Online Dating - An Objective Analysis

           Stemming from the origins of our species, humans have been romancing one another throughout the centuries. From Adam and Eve’s “love at first rib”, to Romeo and Juliet’s infamously tragic mutual infatuation with poison, humans have found ways to transform the biological process of procreation into the complicated science we now call relationships. How people express and develop relationships has evolved over time. No longer do Elizabeth Bennets pen Mr. Darcys by candlelight. Now, millions of people have access to online dating sites with complex algorithms for matching profiles. However, with the addition of this new method of interaction comes a very new onslaught of social and ethical issues to consider.

Due to the global nature of the Internet, the practice of online dating can affect people from across the world. An estimated 2 billion people currently have access to the Internet, and 40 million people in the United States alone have tried online dating (“More than..” and “Online dating..”). With such an expansive reach, it is important to consider the benefits and risks to participating in online dating. Online dating can be excellent. Just read the testimonies advertised on every dating site’s homepage splashed onto a background of a photo of a smiling couple. It can act as a temporary amusement to a bored college kid, or a means to starting a lifelong marriage with a partner. Three of the main benefits that online dating provides its’ users as opposed to traditional dating are “access, communication, and matching” (Finkel).
Online dating provides “access” to matches outside of a users’ normal social circle. In a psychological analysis of online dating, Eli Finkel states, “The ‘field of eligibles’ for an individual was once limited primarily to members of that individual’s social network, the Internet now affords access to a vastly wider network of potential partners who would have been unknown or inaccessible in former eras” (Finkel). Whether you’re a homosexual person in a conservative southern town, or a fresh immigrant in New York City looking for a girl from the homeland, online dating can ease the difficulty in finding unusual connections. Additionally, the aspect of being able to communicate using technology can act as a safe buffer to test compatibility without having to go on the ever-dreaded blind date. Sometimes a simple message from a man demanding that his future companion wear dresses, birth him 9 children, and make him sandwiches at his whimsy is a valid timesaver for an uninterested girl. Finally, one of the most stressed bonuses of subscribing to online dating is the matching algorithm that is used to pair up potential lovers.  Finkel observes, “By referring to millions of users, science, and math, online dating sites suggest that meeting romantic partners online is not only different from, but also better than, searching for partners in conventional ways” (Finkel). As a civilization that has become more tied to technology, the idea of trusting math and science to find a mate has become increasingly attractive.  The algorithms in Google maps seem to do a good job getting you from point A to B. So why wouldn’t a computer do just as good a job at introducing you to your dream companion?
While some people are willing to put their money on the benefits of online dating, there are various negative consequences that can accompany the positives. One of the main negative consequences that is rather concerning is the fostering of high judgment. Too often I have been in the room with one of my friends who utilizes the dating app “Tinder” while he swipes across girls faces, immediately judging them on whether or not their nose looks weird or their forehead is too big. Online dating can eliminate the personal interaction that goes into developing chemistry with a potential partner. It can also leave those who are not particularly attractive feeling demoralized and hopeless. Even if they happen to have an exquisite personality, they no longer have the chance to display anything but their physical sides.  Additionally, because the science of attraction is so complex, using dating sites may close a person off to relationships that the matching algorithms don’t account for even when perhaps a person may have been interested.
Besides for the long-term effects of online dating, there are also short-term effects as well. Many naysayers of online dating voice concern over the safety of meeting a “stranger” from an online dating site in real life. My friend’s father had to deal with a stalker that he met on eHarmony and even had to change his phone number and email address. People have used online dating sites to scam lonely people into giving them money, and many people simply utilize online dating for meaningless sexual hookups. Various things can go wrong without the safety net of a preexisting mutual acquaintance to vouch for a potential partner’s merit. Additionally, there is still a common view of social embarrassment over online dating. I personally have a friend who is dating someone she met online.  She noted, “I do feel awkward about meeting online. Because as common as it has become, I still feel like people judge me when I tell them”(SITE?). In the digital age we currently live in, why is it that people who have used online dating services still get judged?  Perhaps it is because we associate online dating with an inability to interact well in the real world; however, it is interesting to note that people who text, snapchat, tweet, and use instagram as their primary methods of communication do not receive the same negative stigma as those who participate in online dating.
Overall, it is difficult to properly assess the benefits and drawbacks of online dating. Online dating is a relatively new social experiment, and its long-term effects remain to be seen.  Online dating can provide many benefits to users who are serious about finding potential companions; however, the benefits are accompanied by risks such as stalking and social judgment. Before I wrote this paper, I decided to publish a post on Facebook asking for peoples’ personal experiences with online dating. The realization I found most surprising about this exercise was the shear number of people that I know have utilized the services. Even more surprising, was everyone’s acknowledgement of the social stigma behind social dating, which seems contradictory to its popularity.  While online dating currently remains everyone’s “dirty little secret”, its prevalence continues to grow and will continue to influence the relationships of tomorrow.

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