Why Online Dating Is Weird And Unnatural And Doesn’t Work (Updated For 2021)

Based on the most recent data, one-third of Americans have used a dating app at some point. Previous data showed that 19% of all internet users are using some type of online dating. So, many people are familiar with the various apps and sites, which include Tinder, Bumble, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, and others.

But, a lot of people also are disillusioned with online dating and often say it just “feels weird.” Others put it more bluntly: online dating is bad and it sucks. This is the common feedback I get from clients and friends.

Well, one analysis in 2020 found that online dating app users were different from non-users: they were more likely to use illegal drugs, have less self-control, abuse alcohol, and engage in sexually deceptive behavior.

And, some research suggests a third of people using online dating haven’t even gotten a date! Only 39% of users have used online dating to get into a relationship. For Tinder, one analysis found 70% of people never have gone on a date and most people use the app for attention and to waste time.

And, the quality of relationships derived from online dating seems to be lower. Research shows that people who met online are more likely to break up in the first year and they are three times more likely to get divorced if they get married.

So, I’m not making it up when I say online dating doesn’t work for a lot of people. And, I think the reason is that it takes a complex process that evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and tries to do it in a very limited and modern way. So, to put it more simply: it’s unnatural.

Here are the reasons why online dating is unnatural.

Online Dating Is Too Logical And Conscious

woman hand up stopAttraction is highly emotional. We decide whom we like in the older parts of our brains, the emotional centers (often called “the limbic system”). We have a saying “attraction is not a choice,” which means you can’t intellectually “think” your way into (or out of) attraction. You can choose whom you date and your actions resulting from attraction, but you can’t choose attraction.

Because of this, a lot of our attraction preferences are outside our conscious awareness. The newer and logical parts of our brains simply aren’t involved in attraction.

So you may be attracted to muscular guys with deep voices, or your boss, and not even fully know why. You may have convinced yourself you like your boss because he’s into Harry Potter and other common interests, but in reality you are attracted to him because women typically are attracted to men in power. Because, if you think about it, you aren’t attracted to five of your co-workers who also have multiple common interests.

But, when you go online to look for a guy, you think logically, so you swipe right on the guys who share common interests. And, you end up going on bad dates with guys more like your five co-workers than your boss. Why? Because online dating encourages logical and conscious choices and doesn’t allow for the more subconscious and emotional factors to play out.

Since online dating is logical, it also means you may have swiped left (rejected) on guys you would have felt something for had you met in person (like your boss).

Yes, online dating is taking something largely emotional and subconscious and making it logical and conscious, and it’s no wonder so many people aren’t happy!

In the video below I tell a story that shows just how ridiculous it would be to approach real-world dating the way we do online.

Charisma Matters

Charisma is important in assessing attraction. Charisma can be thought of as presence, warmth, and power. This is very hard, if not impossible, to assess online, and even harder from a few photos and a brief bio (if you are even screening for that at all). So, dating apps simply can’t reasonably determine if that person you’re evaluating is charismatic.

But, charisma does matter. Many of our female clients describe crushing on guys who have a lot of charisma. These guys have a presence about them, a personal confidence, and also have a great sense of humor. These are guys many women would likely swipe left on (or pre-screen based on filters) on dating apps.

While women find personality and charisma more attractive than men do (men assess attraction more visually), we guys still find more women attractive in person than online simply due to presence. For example, I have liked women in person I know I wouldn’t “like” online. They have had a certain presence and flirtatiousness that could never be conveyed online.

Smell Matters

woman with phone on train at night textingYou may not know it, but scent is critical for human attraction. While there is debate whether humans have or respond to pheromones (basically love chemicals that some animals clearly have), smell still seems to play an important role in attraction and compatibility, and it’s largely outside of our conscious awareness.

For example, in one study women rated men with attractive faces as healthier, sexier, and more attractive not by seeing their actual faces, but simply from their smell! And research shows women may have a keener sense of smell than men, so smell is even more important for women when evaluating attractiveness.

Obviously online dating eliminates this component of compatibility entirely, although there are some services out there that apparently will match you based on the clothing samples men have worn.

Personality Matters

This overlaps with charisma, but includes other factors like kindness, attitude, intelligence, and even woman smelling red flowerquirkiness or something unique that just pulls you to that person. You can kind of figure out personality from a dating profile, but it’s challenging and not accurate. Why? Because in person you’re evaluating personality from more than just words; you’re likely picking up a vibe from a person’s mannerisms and body language, impossible to gauge accurately online.

Also, comments that might come across as quirky and even fun in real life often come across as weird or creepy on a profile.

Online dating sites try to assess personality, but I believe that they miss the point. Answering a bunch of questions (as OK Cupid does to determine a percentage of “compatibility”) more reflects the output of your logical brain, than your actual personality.

As with charisma, conveying your actual personality (and assessing someone else’s) online is almost impossible.

Rapport (And Time) Matter

The biggest issue with online dating is that a true connection requires rapport. Despite the surge of online dating’s popularity, only 39% of couples met online (warning: pdf), with more people still meeting in real life.

couple kissing in front of sunsetI believe this is because rapport is often necessary for a connection to develop. The way most people build rapport is by spending time together, although I do believe it can be built more quickly, but that’s not very common. Rapport is necessary as a kind of “gut feeling” way to assess if someone is safe and right for you.

This is why a lot of women ultimately fall for co-workers, classmates, friends, or celebrities (even though the rapport is one-sided here, it is still felt). If they saw these same guys on a dating app or even were approached by them at a club, most women would reject them.

Women in particular need to feel some comfort with a guy before they will give them a chance romantically. There are evolutionary reasons I won’t get into here, but let’s just say that if you don’t feel some type of safety with a guy you’re less likely to feel attraction.

You simply can’t build rapport and connection online from a profile and a few photos. If you could spend some time with some of those people you’re swiping left on, you’d probably feel attraction. But, online dating doesn’t allow it.

We Really Don’t Know What We Want Online

When sorting online, we think things matter that really don’t. For example, since companies allow us to sort by things like height, body type, income, politics, common interests, distance, and age, we think these are important. In reality, while they matter to a degree generally (most 20-somethings aren’t looking to date 70-somethings, but this can happen too), strict exact numbers might be getting in the way of a real love connection.

man in suit holding phoneIn real life, we treat people as a unified package. Most love connections happen, as I mentioned above, based on subconscious emotional factors that create chemistry. So, you feel that chemistry for your kind and cute co-worker, so you’ll overlook the fact that he may have different common interests or not be as tall as you like. However, online he’s not treated as a whole person, but as a composite of traits and checklists.

That doesn’t sound very human does it? Because it’s not! And this might explain why a lot of people, women in particular, are very picky online, swiping right on only 4.5% of guys (data within full study) and rating 85% of guys unattractive (men swipe right over 60% of the time and rate the same percentage of women as attractive). However, this is online. This clearly shows that it is nearly impossible to realistically evaluate someone online, unless we truly believe that only 15% of guys are dateable.

And, you may not even know what you’re sorting for. So, the professor you had a crush on might have been older than you estimated, or shorter (since research shows people rate professors and other guys with status as taller). So, ironically, the guy you like more than anything might be outside your age and height filters online!

In conclusion, I can only imagine what would have happened to classic romances throughout history if they had begun online. The reality is they likely wouldn’t have begun at all. And, this may explain why even though you’re pickier than ever, on more apps than before, and going on more dates, you’re not meeting the right person. It may also explain why you can’t seem to ever find the quality person you’re looking for online, even though you see a lot of quality people around you every day.


The man with piercing eye contact who walks into your work like he owns the place, whom you couldn’t stop thinking about…he’s filtered because he was too old.

The flirtatious and fun woman who you fantasize about daily…she’s filtered because her body type isn’t athletic.

The strangely funny and nerdy guy you see at Starbucks every morning…you swiped left because he doesn’t take good photos.

The cute and nice girl you see on the subway every day…you didn’t even see her because she’s outside your distance range of 20 miles.

So, the reason you can’t find the love of your life online is that the very medium itself isn’t equipped for the task of finding love.

About the Author

David Bennett

David Bennett

David Bennett is a relationship expert, and has been a dating and relationship coach for over 8 years. He is listed in the top ten personal coaches for 2019, and is the author of seven self-help books. He has been featured in over 400 publications and other media appearances, including The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Men's Health, Bustle, Prevention, and Woman's Day.

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