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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 4

How to Find Love in a Digital World

Understanding the psychology of online dating can turn a frustrating experience into a fruitful mission



WILLIAM SCHULTZ iStockphoto (silhouetted people); PHOTOILLUSTRATION BY AARON GOODMAN

Romantic relationships can begin anywhere. When Cupid's arrow strikes, you might be at church or at school, playing chess or softball, flirting with a friend of a friend at a party or minding your own business on the train. Sometimes, however, Cupid goes on vacation, or takes a long nap, or kicks back for a marathon of Lifetime original movies. Instead of waiting for the capricious arrow slinger to get back to work, people are increasingly joining online-dating sites to assert some control over their romantic lives.

For millennia cultures have invented practices to fulfill the evolutionary imperatives of mating and reproduction. In the Western world today, individuals are largely expected to identify romantic partners on their own, a process that can consume significant time, effort and emotional energy. The ability to hunt for dates online offers singles a modicum of control over a seemingly random process and grants them access to hundreds, potentially thousands, of eligible mates.

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