"If profile similarity was a great predictor of long-term relationship success, that'd be awesome," said Karney. "But the effects of similarity on relationship success are tiny. That's just not worth that much."
Cobabe found precisely this when she was first chatting online with her future husband. "I actually hadn't seen his profile before he instant messaged me. He won me over with a sense of humor," she recalled.
"Had I just glanced at his profile I might not have talked to him. We just didn't run in the same online circles."
Not only does the emphasis on profiles highlight an aspect of romantic chemistry that doesn't ultimately matter much, online dating's special strength — access — can actually be detrimental to relationship success.
"The ready access to a large pool of potential partners can elicit an evaluative, assessment-oriented mindset, that leads online daters to objectify potential partners and might even undermine their willingness to commit to one of them," wrote the researchers in their article summary. "It can also cause people to make lazy, ill-advised decisions when selecting among the large array of potential partners."
Get thee to a dinner date
The key to combating these challenges, Karney concluded, is simple and time-tested: singles who find each other online should meet face to face. "A lot of romantic attraction is based in the exchange of behavior," he said. "Find people online, then meet them offline as soon as you can because the in-person interaction is just that crucial."
In the meantime, he said, consumers should be smart about buying into the extravagant claims of many online sites that make a hefty profit from selling the soulmate idea. He and his colleagues even suggested in their study that dating services' claims should perhaps be regulated.
"People should know what they're buying. You can't say, 'If you eat my cereal, it will cure heart disease.' But you are allowed to say, 'If you use my website, you will meet your soulmate'?" said Karney.
"Relationships really matter. I daresay a lot more than what cereal you eat."
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