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Down payment for love: The costs and benefits of online dating

Published: Sunday, Aug. 31 2014 4:00 a.m. MDT

VladyslavDanilin, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Caryn Blomquist retired early from online dating. Only 24 years old, she has already tried (and subsequently broken up with) JDate, Match.com, OkCupid and Christian Mingle.

Looking back on conversations with potential suitors and a few awkward first dates, Blomquist is uncertain about what went wrong. She said she was frustrated by missed connections and the men who weren't all that their profile claimed they would be.

"I really value transparency," Blomquist said. "I feel like the yes/no/maybe options (dating sites) give you for your profile aren't really fair."

Now, she is trying to enjoy the time she has to be single to get to know herself and what she wants out of life. It's an approach that could have spared Blomquist and likely thousands of others like her who feel they wasted time and money trying to find love and companionship online. Researchers of the online dating phenomenon have found a disciplined consumer strategy, rather than casual browsing, can result in success and satisfaction.

Paul Oyer, a labor economist and experienced online dater, believes the key to feeling better may be feeling less. By stripping away emotion and focusing on facts like time invested and ultimate goals, online daters can get the most out of their online dating experience and make smarter decisions about the money they spend.

"I don't think you have to pay for a site these days to do well," he said. "But if you are really focused on committed, long-term relationships, paying money makes a little more sense."

See also: Staying faithful: How the Internet changed the Christian dating game

Dating in a digital age

Match.com's 2014 update to its annual "Singles in America" study highlighted the transformation taking place within American dating culture.

Today, one-in-four relationships begin online, and one-in-five new marriages are between couples who met on an online dating site. The survey, which compiled the responses of more than 5,300 singles ages 18 to 70 plus, also noted that singles now spend, on average, $5.69 each month on matchmaking services like subscriptions to online dating sites.

Oyer touched on the differences between paid and free online dating services in his book, "Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned from Online Dating." Combining his expertise in studying the behavioral science of economics with his online dating experiences, he offers advice on how to make the most of online dating, including how to be smart about subscription costs.

Oyer, a professor of economics at Stanford University, explained that it's important for people to reflect carefully on their online dating choices, asking themselves what they're hoping to get for the money and time they invest.

Following Oyer's logic, Blomquist's dissatisfaction can be linked to more than just a few dud dates. She was also failing to question what each website uniquely offered, spending money for only a fraction of the benefits she sought.

"(Online daters) should spend wisely, asking themselves, 'How do I use this resource to efficiently cull through this very large market?,’ ” Oyer said.

What a subscription signals

Since no site, paid or unpaid, can guarantee a love connection, singles have to change the way they understand the fees. It's not just about what the cost says about the site, but also about what the down payment conveys about the dater, Oyer explained.

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