The digital world is constantly evolving, having an influence on our work lives, leisure time and even our dating lives. According to the Association for Psychological Science, online dating is the second most common way for people to meet (CBS, 2012).
Nowadays, one third of people prefer online dating more than any other form of dating.
Research by the University of Rochester found that online dating has become the second-most-common way to meet people besides meeting through mutual friends. As online dating becomes more popular, traditional dating habits have started to diminish. The casual nature of dating in real-life has begun to transition to cyberspace in a casual form of dating known as “hooking up.”
Laurie Davis, the CEO of eFlirtexpert.com, believes that technology is one of the biggest influences on the influx of casual online hook-ups: “The user behavior is really what’s changed. And I think because of that, that’s why we’re seeing so much innovation in this industry right now, with new sites and apps, and new ways for people to meet using technology. Because we’ve changed,” Davis said.
This evolving technology may be easy to understand for those who grew up in the millennial age. People in their 20s, who are familiar with the fast paced digital scene, are not fazed by the idea of hooking up online.
“I just don’t think that courting is in society right now. Maybe when our parents were growing up or dating, but not now. And I don’t think online dating is meant for courting.” Chelsea Hunter, a 24-year-old graphic designer, said.
However, some people in their 40s, who grew up with more formal models of courtship, feel differently.
“The traditional view is to let the man come to you, but when you’re dating online you’re in the driver’s seat.” Maria Valentin, a 49-year-old history teacher said. “You two can start looking for profiles and contact men that you’re interested in.”
Maria Trice, a 50-year-old personal trainer, is a bit frightened by the influence of digital courtship on relationships today.
“It’s also the dehumanization of society. Because, what happens is, people are dealing with a computer, with pictures. I mean, they aren’t dealing with their voice, they aren’t dealing with their eyes, they aren’t dealing with human contact,” Trice said.
It all started around 1995, when Match.com, the first online dating service, was established. By 2002, the site had 26.6 million registered users and by 2012, over 27 million people used match.com. Today, fee-based online dating sites have grossed over one billion dollars.
“It feels like shopping,” Bryan Scotland, 26, said. “Basically you browse through pictures, and at least for me, you look at people’s profile pictures, or at least the first picture, and you say I think she’s cute, and then you click on it.”
When browsing for a potential mate online, pictures are often the first thing that persuades a person to click on a profile. Therefore, looks become extremely important throughout the online dating scene. A specific profile picture could immediately increase or decrease a person’s chances of finding his ideal mate.
“I mean, we are so much more than this first impression that we’re giving in our profile, but it also means that people are going to be making snap judgments about you, which could kind of be hard for your heart to take too,” Davis said.
Although, some say that approaching someone behind a computer screen does have its benefits. Michael Gallagher, 24, met his girlfriend on OkCupid.com. He claims that getting rejected online can be much easier than getting rejected in person.
“When you get shot down at a bar it hurts, when you get shot down online you just move on to the next one,” Gallagher said. “People are more comfortable going to a computer than going to a bar and trying to chat up someone. It’s easy to talk to someone anonymously and try your best and try a line that you wouldn’t try anywhere else. Then, if it works, great, and if it doesn’t you don’t have a reason to be ashamed.”
Experts believe that people often get digitally rejected because they are much more specific with defining their ideal mate than they would be offline. Men, who are 40 percent more likely to initiate contact online, are used to not getting a response back.
“For me, when I go on OkCupid and I look at match percentage and I look at how a woman looks, then I say, oh she’s really cute and I send her a message, I get no response. And I’m not surprised by that because they probably get 50 messages a day,” Scotland said.
Many women may not be open with meeting a person online who doesn’t meet their offline expectations. So, if they don’t meet their criteria, it’s on to the next.
“Even though I emphasize fitness, they say athletic, but then they have bellies. I’m like your killing me,” Trice said.
Davis claims that this may be related to the average time people spend searching for their mate online.
“The time that you sit in front of your computer, that’s really important. They’ve done studies on this. The more you sit there, the judgier you get. And so they recommend, and I recommend, that you don’t spend any longer than 20, 30 minutes at a time looking at profiles,” Davis said.
Unrealistic expectations online could be a reflection of the growing demand for instant gratification. As technology is rapidly improving, people are able to get what they are looking for in a shorter period of time. Patience is becoming an undervalued concept.
“It’s fine to be that specific, but realize that this isn’t how we used to date and this isn’t what’s natural, the need to put such specific limits on everything,” Davis said. “When you met someone at a bar, it’s not like you said, I’m sorry you look like your 5’5″ instead of 5’6″ so I can’t date you. If he was awesome than you’d go out with him, and that’s the way you need to approach online dating too.”
“I think we want instant results, we want people to respond. And not interacting face to face makes trying to court easy. Texting by itself makes dating easy,” Scotland said.
An old belief is that some people spend their whole lives waiting for that ideal person. With online dating, those looking for that perfect romance, casual or long-term, should not forget that love takes time.
“You really need a lot of patience and it really takes time to find the right person. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll find somebody through it, but it happens,” Hunter said.