The Seething Sea of Online Dating Sites

The stereotype of people who use dating and relationship sites is not pretty.

Based on total ignorance, it assumes that women online are socially incompetent and increasingly desperate. Based on lazy thinking, the stereotype paints dating site men as too short, fat, bald or smelly and residing at the sleazy end of a slippery social slide. It is assumed that emotions are fraught and subtlety is naught. There's more dirt than flirt.

But, this stereotyping is usually wrong. Like most pigeonholing, it's far removed from the real.

It's dangerous to speak too broadly here because accusations of stereotyping can rebound. But, generally, women on dating sites are looking for long-term relationships and men are looking for 'casual hook ups' (read that as 'sex').

But different social and age groups have very different needs. Thirty-year-old men and women, the Gen Y, are looking for security. The baby-boomer 50-year-olds are looking for sex. Surprising?

Some dating sites have close to 50:50 male to female memberships. Plenty of Fish, Match and other sites report that neat mix. Others are dominated by male or by females: Zoosk is mainly for women, for example, while Anastasiadate seems to boast a majority of men.

Those numbers alone suggest that the crude stereotype of users is well off the mark.

Surveys of users' personal characteristics are fascinating, too. Most are actually socially skilled and they like themselves. Not in a bad way, though. They are confident and outgoing. And they use dating sites because their life has changed in some way: family changes, job changes, location changes.

But, within all this change, there is a profound search for sameness. Surveys tell us that people on dating sites are looking for people just like themselves. Sometimes, relationships form between people who are quite different in age or in life experience. But, underneath, it seems, they want to be with themselves, in the shape of another person.

That makes compatibility testing and profiling, sometimes referred to as 'chemistry', very important. Add a pinch of social networking technology and you have the ultimate combination that Mark Zuckerberg brought to the world in Facebook: human psychology meets the internet.

But, there is something else that is really striking on dating sites. And, it too, splinters the stereotype.

People are emotionally very loud. They speak their heart at full volume then hit Submit. (Is that a command?)

If you are not used to that world of (partially anonymous) loud mouths, it can be a shock. That doesn't mean that people tell you lots about their lives. In fact, they don't really self-disclose much at all.

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