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Characteristics of Couples Who Meet Online

One of the temptations of single people today is to go online hunting for the perfect spouse.  I would caution you on this practice.  It is much better to meet a future spouse through your friend and relative network, to have people you trust vouch for this new person.  When you meet someone online you are taking a huge risk.  Below are some of the characteristics of online couples I’ve met that come to see me for marital therapy.

If you are single, I share these to help you fight the temptation to find your future spouse in this way.  Just because the technology is there doesn’t mean it should be used!  Stay away.  Stay far, far away!

If you are married and met your spouse online, I share these characteristics, so that you can see you are going to have to be very deliberate in your relationship in order to make the marriage work.  With these kinds of risks online couples are going to need a lot of tender loving care in order to overcome these obstacles.  Think of a couple that marries at 17 years of age.  We could argue against it for many reasons and many of them will NOT last.  Nevertheless, these couples are going to have unique struggles.   With a little guidance from someone like me and some serious effort on their part, some of them will make it.  But, it’s going to take some work.

Couples who meet online tend to have unrealistic expectations: Hunting for a spouse online creates a fantasy that can never be fulfilled.  You are NOT God.  Please.  Finding someone online is a ruse, like the Wizard of Oz behind all his gizmos: smoke and mirrors.  If you are gullible to believe that you can find Mr. or Mrs. Right by surfing the Internet, then your expectations are through the roof and you will instead have a difficult time keep your commitment when your hopes and dreams are not met.  There isn’t anyone THAT good out there.  We all have feet of clay.  People who meet online often believe they will get along since they met their “soul-mate” and they had all these commonalities on the personality profiles on the various web sites.  We agree on all of these things so we should really get along.

These personality profiles and interest lists are based on the false assumption that we need to be compatible.  eHarmony and even advertise their ability to “match” you with your perfect someone.  This idea of “compatibility” is the modern version of the snake charmer and just as phony.  Take your eye off the snake and it’ll bite you.  Compatibility as a standard of marital readiness or rightness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Certainly there are few non-negotiables you should have when you marry, such as you should agree on your religion, children, money and purpose in life.   But you don’t need a computer survey to figure that out.  You aren’t dumb.

You aren’t going to marry someone too much smarter than you: you’d feel inferior.

You aren’t going to marry someone too much dumber than you: you wouldn’t respect him.

You aren’t going to marry someone too much like you: that would be boring.

You aren’t going to marry someone too much different than you: that would be creepy.

So we marry someone in our comfort zone.  Period.  Everyone does that.  No one’s making you marry anyone.  It’s not compatibility.  That’s a given.  The same people who say we’re so compatible are the same people who later use it as an excuse (we’re so incompatible) to divorce!

These unrealistic expectations lead to the second problem:

They tend to fight a lot. This seems counter intuitive: if we agree on all these issues and have similar views on all these important things, we should really be fine, right?  This is not necessarily the case.  Remember the common folk wisdom that if two people are too much alike they bump heads?  We often say this about a parent and child who have similar personalities: “Oh, the reason they fight is because they are too much alike.”  This folk wisdom is much more accurate than the notion of compatibility.  Compatibility suggests that if we don’t agree there must be something wrong.

This is decidedly not the case: that we disagree is one of the major strengths of marriage.  We agree on certain things and disagree on other things.  It is good to disagree.  You aren’t dumb.  If you were, I wouldn’t have married you.  I’m not dumb.  If I was you wouldn’t’ have married me.  Marriage is the pooling of wisdom.  We are two different people with two different personalities and backgrounds and genders and proclivities and tendencies, so by definition we aren’t going to agree on everything.  So if two people who meet arbitrarily online have the misconception that compatibility is the measure of marital success, they will soon be highly freaked out by the number of their differences.  How can we still disagree?  We took all those surveys?

Marital researchers have rejected personality theory and compatibility as a predictor of marital health 20-30 years ago.  It didn’t hold water.  Couples who enjoyed their marriages disagreed about the same number of things as couples who didn’t enjoy their marriages.  What do you know?  So researchers now are emphasizing how the couples interact.  How a couple handles their disagreements predicts how they will end up, not how compatible they are.

I’ve noticed that many online couples are pretty volatile.  They don’t just have spats, but have really explosive anger.  I think these dashed expectations are part of the explanation.

Online couples tend to not trust each other. This common characteristic of online couples isn’t so universal as the first two above, but I’ve seen it at a very high rate, higher than with other couples I work with who met by more conventional methods.  My theory is that it’s the same dynamic that is going on with cohabiting couples.  A common theory of why cohabiting couples tend to break up at higher rates than couples who waited to live together until after they were married is that they wouldn’t have cohabited in the first place unless they were more likely to be involved in risky behavior.  If someone is willing to cohabit without marrying, they have lower regard to commitment in the first place, since, if they held marriage in high regard, they would have waited to marry.  Cohabiters, then, tend to be more apt to break up when the going gets tough instead of trying to work things out.

My theory is that the same dynamic is going on with online couples.  Meeting online is risky behavior.  Hooking up with a total stranger?  Is the other person REALLY who they say they are?  How do you know?  A person who looks for partners online may wonder about the integrity of someone else he met online:  if you had to meet me online, will you leave me if you find a better match?

A surprising high number of people I’ve met who found each other online, keep surfing for other partners online even after they are engaged or married to their online partner!  Why?  Hunting for a partner online can be addicting.  It feels good to fantasize if so and so might make a match.  Is there someone out there who is better?  If they’ve done this behavior to make themselves feel better, it is an easy thing to go back to when they are feeling down.  They each know this about themselves.  They may not be online hunting any more, but the temptation is real and they spent hours and hours (hundreds of hours?) online before they met searching for Mr. or Mrs. Right and how are you supposed to just stop that curiosity?  Curiosity killed the cat and it also kills a lot of people’s integrity.  Believe me, your spouse isn’t going to be thrilled when they find out that you are still on the prowl.  “I was just looking” isn’t going to cut it.

So here we have these people that meet while doing highly addictive behavior.  Then they meet and “fall in love” and now they are all of a sudden supposed to stop this highly addictive behavior?  What about the buzz?  What about all those hours you spent online hunting and hunting and hunting and hoping and dreaming and wishing upon a monitor?  You just gonna stop all that?  Are you sure your spouse is?  Marriage is built on trust.  Yours was built on getting an online buzz.  Falling in love doesn’t automatically cure addictive behavior!

Couples who meet online tend to be easily hurt. A very high percentage of the online couples I’ve met have had hurtful relationships in the past.  Either they cheated on a previous partner or a previous partner has cheated on them.  Or there was some abuse going on in their pasts.  Or they’ve had a number of live-ins, divorces, or a series of relationships, each one with more baggage.  It is difficult to trust someone you love now, when someone else you loved before hurt you.  How can you trust the new person when the old person you thought you loved hurt you so much?  How can you trust yourself?  You thought things were fine and you were blindsided before, right?  Why not this time?  What’s different?  Not trusting your new spouse keeps you at a safe distance, so you don’t have to get hurt again.  It is also hard to have a meaningful relationship if you keep your spouse at a safe distance.  It leads to both withdrawing or one or both lashing out, not good predictors of marital health.

Couples who meet online often have NO patience. Love is patient, right?  Not any more.  Now love is how you make me feel and you’d better make me feel good pretty soon or I’m outta here.  I can always find someone else who will make feel good.  My perfect spouse is only a click away.  Woohoo!  No more having to endure anything.  Forget perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, hanging in there tough.  Or cooperation, or learning from each other or reaching out to the other or giving or any of that sacrificial love mumbo-jumbo.  Forget it.  I found you on my own a huntin’ and a peckin’, and I can find someone else.  You have proclivities and tendencies I don’t like?  I’ll just mark that on my list the next time I go lookin’.  My bad.

I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but people, come on.  You can’t do this behavior and expect to grow in character and integrity and grace and maturity.  Looking online for a spouse, by definition, is impatience in action.  You need patience to be a loving, tender spouse.  You don’t get that by making sure all of your needs are met right now.  Believe me.  You won’t be very fun to live with.

Couples who meet online seem to have their hopes easily dashed. This characteristic is similar to patience.  Let’s call it resilience.  Resilience is the idea that you don’t let little things get you down and you let stuff roll off your back.  You hang in there: the old notion, that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Online couples, by definition, don’t have this characteristic.  They’ve refused to be patient with God’s hand on their shoulders and taken the bull by the horns, taken their destiny into their own hands, and intentionally and deliberately looked for a spouse.  As I’ve written earlier, this is NOT the thing you should be doing in the first place.  You don’t go LOOKING for a spouse.  Your job is to BE the right person.  People who go LOOKING are creepy.  And needy.  And if you meet one of these people, watch out!  By definition if you meet someone online, he falls into this category!  So do you!  You will quickly find out that you are not perfect enough to make her happy and she will let you know in no uncertain terms what you need do to make her happy.  More than likely you will do the same and the sparks will fly!  And then, before you know it, one of you will be frickin’ this and frickin’ that and that’ll be the end of that.

Stay very far away from someone who is on the prowl for a spouse.  This should be enough to keep you from hunting for a spouse online.  Two people on the prowl for a spouse meet each other.  Both believe the other is the person of their dreams.  Neither is humanly able to EVER be THAT person.  Both have hopes dashed.  This is a powder keg just ready to explode.

Don’t be that guy.

Don’t be that gal.

Couples who meet online are sometimes in for some unpleasant surprises. For some it ends up too late: They are already married.  Couples who meet online are not able to do due diligence.  They mistakenly feel that if they fill out these questionnaires and have these similarities, that everything will work out.  The traditional way of courting for centuries was arranged marriages with parents knowing the other family, sometimes for years before the couple was brought together.  The families knew each other.  In the last hundred years we’ve courted people we met at work or church or through family members and friends we trusted.  This served as a layer of protection so that by the time the couple dated there was a certain amount of background work that had been done before the couple was even interested in one another.

But today, with online dating, there is no one to vouch for anyone.  You are what you say you are.  You can be anyone online.  You don’t really know whom you are getting.  There may be lots of very good reasons why your online partner isn’t with someone else.  Those reasons may be really good reasons why he may not be a good partner for you.  It takes time to find these things out.  Not everyone is trustworthy.  You can’t trust your feelings on this.  You can be easily fooled.  You can’t trust what she says about herself either.  You don’t know if she’s telling you the truth.  You hope she is.  But maybe not.  Since you met her online, you don’t know her network, what kind of family she came from.  You could easily find yourself in a situation like the Stepford Wives, where everything is too good to be true.

And then you marry and the truth starts trickling out.  And the truth is scary or creepy or odderthanallgetout.  You what?  Crap.  That’s not what you…

How do you know that the person you’ve met online with no one vouching for him but himself, is all he says he is?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We’ve all heard the horror stories:  He’s already married.  He’s a sex perv.  He’s a criminal out to bilk his victims.  And you are immune to being hoodwinked?  A recent article in the Des Moines Register reported about a woman in the Des Moines area who met her dream mate online.  Her family thought he was awesome as did she.  They married amongst great joy.  She even changed religions gladly to be with him!   Then she finds out later he was married to someone else in another country!  This happened in Iowa.  Innocent, stable, Iowa.

It’s not just women who are being scammed.  Gender is no respecter of persons when it comes to being flimflammed.

You are not immune.

Meeting someone online is risky behavior.

Marriage is tough enough.  Don’t borrow trouble.  Stay away.  Stay very far away.

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