Online Dating

Dating in The Digital Age

 

Introduction:

            The rise of social media has affected our society in many ways. From the way we communicate with each other, now to playing a part in the dating world. We as humans use our relationships with others to develop our own identity and character. We use our primal need of feeling cherished and embraced to seek out a potential partner. One-way people are achieving this is through the use of social media and technology. Through the evolution of online dating, the search for love and affection has become more accessible through our own computers and cellphones. From Match.com introducing the first online dating site in 1995 to the many dating applications we have access to today.

Dating has become quite easy to do in the online world and conventional dating has become a burden. With the recent innovations in technology, many people have a easer time using social media to find a potential partner. The younger generation, in particular, have become most interested in seeking out online relationships. In fact, of the 2 billion online dating users, 53% are young adults, ages 18-24 and 52% of those relationships are successful. Though, with these lucrative outcomes there are also ones that end in deception, infidelity or mendacity. 53% of people who date online lie on their online dating profile. With racial and gender discrimination many people misrepresent themselves online to fit in with more of the favorable stereotypes. The online world could allow users to become someone they are not because essentially, you’re anonymous. On one hand anonymity is great in the fact that it eases the communication between you and others. On another hand anonymity grants you the power of being whoever you wish to be, which constructs troubling issues. Some, in which are infidelity, deception and danger, which are easy to accomplish online rather than offline. Though most cases may be innoxious, others could be very serious and could lead to fatal situations. Younger adults are more likely to be put in these types of situations because the online world and youth culture instilled in them to have a thinner trust with the people they conversate with online. Although the digital age has exposed some negatives aspects of the online dating world (Deception, infidelity, and potential danger), online dating just happens to be a better way to date than dating traditionally. The constant innovation makes finding a potential partner more accessible, it eases communication with others, it is user friendly (applications) as well as using accurate databases. Online dating, as far as finding a soul-mate online, is the future of how we will choose to date.

The Evolution of Online Dating:

Before the modern era, arranged marriages were normal throughout most of the world. Many romantic relationships began with marriage proposals arranged by family members in exchange for benefits, such as monetary rewards, security, and social standing. Individuals who were unable to have a spouse by their early twenties often faced social shame (Finkel, Eastwick, Karney, Reis, & Sprecher, 2012). This began to change with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1685, which allowed for the first personal matchmaking ads to be published in newspapers throughout Western Europe (PBS, 2013). Matchmaking services continued into the modern era, but they never gained success in the U.S. or other Western countries (Finkel, 2012). The modern approach of dating as an activity separated from courtship that was formed in the 1930’s and 1940’s (Stafford, 2008). During this time, it was popular for couples of the opposite sex to go on dates together without the goal of getting married. Dating was often perceived as a way to gain popularity, and the number of dates that some could get was closely related to your social status (Stafford, 2008). As the 21st century came about, societal changes such as less pressure to marry, an increase in workplace responsibilities, and increased social advancement began to take shape. These changes allowed individuals to marry later in life, usually after their careers were established (Kambara, 2005). With people becoming more busy, they needed a way to meet partners on their own time. The invention of the internet in the 1980’s solved this issue. Sites such as Craigslist allowed people to meet potential mates through personal ads and chat rooms (PBS, 2013). The first modern dating site, match.com, was introduced in 1995. Since then, online dating sites have developed into much more . (PBS, 2013). In 2007, online dating companies began to incorporate social networking into dating sites, such as OkCupid and Zoosk (PBS, 2013). These sites were unique because they connected people based on geographical proximity and mutual online acquaintances, such as having mutual friends on Facebook. According to Forbes Magazine, there are over 2,500 online dating services active in the U.S. right now, and over 8,000 sites worldwide (Zwilling, 2013). A number of these sites, including Match.com and e-Harmony. These sites are designed to allure to the majority of people seeking partners online and are marketed towards the “older” adult general public (ages 27 and up). Other sites target more specific user profiles. For example, sites like JDate, Christian Mingle, and Black People Meet, are based on groups that share identities while others like, Anastasia Date or Just Farmers are based on desired demographics (Russian women or farmers). According to Finkel, most online dating sites, claim to serve three main functions: connecting users to a large pool of potential soul-mates, easing the communication between users who would be unable to offline, and using math or science based methods to calculate compatibility between users (Finkel, et al, 2012). These sites often gain popularity and create a user-friendly base by advertising that these functions are unique, new yet fun to the online dating settings and therefore make them superior to offline forms of dating (Finkel, et al., 2012) This is the reason why people are seeking out relationships online rather than conventional dating. It is easier and gives the average person less anxiety when seeking out a potential partner.

 

The Innovation of Online Dating

The fact that online dating sites have the power to connect users to potential mates suggest that the way that people are shown or presented impacts how they are selected. Another way online dating sites maintain popularity is through constant innovation. Approximately 1,000 new online dating sites are invented and introduced to the public each year (Zwilling, 2013). The latest addition to the online dating market are mobile phone applications, or “apps,” (PBS, 2013). Apps seem to be easier because they are downloaded and used on individual smart phones. These applications are unique in that they do not really rely on math and science based methods, like dating sites, but rather use closer databases to determine potential matches. One of the most popular mobile dating apps among young people today is Tinder. Founded in 2012, Tinder connects users via Facebook to other people in their desired age-range and location (in the latest updates you are now allowed to now match with people outside your age group and even people across the world). (Schacter, 2015). After viewing someone’s photos and a personal bio, users have the choice to swipe right to “Like” the person they see or swipe left if they’re not interested (Schacter, 2015). If both users like each other’s profiles, it is a “match” then each of the users are then given the opportunity to chat with each other and are given offered topics to begin their conversation (Schacter, 2015). Because of Tinder’s uprising demand and popularity, it will be referenced throughout my paper.

Current Perceptions of Discrimination, Deception, and Danger:

As the popularity of online dating increases, so does its reputation as a socially acceptable outlet for meeting potential partners. Research suggests that young adults, along with the general public, tend to perceive online dating sites and apps as favorable and safe. In a study done by Couch, Liamputtong and Pitts (2012), they examined what ways users perceived online dating to be, risky or dangerous. To do this, they used online interviews of 29 young adults who use online dating in Australia. They found that daters were worried primarily about the following things: online deceit, emotional vulnerability, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, violence, and many more risks that the internet presents (Couch et. al, 2012). Overall, individuals did not believe the internet was more dangerous than other avenues of meeting partners. This research showed how danger is perceived, which is as something foreign from us and feared because it is unknown (the person you’re meeting or new to dating online). These findings seem to challenge the ideas that the internet is perceived as more dangerous than traditional venues of meeting partners, like bars, and illustrates how and why online dating has increased over the years.

Though many people view online dating to not be as risky and dangerous as we would think, we should not give it the benefit of the doubt. In the big world of social media, it is quite easy to be someone other than yourself. In a study done by Dijk W. Zeelenberg, as an adolescent/young adult, it is way easier to perceive things as less harmful and less dangerous because they are easily manipulated into believing things that might not be true. (Dijk, W., Zeelenberg, M., and Pligt, J., 2003) Many predators and other dangerous people use social media and technology to lure in a younger crowd. This has become a very big issue now in the young adult community, such as, kidnaps, rape, and even murders have increased by 24% since the 2000’s. (Dijk, W., Zeelenberg, M., and Pligt, J., 2003) The digital age has let the internet become a feeding ground for several predators. This percentage could easily decrease with basic knowledge of the potential dangers of the internet. With that knowledge you should always make sure the person you are meeting online is who they say they are by asking inquisitive questions, such as, asking to video chat, send pictures, and making sure that their social media accounts (if they have any) are credible, to avoid those traumatizing issues. Because of these issues I will reference the topic of young adults and online dating later in my paper.

Gender discrimination

 Facing exclusion based on one’s gender can be particularly damaging during young adulthood. Many individuals are struggling to feel a sense of belonging to something and establishing their identities. Sexism and gender-based discrimination are particularly relevant in online dating settings. Studies suggest that female users of online dating sites and applications often report different experiences than male users. For example, women are more likely than male users to fall victim to discrimination on online dating sites (Smith & Duggan, 2013; Guadagno, Bradley, Okdie, & Kruse, 2012; Hall, Park, Song, & Cody, 2010). According to Smith and Duggan, heterosexual women are over twice as likely as heterosexual men to face discrimination online by potential partners (Smith & Duggan 2013). Women’s experiences of being deceived online may be because men are, in general, less honest online than women are. Both Guadagno et. al (2012) and Hall et. al (2010) found that men are more likely to intentionally misrepresent themselves in online dating settings than women are. This difference is when men expect to meet a woman face-to-face versus online (Guadagno et. al, 2012). In this situation, men tended to rate themselves as more attractive when they thought they would never meet a woman they were talking to online in person (e.g. they would rate themselves a 7 online and a 5 when they expected to meet in person) (Guadagno et. al, 2012). Hall also found that, when he administered a survey to measure the likelihood of men and women being deceptive about their economic status, their interests, their appearance, their personality, or their past/present relationship goals, men were a lot more likely than women to exaggerate their income level (2010). These findings suggest that men who use online dating sites may feel pressure to adhere to cultural norms. (“men must be the breadwinner”) which result in deception. Although men are more likely to misrepresent themselves in general, studies suggest that women also feel the pressure to culturally “fit in” in online dating settings (Hefner & Kahn, 2014; Hall et. al, 2010). Hall found that women on online dating sites do more self-monitoring then men (2010). As a result, women are more likely to feel pressure to misrepresent their weight and appearance online (Hall, et. al, 2010). In another example, researchers Hefner and Kahn (2014) used a survey to measure gender role rates of media intake. They found that the more media an individual consumed, the more likely they were to conform to gender assumptions of romance (2014). These individuals were also more likely to express the existence of an “ideal” partner and favored individual profiles that seemed “perfect”. Since the majority of these consumers of romantic media are women, the media’s perception and portrayal of “ideal” affects them disproportionately. This research suggest that this may play a crucial role in determining who is perceived as who they say they are and more and who gets stereotyped as the other. This also reinforces gender stereotypes, which are a big thing of gender discrimination, that suggest romance is more important to women than men (Perrin et. al, 2011). These findings suggest that online dating sites are a place where women believe they have to adhere to traditional gender stereotypes in order to get matches or dates.

Racial Discrimination:

            Previous research suggests that young adults are more likely to experience racial discrimination. For example, when interviewing high school students, Fischer, Wallace, and Fenton (2000) found that the majority of students of color reported numerous time of being racially discriminated from educators, institutions, and peers. These instances were associated with high levels of anxiety in anticipation of future oppression, as well as lower self-esteem (Fischer et. al, 2000). Online dating institutions may bolster racial discrimination, too. Numerous studies suggest that racial profiling plays a significant role in the online dating settings (Alhabash, Hales, Baek, & Oh, 2014; Glasser, Robnett, & Feliciano, 2009). Most online dating users are prone to “homophily,” which means they select mates from the same racial group (Ken-Hou & Lundquist, 2013). Young adults who are seeking acceptance within social groups, may be particularly prone to homophily. In a study conducted by Alhabash et. al (2014), he examined the impact online dating profiles can have on racial stereotyping and mate preference. Researchers used previous findings about stereotypes to create white and black stereotypic profiles, including interests, educational and occupational backgrounds, and biographies for each profile. Students were asked to rate the attractiveness of the hypothetical user that was either pictured as white or black, and had either a white stereotypic profile or a black one. They found that students rated individuals with white stereotypic profiles as more attractive than black profiles. Both of these studies showed stereotypes about white individuals are held higher than stereotypes assigned those of color. This type of stereotyping is relevant in instances of online dating not only because of the effects it can have on young people, but because it illustrates how judgments are made on limited visual and textual information.

Young Adults Proximity and Online Dating:

            For decades, researchers studying devotion have seen the importance of proximity between a child and their caregivers (Seigel, 1999). Children seek proximity to their mothers or other caregivers and use them as a “safe” base to explore the unknown (Seigel, 1999). Young adults, who are typically seeking independence from their caregivers, often rely on peers to serve as attachment objects and regularly seek proximity to them (Allen, 2008). The internet, and online dating in particular, serve as another outlet for young adults to seek meaningful connections to peers. In fact, research suggests that young adults may feel a false sense of security when they meet people online based on that connection alone. For example, Quiroz (2013) explored the current cases of online dating and how it is shifting to represent more proximity-focused apps, like Tinder. Quiroz claims the popularity of these apps is made possible by the fact that they create an illusion of “thin trust” (2013). Quiroz defines thin trust as “the assumption that because an anonymous person appears similar to you and shares your extended social circle, they are trustworthy.” Many individuals on these applications begin to believe that if thin trust is present, it will be easier for “thick trust” to develop and a meaningful relationship to form (Quiroz, 2013). Apps based on this proximity may create a false sense of security and attachment for the young adults who use them. On the other hand, Merkle and Richardson (2000) argue that more traditional online dating sites actually reduce the need for proximity between potential partners. In this study, researchers compared online romantic relationships with those that began face-to-face. They compared the two types of relationships across four categories: relationship formation and ending, self-disclosure, conflict, and infidelity. They found that internet dating reduces the need for a physical connection. Their findings suggest that the lesser need for physical proximity between partners in online relationships is made possible by an increased need for an emotional connection (Merkle & Richardson, 2000). These findings suggest that when physical proximity is compromised, individuals fix it with emotional proximity in order to satisfy attachment needs. Their findings also suggest that young adults may seek the lack of an physical connection that online dating gives off because it eases them from having to mediate their relationships as much or solve conflict that comes more readily when a couple is face to face (Merkle & Richardson, 2000).

Online anonymity and infidelity:

            Young adulthood is a time when most individuals seek belonging and acceptance. Online dating offers an ideal outlet for young adults to explore alternative relationships anonymously and without the sting of rejection. For example, research shows that individuals experience the greatest feelings of loss when they invested highly and expect a great outcome in something that fails (Dijk, Zeelenberg, & Pligt, 2003). One-way people can avoid being disappointed is by having low expectations for outcomes of their actions (Dijk et. al, 2003). Mobile apps, like Tinder, are so popular among young adults because they allow users to talk to members of the opposite sex and make sexual passes without as much fear of rejection. The anonymity of online allows a braver attitude that many young adults adopt through online dating (2015). Research also suggests that the anonymity created by online dating sites influences ideas of infidelity between romantic partners (Merkle & Richardson, 2000). For example, in their comparison of online versus traditional relationships, Merkle and Richardson found that because individuals in online relationships may not have a close enough connection for sexual infidelity, concepts of infidelity are often created in these relationships. These findings suggest that couples who meet online may have different partnership patterns than those who did not, based on how they met (Merkle & Richardson, 2000). This description of infidelity online is reflected in youth culture. For example, if intimacy is gained mostly through sharing personal information through online conversations with a partner, then talking to another individual on Tinder besides your partner may be considered a form of infidelity by young adults using dating apps. This negative aspect in the digital age has actually increased the overall rate on infidelity that happens online by 12% (2015) The internet and social media encourages users to participate in unfaithful behavior. The anonymity and secrecy that the digital age has created a world where infidelities are now easier to do.

Consumer-Based Youth Culture:

            The main reason online dating has become so socially acceptable among young adults is that companies are profiting on these sites and created a billion-dollar industry by making dating online appeal to us. Studying the impact that this, Kambara (2005) examined online dating from a business perspective and measured how sites and apps used online social methods for economic profit. She argues that online dating is a business made possible by innovations in computer technology (Kambara, 2005). The societal changes I mentioned before, less pressure to marry, an increase in workplace responsibilities, and increased social advancement have also gave singles better opportunities to the possibility of meeting partners online (Kambara, 2005). Through some examinations on three different sites, she found that users used a number of strategies online, such as date collecting, demographic seeking and misrepresentation. (Kambara, 2005). Most users reported using these strategies out of fear that “someone else is out there,” and that in order to find the best possible partner, one had to constantly keep looking and frequently move on to the next potential mate (Kambara, 2005). Furthermore, dating apps allow people to develop and seek their fantasy of a perfect mate (Quiroz, 2013). Users have an endless amount of individuals at their fingertips and if they are disappointed once meeting a person, they can just move on to the next available person easily. These findings seem to reflect how online dating is a function of a larger, consumption based society, a society that is never satisfied. It is reasonable to think that the society’s orientation towards influences drives the actions of young adults participating in what is youth culture. What is particularly popular among young adults, promotes increased use of finding online potential partners and proximity within that, with the continuous human drive to form intimate partner relationships.

Conclusion:

             Online dating has both negative and positive aspects. The most common issues associated with online dating include the negative stigma attached with it such as racial and gender discrimination, infidelity, deception and danger. While online dating is very different from traditional dating in many ways, both are similar in the sense of getting to know someone and the risks and fears associated with it. It is easier to deceive online, but does not stop people from being deceiving when dating traditionally. Both good and bad relationships have been a result of online dating experiences, just like traditional dating experiences. It just so happens that online dating is a popular component of youth culture that is continuing to grow. People especially the younger generation, use online dating sites and apps as an easier outlet to meet others. It is more accessible and it is easier to communicate and express feelings. The findings derived from the research suggest that young adults do use online dating and they do so for many reasons; many believe they are discriminated against based on their appearance; many believe they have been lied to but few perceive themselves as lying and overall, they perceive online dating as positive and a normal thing to do. Online dating should be looked at as a supplemental way to meet people in an ever-changing society. As people get busier with work, school, and families, it becomes harder to meet people in traditional ways. Online dating is not for everyone, but many have experienced success with it. Those who have experienced success have also experienced problems, which can also be said about traditional dating. Online dating is easier and as our culture and society continues to change, online dating will become more and more common and accepted, and will be utilized in more ways than we can imagine.