As dating coaches, we have always believed that online dating doesn’t work. Or, we should say, doesn’t work for most people. We know many good people who have tried using dating websites without success and only a few who found long-term happiness. But online dating is out there. In a major way. So we decided to see for ourselves if online dating works.

We tested our skills with the most devoted online dater we could find. If we could uncover a strategy for finding real-life chemistry online, then we’d embrace the Internet. If we failed, then either A) we were not good online dating coaches or B) our belief that online dating doesn’t work would be confirmed.

The Online Dating Challenge

We found an enthusiastic online dater — someone who loved the experience and did it A LOT – and we challenged ourselves to improve her results. Our subject was Erin (not her real name), a cute, smart, 24-year-old Midwesterner who spent so much time on OKCupid that the company asked her to become a user moderator. During the interview she said she “loved” online dating.

Us: Why do you love online dating?

Erin: Because it’s fun, you can do it anywhere and you can get a lot of important information up front without having to meet someone.

Us: How many great dates have you had from online dating?

Erin: None.

Us: Do you think that online dating is effective?

Erin: It can be.

Us: Has it been effective for YOU?

Her: Not yet.

Conclusion: This woman loves a service that (so far) has failed to deliver on its promise. If you want to know what keeps a $700 million industry chugging along, re-read the interview above.

Over four weeks, we revised her profile, changed her photos and gave her tips about how to be more approachable in real life in preparation for a great date with an online suitor. The short-term result? She met someone online whom she’s been dating for several weeks, although she’s not sure how serious he is about a long-term relationship.

The bigger conclusion? When we experienced how much effort and energy was spent emailing prospective matches, wading through cheesy responses, deleting emails from weird guys, instant messaging and finally cultivating a single meeting, we confirmed the research that says it takes an average of SIX HOURS to set up one real-life date. And your odds of wanting a second date are slim. This is not a good investment of your time, unless you are willing to spend almost an entire workday, every week, just to get one date.

With the right skills and the same time investment, you could easily meet and connect with three to six times as many women in real life.

The numbers are not kind to the online dating industry. Marcus Frind, CEO of PlentyofFish.com, crunched the stats on his blog and found that 1 in 1,369 dates leads to marriage on Match.com. That’s $83,000 in subscription revenue for every marriage. If someone told you those odds at the beginning, would you still want to sign up? Considering the ratio of marriages to revenue, we think most people would expect a higher delivery rate.

What’s more, online users might not be getting what they pay for. A lawsuit recently filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas alleges that more than half the profiles on Match.com are “inactive, fake or fraudulent.” A general manager from Match.com is quoted in The Wall Street Journal saying its fraud-prevention team identifies and blocks fake profiles, including IP addresses that are in specific countries where fraud is prevalent or that try to set up multiple profiles. The Match GM said fraud is not a major issue with its 1.7 million users.

We think that most people believe that their odds of finding a long-term partner online are far higher than what the actual statistics reveal. But by the time people get fed up, a new crop of hopefuls has signed up to replace them.

Why Online Dating Doesn’t Work

1. It’s more effective and efficient to meet people in the real world versus setting up a date from online dating. Research from Duke University shows that it takes about six hours of online dating activity to set up a real life date, but the odds of wanting a second date are low.

2. Online dating distracts us from listening to our bodies, which are designed to find a compatible mate. Online dating encourages people to focus on lists of requirements that have nothing to do with long-term compatibility. Lists create “head chatter” that make people evaluate a date based on “requirements,” instead of their personal experience. Plus, we no longer trust our instincts.

3. Online dating is not a reliable indicator of chemistry. Chemistry is revealed in shared experience, such as meeting people in real life. According to Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke, “…breaking (people) into attributes turns out not to be very informative.”

4. Online dating focuses on the wrong aspects of what’s critical to long-term happiness. Most people do not have an accurate sense of what they need to be happy in a relationship. It’s extremely difficult to do a realistic self-assessment of your own wants and needs. That’s why people need chemistry, experience and introductions from others to find a good match. The qualities that you need in a good lifetime partner, such as compassion, empathy and generosity can’t be tested in online dating.

5. (Almost) everyone lies in their profile. It’s widely accepted (and expected) that people submit photos when they were 10 pounds lighter and five years younger. Finding out the other person lied is not a good way to start a date.

According to Erin, the subject of our admittedly unscientific Online Dating Challenge, “This experience definitely changed my mind about the effectiveness of online dating. I used to love online dating, but it wasn’t actually working. Now I can see how much better it is to focus on making connections with people in my everyday life.”

Dating coaches Kim Lockhart and Luis Santiago

kim and luis

How to Meet Women in Real Life

1. Go back to your natural instincts. Your brain is designed to focus on a goal and go after what you want. Use your instincts and approach women you find attractive. The biggest complaint that we hear from women is that men don’t approach them often enough.

2. Women crave a confident man. Confidence is not being afraid to approach and talk to a woman you find attractive. There are only two things that will happen when you approach a woman.

A. She will like you and give you her phone number.

B. She won’t be interested and won’t give you her phone number.

That’s it. There’s nothing to worry about. You will survive and live on either way. But having the confidence to approach is 100 times more attractive than being passive on the other side of the room.

3. When in doubt about what to say, give her a sincere compliment and a smile. Then stop talking. The power here lies in your authenticity and your confidence that the conversation will take on its own momentum if you let it happen. Keep in mind that you can speak to a woman multiple times during the night. You don’t have to get her number right away. Let mystery build and come back later to test her receptiveness.

4. Don’t take rejection personally. It’s just a result. Everyone gets rejected; learn from it.

5. To truly be good with women and be attractive to them, you have to appreciate and understand them. Unfortunately no one gives us the real scoop on the opposite sex when we’re growing up. Additionally, what women want today is completely different from what our parents expected from each other. Modern women’s bodies desire traditional masculinity, but their minds want emotional sensitivity and partnership. Incorporating both leads to love and relationships that are balanced and fulfilling on every level.

But that’s not going to happen from behind a computer. Trust yourself and your instincts. Instead of being one of a million other dudes online, be the one guy in the bar who actually approaches the cute girl.

She will thank you.

(Lockhart and Santiago are dating experts and co-founders of Mix It Up LA, a dating and relationship consulting company. They offer private coaching and workshops. For more information, go to www.mixitupla.com or call 1-866-290-3499.)