Monday, April 2, 2012

Dating Pt. 2: Finding Your Habibi Online

Good afternoon LOVEanese! It's been a beautiful few weeks here in Beirut and throughout Lebanon, and I'm really excited for a few things. The first is my thesis. I'm pretty sure I've told everyone that I am almost done for about two months now. But now I am really almost done! I just need to finish up the edits of one chapter, then it's two short chapters left to edit, and off to the committee. So, just stay tuned for updates about it over the next few weeks!

Another announcement is that I finally set up a Google account for LOVEanon. So, if you ever want to e-mail me, do so at this address:

As you can tell from the title, I want to build on the last post about dating in Lebanon, and how hard it is to meet someone. Moreover, I'm going to cut straight to the chase. As I talked about previously, it's hard to meet someone in Lebanon because of the limited possibilities and opportunities. But...what about the Internet? Technically, it's practically limitless, and all you need to use it is a connected device and at least a hint of digital media literacy.

I've heard many anecdotes and examples of individuals who dated someone or simply met someone on the Internet--particularly through Facebook. According to many, people in Lebanon are meeting through Facebook. And regardless if they are advertising it or not, as a sociologist, this signals a few things to me. The first (as I have mentioned) is there is a lack of (public) social space available to meet people in a face-to-face location. The second is that the Internet allows access to groups or individuals who are either in their networks or outside of it; thus, unlocking new connections. Lastly, it also gives people more freedom to choose a partner (or at least a wider selection).

Yiiiii! A guy that seems interesting, from a good family, who's under 40, AND isn't already married!

While none of these may be particularly insightful, to me it raises the question: what about online dating? Now, I understand there's a lot of reservations about online dating. How do you know he/she is real? What if people talk about me or think that I can't meet someone on my own? What if he/she is a creeper? What if he or she really doesn't like me? Are we really compatible? Is their information true? Or of course, this:

If you don't know who this is, chances are you've never watched any good movies.

Truthfully, online dating has grown in popularity almost exponentially since it's inception in the 1990's in Internet chatrooms and on video dating services--at least in the United States. Most of the statistics available are quite useless to this blog because they pertain to the U.S. But this article gives a staggering graphical description of how romance has increasingly become digital (in the US):

Furthermore, Harry T. Reis--one of the individuals interviewed for the article whom also co-authored a paper I will discuss below--indicated, "Online dating is definitely a new and much needed twist on relationships. The Internet holds great promise for helping adults form healthy and supportive romantic partnerships, and those relationships are one of the best predictors of emotional and physical health."

Moreover, check out this infographic for some more cool information:

If you can't read it, just try the link

While these trends are reflexive of non-Arab populations, it still is interesting to see how things are 1. changing, and 2. becoming more mainstream/accepted. In many regards, mainstream reflects changing culture, or at least a new kind of cultural awareness or acceptance. Part of this acceptance, however, stems from our perceived understanding that dating websites and online dating is truthful and scientific.

First of all, related to the science of online dating, it is explored in-depth in this online paper. The author uses social scientific and biological scientific research to explore how the natural pathways of falling in love and mate-selection are both challenged and reinforced by online dating. Additionally, he explores if applying science to "unravel the biological basis of love [can] complement the traditional, romantic ideal of finding a 'soul-mate.'" You can read it for yourself, but the most important point to take from it is something I talked about in the post about why we love. There are certain characteristics and factors that influence our attraction to individuals--some social, some personal, some neurological/biochemical, etc.--which are often disproportionately used to mate individuals through online dating (websites) as well as potentially disrupt or change the conventional/customary modes of relationship formation and courtship. Moreover, this article discusses why it's so easy to fall in love online, and this article even purports the claim that online dating sucks for men as a whole.

The second point is related to online dating sites, their matching algorithms, and the truthfulness of their "science statements." This article and this article review a 2012 journal article by Finkel et al. which looked into the "science" that matching sites and also explored "1. whether online dating is fundamentally different from conventional offline dating and 2. whether online dating promotes better romantic outcomes than conventional offline dating" (P. 1). He and his colleagues reviewed over 400 psychological studies in their 64-page analysis of matching sites, family matchmaker sites, video/virtual dating sites, mobile dating apps, sites like Craigslist, hookup sites, infidelity sites, websites for group dates, social networking sites, and even MMORPGs (And if you think it's weird that World of Warcraft would be a good place to pick up a romantic partner, just check out this awesome infographic).

In their analysis, they determined the answers to the questions posed above as yes to the first (it is unique and different than conventional dating), and yes and no to the second (it does and does not depending on various factors). Regarding the first, they discussed how online dating offers three things conventional dating does not: access to individuals and networks which they are unlikely to encounter who they may then evaluate; (primarily computer-mediated) communication, which may make meeting new people less stressful and more comfortable); and matching (based on interests, compatibility, and pre-set criteria).

Moreover, related to the uniqueness and relevant to what I wrote about last week/Lebanon, they stated, "The ways in which online dating sites implement these three services have indeed fundamentally altered the dating landscape. In particular, online dating, which has rapidly become a pervasive means of seeking potential partners, has altered both the romantic acquaintance process and the compatibility matching process. For example, rather than meeting potential partners, getting a snapshot impression of how well one interacts with them, and then slowly learning various facts about them, online dating typically involves learning a broad range of facts about potential partners before deciding whether one wants to meet them in person. Rather than relying on the intuition of village elders, family members, or friends, or to select which pairs of unacquainted singles will be especially compatible, certain forms of online dating involve placing one’s romantic fate in the hands of a mathematical matching algorithm" (P. 1).

You can read more about their study by downloading it here, but the most important things to take from it are these two. The first is online dating encourages the idea of a "soulmate." While these may exist (and I don't want to get into an existential argument of whether they do or do not), to quote an article from Digital Trends:

"According to the authors, the soul-mate idea pushed onto users by various online dating sites can have a negative impact on romantic relationships. By encouraging users to find that perfect match, websites promote a seed of thought associated with relationship dysfunction: "[Finkel et al. (2012) indicate,] Indeed, people with strong beliefs in romantic destiny (sometimes called soul-mate beliefs)–-that a relationship between two people either is or is not "meant to be"--are especially likely to exit a romantic relationship when problems arise." The authors assert that the long-term, healthy relationship emerges from overcoming challenges."

And now time for some nice pictures to distract you, yet still be relevant to the topic. Here's one for the hopeless romantic.

One for the cynic.

One for dog lovers.

Annnnd one for Tales of Mere Existence lovers.

The second that was mentioned included the authenticity of these "science-based" algorithm matches. Many of the problems with dating sites is that they claim their algorithms for matching individuals is not just accurate, but scientific as well. However, according to the authors, "If dating sites want to claim that their matching algorithm is scientifically valid, they need to adhere to the standards of science, which is something they have uniformly failed to date, there is no compelling evidence that any online dating matching algorithm actually works" (citation from here). These standards of science include their research methods, statistical analyses, and independent replication. Moreover, in saying this, these sites are exercising deceptive advertising related to these scientific claims and their consumer's testimonials--especially if they are fee-based and charge users for their services. As the author in the Digital Trends article wrote, "In addition, the authors point out that the algorithms focus on short-term versus long term, and fails to take into account how partners grow and mature over time or life circumstances that could help or hurt the relationship." On a contrary note, however, Amy Webb in a TED talk humorously points out that the algorithms worked fine for her, but in fact, it was her data that the algorithm was using that was providing inadequate matches. After some meticulous data crunching, she discovered the "formula" that allowed her to crack the "code" of online dating.

Other studies exist regarding online dating as well (and Finkel et al. provides a great review). For instance, Anderson (2005) found that those who were more computer-savvy and spent more time online had a more favorable/positive perception of online romances/romantic relationships. Additionally, online dating tends to be dominated by individuals above the age of 30 (e.g., Valkenburg and Peter, 2007) and a disproportionate male-to-female ratio (more women than men) (Finkel et al., 2012), which can lead to demographic inequalities among younger individuals looking for a romantic partner, especially women. Also, research has shown that deception is a very common tool used by participants in online dating, although many of the individuals that Toma, Hancock, and Ellison (2008) interviewed indicated that this deception is subtle and small (e.g., not a lie per se such as they look like someone they are not, but there were small "adjustments" to their actual age, height, or weight--as the infographic above demonstrated--or a photo that was chosen that either presents them in their best light, or ones that had been edited). They often did not include deceptive information about relationship information and status as well as children. Lastly, Baker (2002) found individuals who "first met in places based upon common interests, who communicated for long periods of time before meeting offline without too much intimacy, who worked through barriers to becoming closer, and who negotiated conflict well" tended to stay together if they met online. This points to four factors that she indicated often determine if an online romance will persist: (1) Meeting place (where they first encountered each other online); (2) Obstacles, barriers to getting together overcome by the couples (e.g., distance and previous relationships); (3) timing (the period spent writing or talking before meeting offline, and how intimate they became before meeting offline); and (4) Conflict resolution (the ability of the people to resolve problems in communication). Of course, cross-cultural variations in perceptions, attitudes, and experiences differ as well (e.g., Yum and Hara, 2006).

SO... I know that was a lot, I just wanted to establish that online dating isn't some stupid topic. It's a multi-million dollar industry that has been thoroughly researched, and is really influencing many people's lives. Yet, it is also a double-edged sword because of the fact that it's a business model. Furthermore, it may even be challenging monogamy and the entire dating/courtship model, in part, by providing unlimited access to new, potential partners. For instance, according to the same article,

"Indeed, the profit models of many online-dating sites are at cross-purposes with clients who are trying to develop long-term commitments. A permanently paired-off dater, after all, means a lost revenue stream. Explaining the mentality of a typical dating-site executive, Justin Parfitt, a dating entrepreneur based in San Francisco, puts the matter bluntly: “They’re thinking, Let’s keep this fucker coming back to the site as often as we can.” For instance, long after their accounts become inactive on and some other sites, lapsed users receive notifications informing them that wonderful people are browsing their profiles and are eager to chat. “Most of our users are return customers,” says’s Blatt."

I don't want to make the judgement that you should or shouldn't use them, you have to do that for yourself. But you can make more informed judgements about what to use. And this is exactly what I would like to do now: offer a little bit about some dating websites, and my mini-analysis of them.

First of all, if you aren't interested in a dating-site per se and you want to stick to Facebook, this website reviews a cool Facebook application called Yoke. It's a cool app that actually uses your existing data and the data from your friends and their friends to suggest individuals to you that matches your own interests. So, although it might be weird to meet someone online, if they have a common friend with you, they can set you up, put in a good word for you, or give you/them credible advice about you/that person. AND the best part is even if you aren't looking, you can suggest individuals to friends/play matchmaker. Check it out, and the article that reviews it.

Other options other than matching sites are three that are listed here. Check them out as well, but bear in mind they may not all be available for individuals here in Lebanon.

With all of that said, here's the review of some dating sites I either know or found:

General online dating sites:

These three sites are definitely the most professional (e.g., maintained, aesthetically pleasing, good website coding, etc.) but also the most general. These are all connected to social media such as Facebook and Twitter as well.

1. My rating: 4/5. Their algorithm is incredible, and has gotten a lot more powerful over time. The questions posed and among of information you can write really provides an interesting cross-section of someone's personality. The fact that it is a free service and they publish studies about the data is fascinating as well.

Here is what I originally said about OKC: "I actually used to be on OKCupid to advertise my blog and because I wanted to check it out. Somethings I liked about it is the ease of use, the really nice fonts and colors, the settings and mobile apps that are available, and the fact that it is free. In fact, the founder of OKC wrote an extensive blog post about why you should never pay for online dating. I also like how they are really respectful of alternative lifestyles. The best part? It's available and up-and-running in Lebanon! However, I'm not sure how many people are actually using it to find a date."

2. My rating: 4/5. I originally give it a 2.5 because it doesn't actually work in Lebanon, and I've never used it/knew of someone using it. However, it's actually the most popular site in the USA according to a Pew poll, is often used to find a romantic (read: not solely sexual) partner, and something really cool about it is that, according to this article, biological anthropologist and noted TED speaker Dr. Helen Fischer, PhD.--who I talked about in this post--is the "Chief Scientific Officer." This is quite significant since she's considered to be an incredibly reliable and respected source on relationship science.

3. My rating: 4/5. eHarmony loses points for me because of the "science" they purport in their advertising as well as the fact that it isn't as open to alternative lifestyles as other sites. It's definitely the most controlling, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. You have to be 21 or older to use it, but aside from the cool personality profile, it's also fee-based. Additionally, I'm not sure if it's available in Lebanon, however, there are many international variations of the site. I've heard of a lot of couples, though, who have met because of it, so check it out if you have some extra money. And since it is a fee-based site, my general impression is that it attracts more people who are serious about meeting someone to be committed to, as opposed to just attracting people who are looking for a good time (which is a bit more like OkCupid). This fee kind of "filters out" those who aren't very serious about dating, and this is the one I recommend if you're really interested in meeting someone online, and a friend and his wife are married now because they met through eHarmony.

4. (N/A). I haven't ever used it or checked it out, but a lot of people use it. Any thoughts?

Arab-specific dating services:

There are a few services out there to connect Arab individuals together, no matter what your religion is. Here are a few:

1. My rating: 3/5. It's actually pretty well-done, though not the best. It allows you to search for individuals based on their age, gender, as well as specific Arab ancestry which is pretty cool. And they have pages specifically for different countries (like Lebanon). There's also an "advice doctor" that acts as an Arab relationship guru people can discuss issues with. On their homepage, they indicate that they are VeriSigned Secured, and it's free as well. It's offered in different languages, and also includes a lot of "about us" links and information at the bottom. They lose points to me because it's not as aesthetically pleasing as you would have wanted it to be. Still, this only affects their perceived credibility, not their actual credibility.

2. My rating: 3/5. Like with the previous site, it's actually not a bad site. It asks about where you would like to meet someone (e.g., if you are in the US, etc.), but doesn't ask for you to specify which ancestry you are looking for. However, it most likely will match you based on your religion and ethnicity. The biggest place it loses points for though is that the full service is not free. It seems fairly well-done as well, but I could not access the profile pages without signing up.

3. My rating: 2/5. It's free, but really not done too well to the point where I doubt its credibility. I also think it's connected to the previous site (A2A) by the same parent company.

4. My rating: 2/5. It's not very well-done or pretty at all, which in my opinion affects its credibility. But they are also free, and funded by donations which is pretty cool. It's more of a dating classifies site than a matching site as well.

5. My rating: 3/5. I really like that 1. it's free, 2. it's actually quite professional, 3. they have a link regarding online safety, and 4. they are VeriSigned approved. Also, they have links to Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, it's not really a matching site, however it might match if you sign up.

So, there you go, it's a start. Let me know what you think of these sites or if you know of any other good sites/resources. Also, let me know what you think of online dating in general, or if there's anything else I can do/talk about to shed more light on this topic. Did it work for you or a friend? Let's talk about this!

Do a little dating, and spread the love,

P.S. Really interesting update. On Oct. 20, 2013, a Pew Study among a sample of 2,252 American adults found that, although online dating is growing in popularity, negative experiences are "relatively" common. According to the study, "More than 1/2 of online daters say they believe someone else "seriously misrepresented themselves" in an online dating profile, and more than a 1/4 have felt uncomfortable or harassed by someone who contacted them." Moreover, "29% say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone they met online, 46% of people who use online dating sites say finding someone long-term is a major reason they use the sites, and 1/4, on the other hand, "just want to have fun without being in a serious relationship."" Whether this has larger implications for the rest of the world, however, is still very much open for debate.

P.P.S. Don't forget Tinder and Grindr.


Anderson, Traci L. 2005. "Relationships among Internet Attitudes, Internet Use, Romantic Beliefs, and Perceptions of Online Romantic Relationships." Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 8(6): 521-531.

Baker, Andrea. 2002. "What Makes an Online Relationship Successful? Clues from Couples who Met in Cyberspace." Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 5(4): 363-75.

Finkel, Eli J., Paul W. Eastwick, Benjamin R. Karney, Harry T. Reis, and Susan Sprecher. 2012. "Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science." Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(1): 3-66.

Toma, Catalina L., Jeffrey T. Hancock, and Nicole B. Ellison. 2008. "Separating Fact From Fiction: An Examination of Deceptive Self-Presentation in Online Dating Profiles." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(8): 1023-1036.

Valkenburg, Patti M., and Jochen Peter. 2007. "Who Visits Online Dating Sites? Exploring Some Characteristics of Online Daters." Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 10(6): 849-852.

Yum, Young-ok, and Kazuya Hara. 2006. "Computer-Mediated Relationship Development: A Cross-Cultural Comparison." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11: 133-152.