Online Dating and Relationships in the Digital Age
By Emily Brosious, Sade Carpenter and Megan Daley
Feb. 11, 2014
Social networking has taken on a whole new set of meanings and applications since the dawning of the Internet. In recent years, people are turning to the Web to do more than simply share funny cat videos or wish far-away friends happy birthday. More and more, people are going online to find romance and relationships.
What started out as quirky, or even embarrassing, has evolved into one of the more common dating methods today. Perhaps it is a natural extension for a generation raised on social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram. But is Internet dating really a good way to find a partner? And beyond that, what has this new frontier of digital dating done to our cultural relationship with love and romance?
Emerson Dameron, a 35-year-old marketing and social media strategist living in Chicago, started online dating back in 2004 after getting out of a long-term relationship. He had just moved to Chicago when he began his forays into online dating.
“It was basically a time in my life where I was sort of building a new life and a new personality,” Dameron said in an interview. “So I was willing to do a lot of things that were out of my comfort zone.”
Dameron used a site called Nerve, which was one of the very first online dating sites. It was really how he explored Chicago, he said.
“I went on tons of those weird dates and as a result, went to all kinds of different neighborhoods and learned interesting things about the city,” he said. “Like, the fact that if you go to Hyde Park and it gets to be later than 10 p.m., it’s impossible to get out of Hyde Park.”
Dameron recalled one of those “weird” dates in which he dressed up in costume and went to go see the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Music Box Theatre. He said that’s not something he would ever do if not for being on an Internet date with someone who was into that scene.
Dameron is happily married now, but not to someone he met online dating. He met his wife the good-old-fashioned way, through a friend of a friend.
He did have a few brief relationships with people he met online dating, but nothing ever stuck.
“There was this sense that we were kind of just trying new things,” Dameron said. “And I guess in a way, I wasn’t really looking for a relationship at the time. I definitely wasn’t ready for one, after getting out of a really long-term one.”
Dameron thinks online dating has gotten much more mainstream since the days when he did it. Almost everyone he knows has used it at some point, he said. With sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, he thinks that socializing online is the norm now. Online dating seems like an extension of that, he said.
“It used to be considered a little embarrassing,” he said. “But I think it’s totally different now.”
Ben Nicksik, a 33-year-old geometry teacher living in Chicago’s Noble Square neighborhood, has been online dating on-and-off for the better part of six years. Like Dameron, Nicksik started online dating right after he moved to Chicago.
“It was a convenient and easy alternative to meeting drunk girls at bars on Saturday nights,” he said in an interview.
Nicksik likes some aspects of online dating. It’s easy to meet people and find dates, and there’s a seemingly never-ending supply of people, he said. He also likes that online dating sites allow you to tailor your profile to meet people with similar interests. After a while though, the similarity starts to feel unnatural to him.
“I find that I meet the same kind of girls over and over,” he said.
Nicksik’s tried a number of online dating sites and mobile apps including Match.com, OkCupid,Plenty of Fish and Tinder. He has gone on a lot of dates but he’s still single. He has met some women he really liked, but nothing’s ever materialized into a serious relationship.
Nicksik thinks online dating makes people, himself included, less accepting of people’s flaws and more willing to just move on to the next person.
“There’s just constantly something better, or seemingly better, than what you have,” he said. “For example, ‘I really like this girl I just went on a date with but this one is slightly prettier’. “
Nicksik said he wants to find a girlfriend but he thinks the websites can be distracting and counterproductive to that goal.
“It’s like shopping for a partner almost. And no one is perfect,” he said. “And it’s a constant flow of emails from new potential dates.”
Even when he’s on dates, he’ll get texts and emails from dating sites about new, potential dates who are interested in him. He said he’s caught women checking these messages during dates as well.
Nicksik thinks most of the online dating websites are designed more for continual dating and less for actually finding long-term partners. That makes sense to him, considering the sites would go under if everyone were in relationships, he said.
“I am not sure it’s a very healthy approach to dating,” he said.
Rita G., a 28-year-old single mom working in higher education, who asked that her full name not be disclosed, entered the world of online dating while in high school in 2004.
Rita believes online dating gives relationship-seekers the chance to see beyond physical appearance when looking for a potential mate.
“Some people would argue you get to know the person for who they are first,” she said in a phone interview. “The looks are a bonus.”
She initially met potential matches in then-popular chat rooms, and recalls one disaster date at BBQ restaurant chain Famous Dave’s.
“We ordered our food and he pulled one of those, ‘oh my gosh I don’t have my wallet type things,’” she said. “Mind you, when he was eating it was so gross…he was being so sloppy.”
Rita was also surprised by her date’s physical condition – he apparently had a disability that made walking difficult, something he never mentioned during their online conversations. She said his disability wouldn’t have prevented her from going on the date, but she found it odd that he didn’t tell her about it.
“[In] all the pictures he sent me, he was sitting down,” she said. “He failed to mention…usually if that’s the case you would say something eventually.”
Rita said she turned to online dating – she’s tried Match.com and OkCupid – because she thought it would be an easy way to meet men with similar interests. Between work and raising her son, she said she doesn’t meet many men in person who are on her same level. The problem, she found, was taking those online relationships offline.
“You really have to make an effort to bring your lives together and then once they’re together, you have to make an effort to make them work,” Rita said. “In person it’s so much easier…you usually meet because your lives overlap in some way.”
Despite going on approximately nine dates with men she met online, Rita would not recommend online dating and said it just isn’t for her. The connections she made on the web did not translate as well in person.
“The online chemistry is real, but…when you are talking online, you see who the person is on the inside,” she said. “Sometimes people aren’t who they are on the inside, to the outside world. People can be any part of their personality that they want to be online.”
When Amy Schweitzer saw Daniel Brunk’s profile on Yahoo Personals in 2006, she thought there was something familiar about his deep-set eyes and smile. After sending a “wink” to show her interest, Brunk sent her a message complimenting her eyes.
Schweitzer joined Yahoo Personals after her sister began a relationship with a man she met on the same website.
“Yahoo Personals was the only site that I knew of that was free, therefore nothing lost if it didn’t work out,” Schweitzer said. “I never liked the commitment of 30-day subscriptions or automatic renewals.”
Schweitzer, 36, enjoyed getting to know Brunk, 32, via email, messaging and texts. She was apprehensive about meeting in person though. Once they finally met, she realized there was no need to worry.
“He was exactly as I expected, maybe even more. He met me with a single rose and gave me a big hug,” Schweitzer said. “He was grinning from ear to ear. We met in a mall parking lot; [we] wanted to make sure it was a safe public place.”
For Schweitzer, one advantage of online dating is the ability to search specifically for people who have the same values. When you meet people outside of online dating, you don’t know their career, if they went to college or want kids, she said.
Schweitzer has also found virtual rejection easier to handle, although Brunk never rejected her. In fact, after dating for five years while he finished school, the couple married.
“What does a person have to lose? I was very fortunate and wouldn’t change a thing,” she said. “I got sick of the bar scene and eventually your friends run out of people to set you up with. Online allows you to take charge of your dating future.”
As with anything else, online dating is different for different people. Experiences vary widely and recent Pew research suggests that Americans’ attitudes towards online dating are relatively nuanced overall. However, a few clear takeaways do emerge from the data:
A majority of Internet users think there are some positive aspects to online dating. 59 percent agree that it’s good way to meet people. 53 percent agree it allows people to find a better match because they can get to know a lot of people.
Still, Internet users see negative aspects to online dating as well. 21 percent of Internet users still see online dating as desperate. One-third of Internet users think that online dating keeps people from settling down because they always have options for more people to date.
One thing is for sure: Online dating sites are proliferating and Internet dating is in full swing. The digital dating frontier is here and for better or worse, is making a big mark on our cultural approach to sex, relationships and even love.