An author by the name of Ka once said, “Life is not a matter of chance… It is a matter of choice.” Life forces us to face dozens of choices every day whether it is deciding which of hundreds of television channels to watch or on which social media site we want to waste our free time. Running out of options is simply not an option anymore, especially when it comes to dating. In the past, people met mainly through face-to-face encounters by chance or through mutual friends. Today, people can find love in an instant at the touch of a button thanks to the wonderful world of online dating; however, it originally was not as widely used as it is now. Online dating not only is an option but also is experiencing a tremendous shift in popularity. The paradigm shift of online dating can be attributed to a few important cultural moments and trends along with the changing views and habits of society.
I distinctly remember my grandmother telling me stories of how she met her boyfriends, including my grandfather, in high school. Most of the time, she begins these stories along the same line by saying, “I was dancing in the gym during our break time when he came up and asked if I would like to dance with him.” Then she goes on to describe how he later came to her house, met her parents, and took her on a romantic date. At the time, a lot of her stories seemed more like fairytales to me because the way people meet has drastically changed. For example, school dances are few and far between, so these will probably not be the type of stories the majority of future generations will tell their children. In fact, meeting potential romantic interests in person will likely be less and less common as time progresses. I personally know several people who have tried or are trying their luck with online dating, a trend that has become monumentally more popular over the years. Although it was certainly not during my grandmother’s younger years, this shift to online dating had to begin somewhere in order to take off.
Matchmaking services have been around for decades, but online dating started much more recently along with the development of the Internet. As a new and evolving idea, it needed a cultural boost to gain support, and that is exactly what the movie You’ve Got Mail provided. The film, which was released in 1998, features two competitors in the business world that fall in love in an online chat room (“History of Online Dating”). While chat rooms are not typically considered a legitimate source of online dating, the movie brought about a cultural shift in the perspective of online dating as it “put meeting someone on the Web in a positive light and showcased the Web as a tool for bringing people together…” (“History of Online Dating”). The release of this movie resulted in an increase in public acceptance at an opportune time when the shift was initially starting to gain momentum. The first major online dating site formed in 1994 and led to the establishment of 16 prominent sites only two years later (“History of Online Dating”). The number of Internet dating sites continued to grow rapidly as a result of the cultural boost from “You’ve Got Mail.” The perspective-changing film helped the trend gain awareness and acceptance, but the dramatic increase in technology usage allowed for a substantially larger market.
Technology is a key component in the shift since it is needed for online dating to exist at all. Before, Internet technology extended only as far as home computers. Today, the possibilities for Internet technology are seemingly endless and much easier to access. A 2013 survey found that only “15% of Americans report not using the Internet” (Jayson). This year, 24.5% of the world’s population uses smartphones, and this is a significant increase from 15.2% in 2012 (“Worldwide Smartphone”). Smartphone use has allowed people to access online dating sites on the go and practically anywhere. This simple change from home to portable access has allowed for increased numbers in those using the sites because they are not restricted to a certain area; instead, they can check and update their profiles in their free time wherever they may be. Simply, better technology has made online dating more convenient and therefore more popular. As our increasing addiction to technology helps push the online dating trend, it could also distract people from truly searching and settling down. While technology has provided a space for the shift to occur and expand, there are numerous motives, such as low self-esteem and confidence issues, which cause people to embrace the technological shift in online dating.
The media works both ways in this paradigm shift as it allows for increased access and drives people into it by lowering their self-esteem and confidence. Advertisements in the media showing airbrushed models or celebrities can lead a person to strive for unattainable appearances, which has a negative impact on how people view themselves. Social networking sites impact people the same way by measuring popularity, and this can also lead to a decrease in self-esteem. The University of Salford conducted a study based on “social media’s effects on self-esteem and anxiety and reported that 50% of their 298 participants said that their ‘use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter makes their lives worse’” (“The Relationship”). While these figures may be turning people away from social networking sites, they are also driving people towards online dating. This alternate method of dating requires less confidence than meeting someone face-to-face for the first time. Dating profiles allow users to get to know someone beforehand which gives them extra time to prepare and avoid some of the awkwardness. Consequently, this puts less pressure on making a good first impression because there is already some background knowledge established. This is an extremely important benefit that attracts people to online dating because 15 minutes is all that is needed for a man to decide if a second date is in the cards (Broussard). Profile pictures are another way sites combat confidence issues. Users have the option to post one or not, and whichever they choose can represent them in whichever way flatters them best. A study has shown that those who upload a profile photo receive twice as many messages as those who do not (Broussard). In some cases people with low-self esteem and confidence issues find online dating useful, as it is a way for them to hide their insecurities through lies and deception. When it comes to online dating, men lie most about age, height, and income, and women lie most about weight, physical build, and age (2014 Statistic Brain Research Institute). While this fact turns some people away, it attracts even more people since it is a way for them to avoid their issues. One implication of this factor is that people are forming relationships based on lies. Some people have made the move to online dating because of growing self-esteem issues, but changes in what people are looking for have been a major factor in the shift, as well.
Marriage is no longer the only option for people coming out of high school or college, so people are seeking other types of relationships and using online dating to find them. The paradigm shift to online dating has occurred as result of society’s changing ideals. Instead of searching for a spouse, people are now more accepting of casual relationships and even hookups. Online dating services have become extremely popular because there are sites for every possible type of relationship including long-term, casual dating, hookups, or friendship. Furthermore, these categories can be divided into more specific categories for different locations, sexual orientation, race, and religion. Match.com, for example, is used by 21,575,000 people and offers a 400-question survey (2014 Statistic). Obviously, this is a website geared toward finding perfect long-term relationships. On the other hand, Tinder is becoming more popular and has seen nearly 25% growth per week in the UK over the last year (Cox). This site is prominently for the expanding hookup culture, so it requires only a photo and generic profile to be seen by those in nearby areas. The various options offered by dating sites have attracted millions of people with specific preferences, further giving rise to the paradigm shift; however, some worry that these options may prevent people from settling down in serious relationships. Online dating simplifies the process of meeting the perfect match by narrowing down millions of options to exactly what people are seeking and helps them find it at a time when finding places to meet in the real world is no simple task.
The days of always meeting future husbands and wives in high school and college are over, and people who wait until later in life to find the one are finding online dating to be a useful resource. Though the are 54 million single adults in the U.S., finding a date in public is not as easy as it once was, especially after high school and college which are two of the most common places to meet (2014 Statistic). From 1990 to 2010, the average marrying age for men has risen from 26 to 28 and from 24 to 26 for women (U.S. Bureau of the Census). Waiting several years after college forces these singles to find new meeting places. Many view bars as a productive public ground to meet new people, but in fact, less than ten percent of men and women have found a lasting relationship in a bar (Broussard). In comparison, Sharon Jayson of USA Today reports that “more than a third of recent marriages in the USA started online….” She also includes that “22% of newly formed couples had met online….” These statistics demonstrate the difference in success between online dating and bars, places thought to be some of the most useful meeting scenes for singles. Society has shifted its ideals from marrying immediately after school at young ages and has instead become obsessed with the entire matchmaking process.
Combining a love of technology and matchmaking through shows such as The Bachelor and Are You the One? has helped progress the shift in online dating. The Bachelor aired in 2002 and has since recorded a total of 18 seasons and several spinoff shows. Are You the One? aired in 2014 and is currently in its second season. Demonstrating the obsession with using matchmaking to find love, millions consistently view both shows. While some of the contestants find love and others do not, the success stories give viewers hope and belief in the matchmaking process. In addition, it gives a more romantic edge and fairytale-like feeling to meeting through matchmaking. Some online dating sites rely on chance to bring couples together, yet many heavily rely on the matchmaking process. These shows, one that followed shortly after online dating took off and one that began quite recently, prove the interest in matchmaking and continue to support the shift to online dating. Of course, money is an immense driving force behind the dating shows that bring out the love for matchmaking, and it also a driving force for everyone involved in online dating.
Money makes the online dating world go around, and it has been an important aspect to both consumer and producer throughout this paradigm shift. Originally, these sites did not result in outstanding profits, but companies pushed advertising. Their advertisement efforts successfully brought in millions of customers and dollars. As a result, a few successful business ventures in online dating resulted in a heightened interest in the area. In 2013, the industry’s worth grew 4% from the previous year to equal $1.2 billion (Fottrell). Money brought in by the online dating industry not only proves the shift but also encourages it to advance by making others want to invest. On the other hand, money plays a role from the consumer standpoint in the shift, too. The most significant problems for American couples are arguments about money (Broussard), so it is important for singles to use their money wisely when looking for a relationship. The average dating site customer spends about $240 per year (2014 Statistic). This may seem like a large number at first glance, but it is an insignificant amount compared to how much would be spent on several dates that amount to nothing in the end. Therefore, paying for online sites may actually pay off more in the long run which is an attractive idea that has played an influential role in the shift.
Business is booming in the online dating world and not just because of the monetary benefits it offers to those involved. The shift from face-to-face meetings to online dating is evident, and the driving forces behind the shift are numerous. Online dating has taken off at full force since its startup and now leaves us with 10% of the U.S. population visiting dating sites each month (Fottrell). When it first originated, these numbers would have been inconceivable, but online dating is becoming more common and accepted. There has always been a stigma associated with online dating, but it appears to be lifting. Tom Risen wrote in his article, “Twenty one percent of Internet users agreed with the survey question that ‘people who use online dating sites are desperate,’ although that sentiment decreased compared with 29 percent of people who said that in 2005.” While online dating is slowly but surely becoming more accepted, it has surely evolved and become more popular over the years as it experienced a paradigm shift. One downside to the shift is that meeting through traditional means and experiencing instant, spontaneous chemistry may become less common or even extinct. Plus, users cannot always fully trust everything or everyone they see on online dating sites. Online daters could also become engrossed in the process and refuse to try meeting anyone in public by choice or chance. Downfalls aside, online dating has many positive aspects that have rapidly increased its popularity since its origins. It is safe to say that online dating is here to stay.
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