If you have dinner with someone you met online, and, after several drinks and hitting all your preplanned talking points, you go home with them, was it a date? Or was it a hookup? What if you met through a mutual friend instead? Let’s say you don’t spend the night together, and after two days of radio silence he texts you asking if you’d like to have drinks again? Is it just an invitation for a hookup? The list of scenarios and explanations is endless. The days of men courting women and asking fathers for a girl’s hand in marriage are over, and we are left confused and single with only our Tinder accounts to keep us company.
What is dating today? If you ask any millennial it is likely that they will either have a range of answers or they’ll have none. “Dating” sounds dated; what do we call it? Before smartphones and dating apps, before we were all so accessible to one another with a quick text, we actually had to verbally communicate with each other. We had to speak to someone’s face rather than a phone or computer screen, and we couldn’t take four hours to reply. To see someone and to date someone meant having to use a landline, make plans, and follow through with them. To break up with someone, regardless of whether or not it was done perfectly, a face-to-face confrontation (or at least a phone conversation) was inevitable because that was the only means of communication. This, I’m sure you know, is no longer the case.
After almost a year of trying multiple online dating websites and apps, I can’t help but wonder if in gaining convenience in forming relationships, we are losing an important part of how we forge connections and the work it takes to make them. When we can get a date at a moments notice and find a new best friend swiping through pictures of girls offering to share their wine and Sex and the City season one DVD collection, are we inadvertently sacrificing something? Has our reliance on the convenience of dating apps also led us to a kind of disconnection between each other? Technology has slipped itself into almost every aspect of our lives, so what does this mean to relationships in the twenty-first century? Human connections have always been forged organically– by chance, or through the connections we’ve made with others.
As of Fall 2015, 54,250,000 Americans were single and 49,250,000 had tried online dating. Needless to say, the majority of us are okay with swiping left and right to get a date. I have tried the traditional and the millennial way, and I am confident in saying that there really is no difference; people suck whether you meet them at work, on the train, or through a dating app. Starting a relationship online is the same as starting a relationship the way we used to, except that instead of meeting first, you text. In some ways this can be a positive experience. Meeting someone online can take the anxiety and uncertainty out of the first date; you have the chance to get an idea of who your date is before putting yourself through an awkward afternoon cup of coffee.
Does this mean that the quality of relationships can be improved as well? A study conducted by Stanford University found no difference in the success or strength of relationships that began online; dating is dating. Another study from the University of Chicago found that married couples who met using online dating services were much happier and less likely to be divorced than couples who didn’t. One theory as to why this is claims that people are more willing to be open and honest when talking online because the pressures of physical appearances do not exist. As a generation we already feel comfortable sharing the most trivial parts of our day on the Internet, and it appears that that same openness has followed us into our dating mentalities.
Both men and women share a legitimate fear of the trending phenomenon– catfishing. When you can’t meet someone in person first, you run the risk of talking to someone other than who they claim to be. Some women are skeptical of online dating, saying that they’re afraid of meeting a serial murderer or a kleptomaniac. Although these are valid concerns, the chances of meeting a serial murder or kleptomaniac are slim, and further, are completely in your control; if you get a serial murderer vibe, you can block them immediately or choose to not meet them. If you want to argue that people can sometimes be deceptive and not reveal their collection of guns or stolen goods until the fifth date, I would counter with the fact that this is always a possibility regardless of how you meet them. Meeting your date through an app doesn’t raise your chances of meeting a weirdo; it can actually improve your chances of meeting the one.
Although this hasn’t exactly been my experience with online dating, I haven’t met a kleptomaniac either. The popular dating app Coffee Meets Bagel matched me with the person who would give me one of the best first dates I’ve been on. It was a boozy Brooklyn Bridge in the summertime kind of perfect. Yes, he turned out to be a hypersexual Brit with his fair share of commitment issues, but I had fun. Sometimes going on a date turns out to be just that, a date. But who’s to say that because something doesn’t lead to a relationship, it can’t be fun? Online dating has given me the power to choose the kind of date I want and the type of fun I want to have.
The online dating community is composed of millions of other singles looking for something in particular. There are hundreds of gender, fetish, age, sexuality, etc., specific dating websites that offer hundreds of dates tailored to what you are looking for, based on the answers you give when creating your profile. Because the dating pool grows significantly when using an online service, it becomes easier to skip through some (not all) of the bullshit that comes with traditional dating. You can form connections more quickly and have more control in choosing a date online.
This brings us back to our original question: what is dating? Based on my background in Googling dating statistics and experience dating both the nice guy and the fuckwit, I still do not have an answer for you. But I can offer you some comfort when it comes to dating online: don’t be afraid, most of the people you’ll meet don’t bite. Unless you want them to, in which case, there’s an app for that.
Tessa Vela '16