Has this ever happened to you? You’re at the supermarket, trying to pick out a new cereal. You stare helplessly at the Fruity Pebbles, the Special K, the Frosted Flakes, the Kashi, the Lucky Charms, bopping endlessly between good tasting or good for you, marshmallows or no, hot cereal, cold cereal, fiber-filled, vitamin-enriched, sugar-packing yumminess, and… and… then you have to leave immediately, because you’re about to have a decision-making meltdown in front of shopper mom and her two little tots.

Ooookay… maybe it’s just me then.

Alrighty, what about cell phone shopping then? Android, Windows Phone, iOS, BlackBerry, big phone, small phone, keyboard, or no keyboard, carrier with better phones vs. carrier with better coverage, cheaper plan vs. higher cap, buy now and risk regretting when version 2 comes out, or wait in misery and buy sexy new version later, thin sexy phone or bulky phone with better battery… it’s all enough to drive us crazy, isn’t it? No wonder so many people just wind up going with whatever, and regretting the decision.

Turns out, when we’re presented with too many choices, many of us freak out a little. This is supported by psych studies that have shown that people faced with too many choices often wind up making lazy or poor decisions. That’s certainly true often enough with cereal and cell phones. And so it is with online dating too.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s no wonder that the media is turning its attention to dating and romance. And indeed, Reuters ran an article recently about a new study that claims online dating sites aren’t really any more successful than meeting someone in a bar. According to Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University and the study’s author, the problem is the vast number of choices people have to wade through. The experience of man-shopping or woman-shopping this way, he says, “overloads people and they end up shutting down.”

Well, what about sites that do the matching for you, like eHarmony? Turns out, Finkel’s not too hot on that either: “80 years of relationship science has reliably shown you can’t predict whether a relationship succeeds based on information about people who are unaware of each other.” (Wait, there’s something called relationship science?? Where the heck was that during the romance drought of my 20s?)

Not that all hope should be lost. The professor says that things might get better in the future. There’s just not enough data supporting it right now.

What do you think of online dating? Is it a waste of time that only sparks stress and yields no results? Or do you think it’s worthwhile for people looking for love?

[via Reuters]