“I met my wife on top of a mountain in the Himalayas and the skies parted when I saw her for the first time.”
Everyone knows “that couple.” The couple of friends that met in the most romantic way possible and love telling the story of how they met every chance they get. The stories are cute and often #couplegoals, but for most people it’s just not realistic. Meeting people in traditional ways is becoming harder and harder with increased work schedules and the globalization of society. It’s not unrealistic to hear nowadays “Oh we met online.” It’s not flashy and is not the romantic story everyone wants, but that’s life. Online dating is incredibly convenient, especially with the invention of dating apps like Tinder and Bumble.
Online dating has become a regular everyday part of life, especially for millenials. I sat down with two millenials of varying ages to talk about online dating and its relation to millennial culture. The conversation broke down into three phases: the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good news is that it works. A lot of people find success using either dating sites and/or apps. Eharmony’s website claims that between two and four percent of marriages in the United States come from eharmony. Preston Shapiro is a 29-year-old restaurant manager from Denver who met his current girlfriend online. Natalie Payne is a 20-year-old college student living in Des Moines who has mostly used dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge.
“I started using it in 2008 while living in Tucson,” Shapiro says. “I used Plenty of Fish, OK Cupid, Bumble, etc. After breaking up with a serious relationship in 2010 and living in Phoenix, I used it often and it helped me make some very good friends along the way.” He has had varied success over the years, but talks about how some of the advantages are things people don’t usually think about. A lot of his good friends now are people he initially met online through dating websites. “The dating apps allow for a different type of connection when you first meet someone after reading their profile and initially chatting,” he says.
Overall the stigma towards online dating is disappearing. The Pew Research Center in 2015 found over half of men and women in the US, 59 percent in fact, think online dating is a good way to meet people. The number of people that believe this increased significantly from 2010 to 2015, and there is reason to expect the number to continue increasing.
Both Shapiro and Payne speak specifically about the stigma that they have or haven’t experienced. “There used to be [a stigma]. Seems like since 2015 it has been transitioning to all ages as long as they know how to use a smartphone. A lot more people are online now. I have been online for over 10 years now and there are more people from all different generations on there. It all has to do with convenience and saving money, energy, and time,” Shapiro says.
Payne sees both sides of the issue. “Yes absolutely a stigma still exists. Talking with my mom, who wants me to find someone, she tells me not to meet them online or through apps. But I think it depends on who you’re talking to. None of my friends would care if I met someone through Tinder.”
There is no shortage of people to meet online. Match.com is the most popular non-app online dating site and the site reports 23.5 million users, as well as their site being visited 39.7 million times per month. Eharmony, a website serving a similar purpose, has about 10 million active users.
“Being a girl on dating apps can be easy and fun. You can get a ton of matches. From what I hear it can be a lot harder to be a guy,” Payne says. “It’s enjoyable and it’s fun meeting new people. It’s nice to know different walks of life and going out and hanging out with people who you wouldn’t normally meet is always fun and nice.”
The same Pew Research Study finds that 27 percent of people using dating sites and apps are between the ages of 18-24. The younger the users are, the more likely they’re able to find a potential partner online.
There are some bad things that come along with online dating as well. Both Shapiro and Payne have had negative experiences with online dating and there are some pretty shocking numbers as well.
First of all, it can be expensive. While most apps are initially free, they often charge for full access to the apps features through premium accounts such as Tinder Gold, which charges $14.99 a month for a user to be able to see which users liked them before swiping themselves. According to Statistics Brain, the average online dating user spends about $243 per year.
That doesn’t include the mental cost of some personal interactions. Payne has some shocking personal anecdotes about her experiences with talking to men online. “It’s kind of disgusting how guys will just comment about the way you look, what they want to do, and it’s kind of gross. You can kind of feel like an object when it comes to that sometimes.”
She also deals with personal struggles of feeling like there is still a stigma. “I feel like if I met my significant other on Tinder I would be embarrassed to say it. I feel like some people would still judge me for that. I think people want to have a cute story on how they met, and feel like there should be some grandiose thing, and Tinder just isn’t it.”
As part of this stigma, online dating can be seen as a last resort. Pew Research found that 23 percent of people find online dating users desperate. That number is on the decline though, as it was 29 percent in 2005.
As most people who have spent time on dating sites know, online dating can be incredibly misleading. Phactual.com found that more than half of people using dating sites or apps lie in their profiles. They found that on free dating apps more than 10 percent of the profiles are from bots and scammers.
Online dating can also lead to heartbreak and personal disappointment just as much as other types of dating can. “I have had some scary unfortunate first dates and encounters that just made me feel so disappointed in dating that I stopped for about three years,” Shapiro says.
The relationships usually end online as well. Eharmony posted an infographic on their website that stated that just under half of the relationships that start on their website end via text or email. That’s harsh.
For a lot of people, the negatives can outweigh the positives. Shapiro has mixed feelings about it, even though he is in a great relationship currently because of online dating. “It would depend on the person if I would recommend it to be honest. Online dating and dating apps are not for everyone,” he says. “We all learn and experience life differently.”
The internet can be a scary place sometimes. Online dating is no different. For all the good and the bad, there is also quite a bit of ugly.
It can be unsafe. Phactual.com found that 10 percent of sex offenders use online dating to meet other people. The scarier statistic is that 25 percent of rapists last year used online dating sites or apps to meet their victims.
“Be very careful,” Payne says. “I hate to say this, but especially if you’re a woman you have to be super careful with who you get in a car with or who you meet up with at dinner, because it can end very poorly and in a very scary way. You have to let your friends know where you’re going and share your location with them.”
Catfishing, which is defined as luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona, is also a very real threat. The Federal Trade Commision reported online dating scam victims have lost over $220 million to online dating scams. That number has tripled over the last five years. Online dating can leave people both broke and heart broken when they find out the person they’ve been talking to isn’t who they were led to believe.
Online dating is a cheater’s paradise. Phactual.com found that 51 percent of people using dating apps are already in committed relationships, 11 percent of whom are married.
Finding potential partners online can be unsafe for other reasons as well. Pew Research found that 33 percent of women have sex on their first online date, however only one out of five of those women used protection.
There are many pros and cons to online dating. It is a choice every person has to make for themselves. Many see the benefits as worth it. There are millions and millions of people online; it greatly increases an individual’s chances to meet someone. For others, the costs are simply too great; the safety risks are just not worth it. It’s important to note that dating in the “real world” is not completely safe either.
Online dating can lead to great opportunities, but just like anything in life there is a decision to be made. It’s important for people to be informed about the risks involved in online dating and for individuals to make that choice for themselves. Online dating has a serious impact on culture, and trends suggest it’s only going to get more popular.
Photos and Graphics by Kalle Sorbo.