Media outlets nationwide flooded the news this weekend with stories about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his fake online girlfriend.
According to a Chadwick Martin Bailey study conducted in April 2010, Te’o is not alone. One out of every five singles in the U.S. has dated someone he or she met online.
“I know many people who have found relationships on online dating sites,” said Taylor Bland, a freshman psychology major in the College of Arts & Sciences. “One of my family members has been very successful with it.”
In Match.com’s April 2012 research study, online dating came in third among the most popular ways for singles to meet, behind work and a friend or family member.
Despite the prevalence of online dating, Dr. Benjamin Rader, a clinical psychologist and professor at Mount Mary University, advises against it.
“Many people portray themselves differently online,” he said. “We all want to be desirable and have things under our control.”
He said in an age where depressing things fill the media, singles and youth turn to online relationships for instant gratification.
“I found in my patients that they feel like an online relationship is risk-free because they can’t reject you,” he said. “But they don’t know that many times people only show their good sides, or are not a person at all.”
Dr. Don Ferguson, who owns a private practice near Madison, specializes in relationship psychology and said relationships have more to do with brain chemistry than most people realize.
“It is a real concern for psychologists when they hear that someone is forming a relationship online,” he said. “There is nothing like talking face-to-face with a person … When we talk to someone face-to-face or look them in the eye, we metabolize sugars differently and our heart rate changes.”
Ferguson, along with other researchers in his practice, conducted an experiment by placing a cell phone in between two people sitting at a table to examine its effects on conversation.
“According to our developed brain devices, we found that just by placing the cell phone on the table, the two subjects had a reduced connection,” he said.
Rader said psychologists have changed the way they work because society’s view of a relationship has so drastically changed.
“We now have to develop a new approach to have young adults cope with these methods,” he said. “Now, instead of asking a patient about a person’s nonverbal, we may have to ask if they sent a emoticon or not.”
Bland said in her past experiences, online relationships can cause someone to misinterpret messages or the author’s intent.
“I find that many of my friends send smiley faces or put exclamation points at the end of sentences so they know the other person won’t take something the wrong way,” she said.
Bland believes the success of her family member’s online dating relationship has a lot to do with her age.
“I think circumstances completely change once a person reaches a certain point in their life,” she said. “That’s why I think online relationships are more successful with older people rather than the youth – they are more trustworthy.”
Ferguson said his biggest advice for online daters is to be cautious.
“Make sure you want to have this relationship and be safe about it,” he said.