Has online dating lost the “weird” stigma?

Living in a big city, we are privileged to often be the first to watch social change happen.  Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this being true when it comes to online dating, especially for young adults such as we in college or freshly starting our careers.  The understanding of what “online dating” entails is changing as the social media arena opens up in this sector as well, as discussed by Kelly House in an article written out of another big city, Portland.  She discusses how sites like Match.com still cater to older generations who are established in their lives and looking for a serious, stable relationships, however, it is becoming more and more popular amongst younger generations to utilize sites like OkCupid and Plenty of Fish for more casual networking.  This is because more serious sites, many of which charge membership fees, match their users based on very specified reasons that they would make a good couple.  As the Internet is becoming ingrained to our lives more every single day and social media networks are becoming solidified as our own personal networks in “real” life too, House notes that “savvy web entrepreneurs are betting that young singles represent an untapped revenue source.” Thus, these smaller, more casual sites have sprung up to cater towards them.  She explains that “they tend to be more tech-savvy, carefree and interactive” and focus more on location and shared interests to create potential matches.

The story is presented in a manner that shows examples of different sites and explains the basics as to how online dating has been changing, but it doesn’t dive enough into the reasons why.  Although she explains that the stigmas of online dating have changed somewhat  because “today’s 20-something grew up online. Using the Internet as a dating tool seems natural,” House fails to express enough how online dating can lead to and potentially create meaningful relationships via the ways we are now able to contact each other online and share ourselves as well. It is indeed correct that these sites and the way views have changed about them have allowed for more casual connections to occur offline like meeting for a concert you both enjoy, however I think it is more important to note how the Internet has allowed for connections to deepen in the online realm as well.  For example, an online dating site is very much its own community as its users share something in common: no matter how casual or serious of an interaction they are looking for, they are trying to make social ties in some way.  Nancy Baym explains that “online, we bump into the people who share our interests rather than those who happen to be in the same physical location. This leads to connections that might not otherwise form.” It is important to look at this alongside how our social cues have changed as well.  In 2012 as opposed to 1980, it isn’t as common to spot someone at your favorite coffee joint and ask them on a date because we seem to have become much more avoiding of strangers than in the past (a blog post could be written on this topic alone.) If you spark up a conversation on the Internet, however, about the latest YouTube video that had you in tears laughing or the awesome new band you found on Spotify, you might be more apt to meet them later in the week and see how you hit it off in person.

What House fails to discuss is how important it is to think about online dating in juxtaposition with the self we are creating online. With our own networks, it is very easy for Internet savvy individuals (ones who would be more inclined to use dating sites) to show exactly who they are in “real life” on the Internet via the unlimited content available to be shared as well as the networks that can be used to display who we are (such as our Twitter feeds.)  It is possible that Internet dating is becoming more generally “accepted” in society because of how “normal” other Internet communities like Twitter and Reddit have become and how the social interactions we have on them can so often make us feel close to strangers in a way very different than ever before.  “Strangers” in 2012 can become “friends” in the matter of seconds and with new features like Facebook Timeline, we have the ability of finding out almost anything about someone in a matter of minutes (*cough “Facebook stalking” cough*.)  In my eyes, the stigma once associated with Internet dating is breaking down so quickly in front of us because the Internet has become a means of documenting every part of oneself, and thus it is easy to get to know someone without physically having the chance to do so.

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5 Comments

  1. emmaleecough

     /  February 22, 2012

    I was instantly drawn to your blog post because of the title. I am constantly telling people that dating websites are losing that whole “you can’t get someone in real life” stigma that they had when they first hit the Web. I found it interesting that you think these sights are so popular now because they allow us to get to know someone in an easier way, because I actually think the opposite. I date someone I’ve known for nearly a decade, whose family knows my family and who grew up only 5 minutes away from the house I grew up in. I get a sense of ease in knowing that he can’t really make up some false identity because I’ve witnessed so much of the shaping of his identity that the idea is honestly laughable. Although I know I have trust issues (that’s a whole other blog post), I do think that sites like that actually make it easier to hide versions of ourselves, making it harder to get to really know someone (constantly peeling away at the façade they’ve created rather than building up from a sparse foundation that meeting a complete stranger would provide). Of the people I know who do use meeting websites, the majority of the ones our age use it for one-night stands (cough Sex My School…uhh I mean Date My School). All in all, I do think you’re right about how common place they’ve become and how it is important to look at cyber dating in relation to how we present ourselves online, I just think we need to be realistic about how comfortable our generation is with present a TRUE sense of ourselves to the cyber community (a sense true enough to start a relationship). We fight about our cyber selves being just as real because they are just as censored and reserved as our physical selves but that’s censoring ourselves or changing our etiquette only works to a point in romantic relationships. Is this censored representation really helping our hurting our future relationships? And is this ironic usage of meeting sites for one-night encounters a generational phenomenon, or are we in denial about older generations’ use of dating sites?

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  2. My favorite part about this post was the last paragraph, not to say the others weren’t good, cause they were, but I completely agree with your points. I think our ability to represent ourselves online, our REAL self, is becoming almost painfully easy to do.

    Obviously we can make a laundry list of our favorite bands, songs, quotes etc, but it even goes beyond that. With hundreds of photos of you online, someone can basically “check you out” like they would in real life and get a PRETTY good idea of what you look like from most angles and in most lights. This is why we feel guilty when we creep: it is the digital version of giving someone the ol’ up-and-down, (ask your grandpa about the up-and-down, he’ll know. (or ask me, because apparently I speak like an 80 year old)).

    It goes even further with videos. It would NOT be hard for someone to learn my name on a dating site/Facebook, find me on youtube, watch my videos, and then step away having learned what my voice sounded like, how a speak, the way I walk or breathe or move! I’ve NEVER seen George Clooney in real life. Not once have I bumped in to Meryl Streep at a Starbucks, but I feel like I have a preeeetttty good idea of what those people are like. At least, the shock I would have upon meeting either of them would be a result of their fame, not finally “filling in the gaps” of their “self” that I was missing.

    I think online dating is actually going to just be called “dating” in a hundred years, because people seem to flock towards streamlines, efficient ways of doing things. And what could be more efficient than click through a dating profile (an advertisement..) until you find someone who looks like they don’t suck and you send them a message. If they dont reply? Who cares? You dont have to even FACE your rejection this way! And Rejectors dont have to feel bad about rejecting! See? Everyone’s feelings are saved because their were no feelings involved in the first place!

    wait….

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  3. Totally love this blog post. I thought the article from House was really interesting, and kind of echoed a lot of thoughts regarding the subject and general usage of dating websites that I’ve had myself. So firstly, I thought it was worthwhile to note how the ideas of other scholars like Haythornthwaite and, as you’ve quoted, Baym, manifest in other scholarship like this article. I totally agree with your statement that the Internet “has allowed for connections to deepen in the online realm as well”; I think this notion is a critical facet to the way relationships form “offline”, one that, as you’ve mentioned, the author simply doesn’t address. Firstly, the sheer quantity of SMN sites, dating websites specifically, creates increased “latent ties” that have the potential to become “weak ties” or, as many would hope, “strong ties” (all in due time of course 😉 ). This notion of latent ties and the potential metamorphosis into that of a stronger architecture is arguably the very foundation of these sites.
    When one capitalizes off of these shared interests, networks, etc. and weak ties are created, and subsequently (if you’re lucky) strong ties too, we see how Haythornthwaite’s notion of “media multiplicity” can translate in the context of ties created in an online setting. In other words, not only do people who have stronger ties in the “physical world” use more available media (online) to solidify their relationships, but people who create strong ties in the “non-physical world” (in this example, using dating websites) have the ability to do the same.
    And this is where I think the author could have solidified her argumentation. The focus here, in my opinion, should have emphasized HOW these dating sites have changed, part of which being the effects that other emerging popular (non-dating) SMN sites have on HOW people make connections using dating websites. Let me clarify by first addressing Emily’s response, which firstly, made me jealous of your relationship (haha). But I actually largely disagreed with your argument (I still think you’re super firefoxXy, don’t worry). You sought comfort in the fact that one (meaning your boo) “can’t really make up some false identity because (you’ve) witnessed so much of the shaping of his identity”. So I actually think that those who use dating websites count on the strong ties, such as the one that you share with your boyfriend, and actually bank on you articulating these ties and your own relationships on these other SMN sites, such as FB, which, if Haythornthwaite’s idea about media multiplexity holds true, is a website that the two parties trying to get to know each other will share with each other. They can look at other SMN sites and the profiles that their suitors have on them, counting on the fact that any close ties that they have with members of their networks will be made clear. In this way, time, and the technological changes ingrained therein, has granted users the potential to harvest more information about a person they meet on a dating website, potentially fostering any relationship they may seek to share in the physical world.
    Hope any of that made sense. What do you think?

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  4. Perhaps another way to look at the reason for why online dating has become more “acceptable” in our society is due to the extended possibilities of uncertainty reduction. Gibbs et. al (2011 http://bit.ly/w7JFo3) examines the means of uncertainty reduction in the modern age, and while there, the use of the passive investigation of “Googling” someone is the least used method on account of the fact that users do not provide their full name on their profile. That said, it is the notion that online presence, such as profiles, is now highly available to those seeking information. In effect, it is the consideration that the person has become more “real” with these multiple existent facets, which may have contributed to younger users being more willing and accepting of online dating.

    On the note of the matchmaking algorithms that websites are said to use, articles stemming from a recent study completed study (timely announced around Valentine’s Day) by Eli Finkel at Northwestern University state that the matching algorithms hold little truth in science, despite the fact that they may generate genuine potential suitors. More on that can be read on the BBC’s website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17017963

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  5. While I do agree that Internet dating is becoming more accepted in society, I really don’t think that it’s completely free of its “weird” stigma. Like you said, sites like OKCupid and Date My School have yet to lose their promiscuous connotations – and I don’t think those are going away any time soon.

    One issue I have pertains to the presentation of self in online dating communities. If sites like Match.com, Chemistry.com, OkCupid, etc. provide a tailored questionnaire or “About Me” section, is it limiting or skewing the information the user chooses to provide? As such, are we ever able to see someone’s “real identity” on these and other social network sites, where followers, following, and Likes are our only clues as to “who” you are online? Probably not, but the context in which we create these identities are enough to create a tangible idea of what these people are like. I think the presentation of real self in online dating differs from other social media platforms because the consequences are real. Sure, you can lie about being twenty pounds lighter and liking long walks on the beach, but when it comes down to it that other person isn’t going to stick around when they discover the real truth.

    After citing Andrew Stern in my previous post, I was pleasantly surprised to find an article he did on a new study from Northwestern University. (You can see the article here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/07/uk-internet-dating-idUSLNE81601720120207.) I found it interesting to refer to these sites as “supermarkets of love” where so many choices make it easy to browse yet difficult to find someone you’re compatible with. My favorite quote from the study is, “There’s no better way to figure out whether you’re compatible with somebody than talking to them over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.” And it’s true. At the end of the day, meeting face-to-face will always be the determining factor of a relationship. So while online dating is becoming the “new norm,” it should really be seen as a precursor to offline dating. Just because you have Chemistry.com doesn’t mean that you’ll have chemistry at all.

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