According to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, released yesterday, “5% of Americans who are currently married or in a long-term partnership met their partner somewhere online. Among those who have been together for ten years or less, 11% met online.” The study also found that 59% of American internet users believe that “online dating is a good way to meet people,” up from 44% in 2005. Still, more than half of online daters say that “someone else seriously misrepresented themselves in their profile.” And 21% of American internet users think that “people who use online dating sites are desperate” (down from 29% eight years ago).
It might help, Amanda Hess from Slate argues, if we begin merging online dating with the rest of our online social profiles and platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. And people are starting to do just that. There’s an app called Tinder — which we’ve talked about a little here — that connects people to potential match’s Facebook profiles where they can see how they publicly present themselves and whether they have friends in common. It also helps, as Hess says, that, “in order to message someone on Tinder, you both have to ‘choose’ each other, so you’re not inundated with missives from the creepiest users. (Pew also found that 42 percent of female online daters and 17 percent of male ones have experienced “uncomfortable or bothersome contact” on Internet dating sites.)”
But, aren’t online daters — also known as “regular people” — already merging their dating lives and their public online profiles? It’s been over seven years since I was single and looking, but even back in those olden days, I connected with potential dates on Myspace (remember that?), Friendster (and that??), and even my personal blog, which was linked to all my social profiles. Guys — some of whom I had friends in common with and some I didn’t — might find me on a social platform and then follow the link to my blog, read for a while, and then email me through my blog address. They may have been attracted to the photo they saw on the social platform and then liked my writing well enough — or liked what they imagined me to be like through reading my blog — to reach out.
That actually was a pretty good way to meet potential dates (and new friends). Through my blog I was able to present myself in a much broader way than I could through a small profile on a dating site. In fact, even though Drew and I met through a mutual friend who put us in touch, I think my blog helped us connect before we were able to meet face-to-face. He got to read about me in a way that wasn’t creepy and then email me with follow-up questions and conversation-starters based on stuff I’d written, which allowed for us to have some pretty great email banter in the weeks before we met.
But that’s just one way to bypass dating sites and still connect with potential dates. I know there are plenty of other ways — message boards, hobby sites, listservs, meetups organized online, Facebook group pages. If I ever meet a couple who says they met “online,” I don’t automatically assume they mean a traditional dating site like Match.com or OkCupid — not that there’s anything wrong with that. With all the different ways there are to connect online, I’m actually surprised only 11% of couples who have been together less than 10 years say they met on the internet. I predict in the next decade, we will see that number double. And while I don’t think, like Hess does, that traditional dating sites are anywhere close to going extinct, I do think we will see a huge increase in the number of people who meet their mates online through sites and platforms whose purposes are not solely to create matches.
All that said, it’s noteworthy to mention that social platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are creating an enormous amount of relationship stress and anxiety, especially in young people:
As more and more Americans use social networking sites, these spaces can become the site of potential tension or awkwardness around relationships and dating. Some 27% of all social networking site users have unfriended or blocked someone who was flirting in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, and 22% have unfriended or blocked someone that they were once in a relationship with. These sites can also serve as a lingering reminder of relationships that have ended — 17% of social networking site users have untagged or deleted photos on these sites of themselves and someone they used to be in a relationship with.
Additionally, 48% of SNS users ages 18-29 — have “gone on these sites to check up on someone they used to date or be in a relationship with, and 31% have posted details or pictures from a date on a social networking site. For better or worse, the internet is the meat market for today’s youth (and the not-so-young). It’s the soda fountain our parents and grandparents used to meet and mingle in. It’s the neighborhood bar or bowling alley where people hang out and buy each other a drink. It’s where friendships are made, relationships are begun (“15% of SNS users with recent dating experience have asked someone out on a date using a social networking site”), and, inevitably, hearts are broken. And if none of that appeals to you, don’t worry; there’re also lots of videos of cats.