They say online dating isn’t romantic, that it’s disconnecting us and reducing relationships to shallow hook-ups. Don’t believe the hype: whatever you’re looking for, online dating is the new normal.
I was eating lunch in a crowded Chinese restaurant when I overheard the man at the other table giving a passionate speech. “It’s no use complaining about smartphones or telling people they should stop texting all the time,” he said. “It’s like complaining to the Wright Brothers that heavy metal objects shouldn’t fly. It’s done. The airplane took off. The change already happened. Smartphones are everywhere. Now we just have to adapt.”
The man had a point. I’ve often heard people complain about texting, smartphones, internet porn and other new-ish technologies being bad for us, supposedly because they make us disconnect from each other and from reality. People say they damage the quality of our relationships. But the change already happened. Texting is just a normal thing now and it’s not disconnecting people, it’s giving us different ways and opportunities to connect. Smarphones and internet porn are completely embedded in our everyday lives, and people still go on loving and having sex with other real human beings, regardless. As for damaging our relationships, we’re quite capable of doing that without technology.
The same logic applies to online dating. You’ll hear people blame Tinder for hook-up culture, or complain that online dating isn’t as romantic as the other kind. There are profiles on Ok Cupid — a lot of profiles — where people act like they’re better than all the other supposed losers on the website. Guys send girls messages where they say, “What’s a nice girl like you doing on a site like this?” Somehow these people feel like offline dating is “the real thing,” and online dating is inherently inferior. They want to meet people online, but they’re conflicted, so they suggest that online dating is shameful and they don’t really belong there. This is summed up in the common pick-up line: “Where shall we tell people that we met?” Because, of course, you can’t say you met online.
Remember when we only ever dated people we met IRL? Me neither. It feels like it was a hundred years ago. Online dating is huge now. A significant percentage of people in developed countries now meet their long-term partners through online dating. Not just youngsters, either. People in their forties, fifties, and up, many of whom have already been through a divorce or three, are discovering the benefits of online dating.
And what are these benefits? The main one is that you have access to a broader range of potential matches, outside of your usual social group. You dramatically increase your dating pool, which is especially important if you’re in any way a sexual minority — queer, non-monogamous, kinky, disabled, or just a single mom whose sex life has to fit into narrow windows of opportunity between her life tasks. Online, you can get to know people on a different basis than when you meet them IRL, using their profile and conversation to evaluate compatibility rather than just going for someone because they’re there (which is, let’s face it, why office romance is so popular, because we so often default to having sex with whoever’s there, and I think we can all agree it’s a strategy with mixed results at best).
Yeah, okay, everyone wants to meet cute. “We were standing in line for the bus and I dropped my book, and she picked it up for me, and it was her favorite novel!” Isn’t it great when that happens? But hello grown-ups, no more magical thinking. Life does not have an obligation to drop romance into your lap. It’s kind of sad to wait around hoping you’ll just meet someone who’s right for you, like, “If it’s meant to happen, it will happen.” Fortune favors those who get off their butts and do something constructive towards their goals.
The beauty of online dating is that there’s something for everyone and everything for someone. However, much like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. Online dating requires the same open-mindedness and readiness to get your heart broken as any other form of dating. It also requires patience, chutzpah, empathy for your fellow humans, the ability to correctly use “they’re” vs. “their”, all the usual life skills.
But to those who still think online dating is questionable, or who hesitate about whether they should sign up at all, I say listen to the man in the Chinese restaurant: that airplane has flown. Online dating is normal now. We just have to adapt.