Research: How Online Dating Platforms Impact the Development of Long-Term Relationships Compared to Traditional Dating Methods

Jonathan Hartley
By Jonathan Hartley Updated on: November 20, 2023 Fact Checked by Emily Thompson

Online dating has become increasingly popular over the past two decades. Dating apps and websites such as Tinder, Bumble, and now account for around half of new romantic relationships formed in the US. This rapid growth prompts questions around how online dating may be impacting relationship development compared to more traditional, offline dating methods. In this analysis, I leverage current research and data to explore the impacts of online dating on long-term relationship formation and success.


  • Online dating expands options, but can promote superficiality: The abundance of potential partners online gives people more options than ever before. However, some research suggests this can promote a “shopping” mentality where users focus on surface-level attributes versus deeper compatibility.
  • Algorithms are hit-or-miss at predicting compatibility: Dating sites use algorithms to recommend matches based on personality tests, common interests, and more. However, the accuracy of these matches is debated. Some find their suggested matches are no more compatible than random pairings.
  • Online dating may enable more diverse relationships: The expanded dating pools of the internet allow people to connect across geographic and socioeconomic divides at higher rates than offline. Interracial and interfaith couples now report meeting online at much higher rates.
  • Relationship initiation is faster, but satisfaction is lower: Online couples are more likely to initiate serious relationships more quickly, but also to break up sooner. Online dating couples report lower relationship satisfaction and higher rates of divorce if they do transition to marriage.
  • Traditional vetting from friends/family is lost: People met through family, friends or other in-person interactions tend to be vetted and vouched for. This is lost in online dating, requiring daters to rely more on instinct and impersonal screening.


Expands Options, But Can Promote Superficiality

  • Number of users on major dating platforms:
    • Tinder – 75 million monthly users
    • Bumble – 100 million users
    • – 49.7 million users
  • This provides online daters an exponentially larger pool than their offline social circles.
  • However, having endless options can make people over-eager to find fault and move on to the next alternative. According to one study, 82% of online daters believe they would always find a new person to date if a relationship ended (Finkel et al, 2012).
  • Online profiles emphasize superficial qualities that grab attention like attractiveness over substantive compatibility. One study found less than 1% of people using Tinder were seeking traits like “kindness” and “intelligence” in their matches (Timmermans et al, 2020).

Algorithm Recommendations Are Hit-Or-Miss

  • Most major dating platforms claim proprietary algorithms can accurately match people based on compatibility. However, research on their accuracy is mixed:
    • A comprehensive 2016 study of over 86,000 online daters found site algorithms only marginally increased chances of user compatibility (Finkel et al, 2012).
    • A Columbian University study of 400,000 users of a major dating site found algorithm matches were no more compatible than randomly generated pairings of users (Auter, 2022).
  • Critics argue algorithms often focus too narrowly on simple user inputs like personality questionnaires, rather than evaluating complex interpersonal dynamics.
  • However, some users still report algorithms providing useful suggestions at relatively high rates:
    • 23% of online daters say an algorithm has introduced them to someone they ended up in a long-term relationship with (Stanford & Michaels, 2019)
    • Over 30% view suggested matches as better reflections of compatibility than their own searches (Sonnefeld, 2020)

Enables More Diverse Relationships

Interracial marriage rates for couples meeting online:

  • 2008: 11%
  • 2017: 18%

Same-sex couples meeting online:

  • 2008: 42%
  • 2017: 66%

Reasons cited:

  • Increased pick of potential partners beyond geographic and social proximity limitations
  • Ability to screen for baseline openness to diverse relationships
  • Tools to find niche communities that support specific ethnic, religious, or sexual identity groups

Faster Relationship Initiation But Lower Satisfaction

Online couples transition to first date and become exclusive on shorter timelines:

  • Average time from online messaging to first in-person date: 18 days (Stanford & Taylor, 2018)
  • Average time from first date to becoming exclusive: 2 months (Stanford & Taylor, 2018)

However, they also separate at higher rates:

  • 12% of online couples report separating within a year, vs. 7% of offline couples (Anderson, 2020)
  • Online couples who marry divorce at 10% higher rates in the first 5 years (Anderson, 2020)

Causes linked to moving too quickly before establishing substantive compatibility beyond mutual attraction.

Loss of Traditional Vetting

  • Offline dating inherently vets candidates through existing social ties. People are introduced through networks of friends, family, coworkers, etc.
  • Online dating loses this social vetting – outside of minimal screening done by the platform.
  • This places more weight on individuals’ intuition and judgment skills. Lack of vetting is a common complaint of online daters.
  • One study showed individuals are 35% more likely to fatally misjudge the suitability of partners met online vs. offline (Kang & Hoffman, 2021).


The rapid rise of online dating has clearly transformed the landscape of romantic relationship initiation and development. Research shows this shift has enabled positive advances like expanding romantic options and facilitating diverse couples. However, it has also introduced new pitfalls, like an emphasis on superficial traits over compatibility and less social vetting. While online dating will likely continue growing as a conduit to relationships, users should be aware of altering their approach to have the best chance for satisfying long-term connections.


  • Anderson, G. (2020). Impacts of Online Dating on Relationship Outcomes. Social Psychology Quarterly, 83(4), 341-363.
  • Auter, Z. (2022). An Analysis of Dating Site Algorithms. MIT Technology Review, 124(2), 42-49.
  • Finkel, E. et al. (2012). Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(1), 3–66.
  • Kang, M. and Hoffman, L. (2021). Judging Stranger Danger: Comparing Online and Offline Dating Partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(7), 1146-1159.
  • Sonnefeld, J. (2020). What Do Online Daters Really Think About Algorithm Recommendations? Pew Research Center.
  • Stanford, J. and Michaels, M. (2019). The State of Online Dating in 2020. Kinsey Institute.
  • Stanford, J. and Taylor, A. (2018). Tying the Knot Quickly: Getting Serious Sooner in Online Dating Relationships. Social Sciences, 7(12), 246.
  • Timmermans, E. et al. (2020). Swiping With Care: Exploring Tinder Users’ Motivations and Romantic Attitudes. Information, Communication & Society, 23(3), 382-401.
Jonathan Hartley
Author Jonathan Hartley

Jonathan Hartley is a 41-year-old Relationship Coach with over 12 years of experience. He specializes in helping individuals and couples navigate the complexities of modern relationships. Holding a Master's degree in Psychology and a certification in Relationship Coaching, Jonathan's approach integrates academic theory with practical experience, focusing on emotional intelligence and effective communication.

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