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5 Lessons From 100 People Who Found Love Online

Seeking kindness, casting a wide net, and not settling.

Key points

  • Not all online daters are looking for love, but those who end up finding it share certain things in common.
  • If a long-term relationship is your goal, knowing what worked for others could make you more successful.
  • Something I heard again and again was that intangible qualities, like kindness and character, ended up mattering most in the long run.
Mikhail_Kayl Shutterstock
Source: Mikhail_Kayl Shutterstock

Online dating is often blamed for ruining courtship. After all, anyone who has used it knows it can be expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating. People lie about who they are. They ghost to avoid difficult conversations. They treat others like products instead of people. At a certain point, you may have even found yourself asking, “Does online dating actually work for anyone?”

I had the same question. In a recent study, I interviewed happily-coupled people from across the U.S. about their experiences finding love online. My goal was to explore how their relationships progressed toward marriage, but what I took away from their stories was so much more. Here are a few of the things I learned about what made them successful, and what just might make you successful, too.

Many Found Love When They Weren’t Looking

Finding the right person in online dating took time—lots and lots of time. Some of the people I spoke with said they spent years cycling on and off different platforms before finding the right person. And sometimes, they found love when they least expected it. One person explained:

“I wasn’t using it consistently. My cousin told me to sign up, and I signed up, I went for a couple of months, and then I got off. And when I went back on about a year later to delete it, I got sucked into looking, and that’s when I messaged a couple of guys that I was interested in."

Surprisingly, most people said that they weren’t looking for a certain kind of relationship—and that they definitely weren’t planning to get married. This made them open to meeting different types of people and allowed their relationships to unfold naturally. One person said this about his now-spouse:

“I never, never had this thought that ‘I’m going to marry her.’ I was not even considering that. But her attitude, the way she talked, the way she presented herself, the fact that she just was there being herself. I did ask myself that question, or that thought did come to my mind."

Height Didn’t Matter, but Kindness Did

No one told me they chose their partner because of how tall they were or how much money they made. Online dating platforms are essentially search and recommendation engines, which means they often emphasize attributes that are easy to quantify, like height and income. Yet something I heard, again and again, was that intangible qualities, like kindness and character, ended up mattering more in the long run. When describing what made her compatible with her spouse, one person put it like this:

“We just got along really well. We were very comfortable. I missed him when he left. I was happy when he was around me, and I could just see we had a lot in common. We had talked loosely, I guess, about what we envisioned our future to be. As far as, 'do you want to have kids' or 'where do you want to live'. And we were just kind of in line.”

They Kept Expectations in Check

When you’re talking to someone online, it can be easy to imagine the person you wish they’d be instead of getting to know them for who they actually are. Something many of the people I interviewed had in common was that they were realistic about their partners before meeting them for the first time. This protected them from disappointment and meant that they sometimes accepted dates with people outside of their usual “type.” According to one person:

“As soon as we met, I remember just being really excited about him in a way that I wasn’t when we were talking online.”

They Looked Beyond Their Neighborhood

A century ago, people would often marry someone who lived in their neighborhood. Fast forward to today, and technology has expanded the dating pool to include people both near and far. The individuals I talked to used distance to their advantage by swiping while they were away from home or expanding their search radius to give themselves more options. As a result, many found themselves in long-distance relationships. And while this sometimes posed challenges, people were generally willing to travel for someone they were serious about. One person said of her location settings:

“I think I did nearby initially, when I first started. And then as the years progressed, up until year five, I think. I wasn’t finding what I was looking for. Then I became more comfortable with dating online and was willing to open up my net, if you will, for how far out I could meet someone.”

They Didn’t Settle

There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but they’re not all quality catches. The people I interviewed understood this and were intentional about who they chose to date. They also maintained their standards so that when the right person came along, they were ready. As one person said:

“My mom, being a mom, always says, ‘Oh, you always have so much to offer someone.’ But in reality, people always just...I’ve never been someone that girls just rush to. So I’m always just like, ‘Well, if someone likes me, I guess they like me, and I guess I’ll just have to settle.’ But this time, I didn’t have to settle.”

Facebook image: Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock


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