe left of swipe right” depending on if you are interested or not – that does end up being limiting and that ends up being limiting in a few different ways.

Pence: Its also dehumanizing, a persons 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.

Page: When you’re doing online dating, because there’s 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.” 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 yes, and exact physique that has nothing to do with the human being underneath that.

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.
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.

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 5 or a 6 or a 7.

Page: If somebody seems like they can be in the ballpark of attraction, take the next step and really 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 trust is that attractions can grow, if 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 we’re with them. Those are the relationships that are the path to happiness.

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

Page: Couples theory teaches us that 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 care givers, like 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 the wound from childhood – we’ll have somehow gone back to the original scene of the crime and gotten healing.

Pence: OK, 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 pictures, what should it say?

Page: You want a picture that makes you look attractive of course and don’t look like you’re just looking to hookup. 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 glint of who you are.

Pence: And then there’s your profile.

Page: People think that its 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 than the things that they do want and I really recommend that people pull back on that. There’s some definites, maybe for example you want someone who’s not a smoker and that’s just definite and that’s fine, but you don’t want to give a long litany of what you’re looking for and what you’re not – because that doesn’t invite people, it pushes people away.

Pence: But even if you avoid that temptation and seemed 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.

Page: You meet somebody, you’ve got some attraction to him or her 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, thinking, “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 attractions gone away I better keep looking. I better not lead this person on cuz that’s not gonna be fair to them,” and you leave. But no one has told you that what you were experiencing was not the loss of attraction but the wave, and the wave happens when we meet someone who likes us back.

Pence: Page says what most people don’t know 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: Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy,” on his website Or through a link on our website I’m Reed Pence.


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