This article was written by Hance Law Group principal Larry Hance.
Around one-third of American marriages now begin online. According to a study published in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, marriages that start up through social media sites, dating sites, or dating mobile apps are less likely to break up and are associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction. Surprising?
Maybe not. There is little doubt that marriages originating from online encounters are rising. The Internet and technology have rooted into our lives indisputably. Like an old fashioned ad in the newspaper that preceded it—no smoking, absolutely no pets! —the exhaustive online surveys for eHarmony serves to instantly weed out contenders who once upon a time would have had to suffer through at least one dinner together. In the past decade, young and old alike have come to accept online dating as a viable option. Seventy percent of online daters agree that Internet dating helps to find a better romantic match because of the wide array of access to potential partners.
These days, people (young people in particular) find themselves living the ups and downs of their daily lives through the posts and pictures that populate their social media feed. When someone elects to display pictures featuring themselves and their partner, they grant tacit agreement to living publically the fallout of that relationship, married or not, should a breakup occur. This reality, however, does little to stop most from posting, tweeting, and pinning like crazy. It has become part of the new reality, a piece of the cultural backdrop, like roads supplanted by highways. So if more relationships are beginning online, why does it follow that those unions would be more divorce-proof and/or happier unions?
Another component to the Internet age is our ability to quickly gather information. No need for the card catalog when we have Google. Vast amounts of information exhumed privately from the Internet—comments, pictures, arrests, even—with nothing more than a first and last name. Whole websites like TruthFinder dedicated to the search. Data previously kept secret might be easier found, and this transparency can end relationships before they start. With a bigger pool to begin with and part of the online process matching similarly interested people, it stands to reason that once a couple commits to marriage, their initial compatibility would come to play in keeping the relationship relatively healthy. Additionally, those drawn to online dating may be more focused on finding a long-term mate. The perception also stands that finding a partner online is a time-saver. And time, in our current culture, is a commodity, one version of freedom.
Some critics of the aforementioned study say it is way too early in the life of the Internet to make predictions about the power of online dating, particularly regarding its effect on subsequent marriage. It has been pointed out that only half of divorces occur within the first eight years and the span of this study only covered seven, so the results may be skewed one way or another. Still, the research, controlled for various factors, found that within those seven years (2005-2012), a slightly higher number of marriages initiated offline ended in breakups, while couples that met online reported lower rates of separation and divorce, as well as higher marital satisfaction. Anecdotal evidence might corroborate. But only time will tell.