Couples who meet online have marriages just as strong as those who meet in real life

We found love in an online space.
We found love in an online space.
Image: Reuters/Yiannis Kourtoglou
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Forget the complaints that internet dating has spawned a generation of flaky daters.

Couples who meet online get married sooner and break up no more often than those who meet in the real world, according to new research by a Stanford professor conducting a long-term examination of how we meet the people we love.

The findings are based on 2,669 partnered subjects from the “How Couples Meet and Stay Together” project, a longitudinal sociological National Science Foundation-funded study headed by Michael J. Rosenfeld, a social demographer at Stanford University.

Fifty percent of couples who met online and subsequently married did so within three to four years of meeting. It took more than 10 years before half of the couples who met through other means were formally hitched. (All the couples met in 2009 or earlier. “Online” here typically means relationship-focused sites like Match.com, not hook-up apps like Tinder or Grindr.)

“I was a little surprised, given that the common wisdom about internet dating is that internet dating undermines relationship stability,” Rosenfeld told Quartz. “On the other hand, my previous research suggested that couples who met online were just as stable as couples who met offline, and this continues to be true.”

Too much information can be paralyzing. But when it comes to finding a partner, the sheer mass of information and choices that online dating provides may be a positive thing. Previous research has found that married people who met online report more satisfaction with the relationship than those who met elsewhere.

The simple act of defining search criteria and selecting or rejecting matches can reinforce what’s really important in a partner. Users’ detailed questionnaires reveal potentially deal-breaking information up front (Do you want children? Do you own a gun? Do you have herpes?) that could otherwise take weeks or months of conversation to discern.

The advent of the internet hasn’t changed how often we marry or divorce. Rosenfeld doesn’t expect the rise of mobile apps like Tinder or Grindr to substantially change that. The project’s early findings indicate that fears that the flighty, swipe-left culture of mobile communications would undermine real commitment may be baseless.

“The unfounded fears would be consistent with scholarship on a long history of mostly unfounded moral panics, from plane crashes as a leading cause of death, to the supposed epidemic of cyberporn,” Rosenfeld wrote. “Nationally representative data show generally benign impact of technology on our romantic lives.”