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Millions of people first met their spouses through online dating.

But how have those marriages fared compared with those of people who met in more traditional venues such as bars or parties? A survey of nearly 20,000 Americans reveals that marriages between people who met online are at least as stable and satisfying as those who first met in the real world—possibly more so.

A couple of months ago, I was sitting at a bar minding my own business when the woman next to me did something strange.

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And because most dating sites ask users to give consent for their data to be used for research purposes, this online courting has played out like an enormous social science experiment, recording people's moment-by-moment interactions and judgments.

A team led by Elizabeth Bruch, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, tapped into this torrent of dating data.

Because of a nondisclosure agreement, the researchers can't reveal the exact source of their subjects, describing it only as an "established, marriage-oriented, subscription-based dating site" from which they randomly selected 1855 people, all based in New York City.

Besides photographs, each user's profile could include any number of personal details including age, height, weight, education, marital status, number of children, and smoking and drinking habits.

The data set includes some 1.1 million interactions between users.

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