The Internet Dating Game

We’ve all thought about it. But Pew Research reports that only one in ten people have actually signed up for an online dating site or app. Part of this is due to a long standing social stigma but slowly, as the technology improves, the options expand and society evolves, it is beginning to lift.

Online dating has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1990s when sites like started showing up. Since then, sites have become more detailed and have started to target specific audiences through names like Farmers Only or advanced features that draw more members from their intended demographic.

Some dating services have evolved into the form of smartphone apps, such as Tinder and LuLu, to make the process easier and more appealing to younger audiences who might not want the feel of the traditional online dating experience. For college students, sites like Date My School need an .edu email account. This makes the experience more secure and easier to meet people in your situation, at your comfort level.

Even with these advances, online dating still maintains a bad rep. Cofounder of OkCupid and CEO of Sam Yagan explained to the Harvard Crimson that this negative perception of the online dating scene can be traced back to the first dating sites. “Think about it: The only people on the Internet in 1993 were geeks….If you were single in the 90s, you were cool, and you probably didn’t use the Internet or online date.”

John Edlund, assistant professor of psychology at RIT, traces the online dating stigma back even further, to the time when classified newspaper dating ads were seen as a last resort for the desperate.

The perception of online dating has been slow to change even with all of the new features and apps that are coming out; however, there has been some visible improvement. In a 2013 Pew Research survey of internet users, 59 percent agreed that online dating is a good method for meeting people, which is 15 percentage points higher than responses to the same question in 2005. However, 21 percent of responders still believed that online dating sites are for the desperate. Although this number is eight percentage points lower than the 29 percent who believed the same thing eight years earlier, the results suggest that the stigma persists, even if among a smaller population.

“There will always be horror stories of psychos being on those websites.” said Edlund. While horror stories can happen in offline dating too, the stories about online dating only add to the stigma already attached to it.

Increasingly, college students have been trying out online dating. According to The Harvard Crimson, sites like Date My School are responsible for over 50 percent of dates that happen on campuses like Columbia and NYU. One in five students across Harvard University have a Date My School account. Many students have cited their disappointed with their current college dating scene or the difficulty of juggling school and extra-curriculars as reasons for considering online dating.

Danielle Campbells, fourth year Physics major, had her first experience with online dating back in 2011 while she was working long hours at an office and took online courses before she came to RIT. “The only people I saw everyday were my employees and they weren’t exactly dateable material,” said Campbell.

With little time in her schedule to meet people outside of work, she turned to online dating sites like OKCupid and PlentyofFish. While at RIT, she could see many different reasons that people might want start online dating whether it be the male to female ratio or just not having enough time to commit to starting a relationship.

With recent changes in social norms, it’s a lot easier to get into online dating without being looked down upon. “It’s no longer taboo to say that you met your partner through an online dating source” said Edlund. In fact, Pew Research found that 11 percent of people who entered into committed relationships within the last 10 years met their partner online.

Even with online dating’s growing success and social acceptance, some still feel the need to hide their online dating from others. Campbell’s own friend hid the fact he met his partner on an online dating site. “He told me he met her at a party and three months later I found out he met her online,” said Campbell. “They were embarrassed.”

If you are interested in trying online dating, don’t let embarrassment hold you back. With a lifting social stigma and increasing ease of use, online dating can sometimes be your best partner in the search for romance. 

Example apps/sites:

Date My School: Sign up with your .edu email and find similar individuals at your school or beyond.

Lulu: Know about the guy you are interested in before you make a move with this app for girls to rate guys. Log in with your Facebook account and find out who’s the highest rated dude on your friends list and add your own ratings with hashtags ranging from #OwnsCrocs to #SexualPanther.

Down: Be anonymous yet blunt at the same time. Browse your Facebook friends and discreetly tell them you want to date or “get down”. They won’t know what you chose unless they want to do the same.

Tinder: Look through headshots of people in your area and sort them into two categories: swipe right for yes, left for no. If both of you swipe right, you can start chatting right away.

HowAboutWe: “How about we… get a variety of fancy chocolates and try them all,” “go on a hike,” “to a flea market” or “to see a band neither of us have heard of and see if they are any good.” Scroll through lists of date proposals from singles in your area and choose the ones you find most interesting. Or, for those already in a relationship, sign up as a couple and find ideas for your own fun and unique dates too.