Special Segment: Dating Disconnect

November 13, 2011 8:33:34 PM PST
Many people start with a list of the ideal characteristics they want in a romantic partner, but daters may not always be giving their potential ''best fit'' a chance.

Daters at a recent singles party in Lakeview said finding the right match can be tough.

"Even if you don't meet the man of your dreams or whatever, it's nice to meet people," said dater Jennifer Brown.

"Dating's scary, dating's hard," said Jill Jackson, who runs Mingle Around, a company that sets up mixers for singles. Her company just threw a Nuts and Bolts party, where daters try to find a set that matches and spark a conversation.

"You actually get to see right away if there's chemistry. Chemistry is not something that you can feel online," Jackson said.

Professor Eli Finkel runs the Northwestern University Relationship Laboratory. In new research, his team found that there's actually a disconnect between what people say they want in a partner and the qualities that they actually find attractive.

"Those things that we tend to prioritize when we meet somebody on a profile are not the same things that appeal to us when we meet face to face," Finkel said. "When you are dating online, you browse these profiles and you're sitting there at your computer evaluating whether this person is acceptable to you or not; in person, it's a much more complex interaction."

For the study, Finkel and his team first asked participants to rate what qualities they value in a romantic partner using different descriptions of physical attractiveness. Then, they used a computer program to measure how quickly participants said they liked the same qualities to measure "gut level reaction."

They found that the "gut level" factors actually predicted what you preferred in a partner, and the qualities that daters prioritized up front didn't reflect what they really wanted when meeting face to face.

"I think online dating is making a mistake. The industry as a whole is making a mistake to emphasize profiles as strongly as they do," Finkel said. "It's this hyper rational shopping list approach to who the right person is for you."

Sophia Young, who runs Matchmakers Chicago, she says she meets with all of her clients to find out what they really want, rather than just asking for a laundry list of traits.

"You have to be able to have someone look you in the eyes and have a connection, so you really understand where they're coming from. Obviously with online you don't get that," Young said.

Chicago-based personal trainer Robert Kim says he finds that the people he meets online are often totally different in person.

"When you meet somebody in person, you kind of feed off somebody's energy and vibe," Kim said.

So many singles are turning to speed dating, matchmakers or just finding ways to meet people in person to figure out the best way to evaluate a match.

"Dating is frustrating, it can be drudgery but you know what, it takes time, and when you meet that guy or that girl then it makes it all worthwhile," Young said.

A spokesman for popular online dating site Match.com told ABC7 that profiles are a "great way for singles to represent themselves," but the site's matching formula does take into account that sometimes what people say they want is different than what they actually do on the site.

Even though Finkel thinks online dating sites could be designed more effectively, he does acknowledge that they are an efficient way to meet a lot of people.