It's hard to find an area of our lives that has not been impacted profoundly by the internet, but dating is perhaps one of the most interesting areas to look at. After all, dating - the process of trying to find a mate - is a core human activity. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense that the internet, which is a technology designed to help people connect and communicate, has been put to use in the search for love.
Accepting that the internet has changed dating forever is easy, but deciding whether those changes are good or bad is a bit more complicated. As with most things, there is no clear-cut answer. The internet has made some aspects of dating richer and easier, but it has also exposed us to some things that weren't prominent before, and that can make it harder for people to find someone with whom they can share their life.
Below we've done a deep dive into online dating. We start with some stats that help show how big of a movement this is and continue with a discussion about the various ways in which the internet has impacted how we date. Read on to find out all the different ways this revolutionary technology has revolutionized a fundamental human activity.
Stats About Online Dating
Before we go too far into the specific ways in which the internet has changed dating forever, here are some numbers to illustrate just how significant this form of meeting people has become in our daily lives:
The Many Different Online Dating Services
Although we just mentioned that there are more than 8,000 dating sites out there, a core group is used more often. To help you better understand how these sites and apps have changed dating, we thought it would be helpful to give a quick summary of some of these platforms and what makes them different:
As you can see, there are lots of different dating sites out there, and these six are just the tip of the iceberg. But they point to how much variation there is in how we approach dating, which helps explain how the internet has changed dating forever.
How the Internet Has Made Dating Better
Change is not always neutral, and so while the internet has reshaped dating forever, some of that change is good, and some of that change is not so good. Here are the main ways in which the internet has changed dating in a positive way:
There are Many More People to Date
Before the internet, people pretty much dated those in their immediate circles. They relied on friends and family members to put them into contact with people, or on meeting someone at work, in a religious or social group, at a bar, etc. Of course, people still do this, but using only this approach naturally exposes you to fewer people, which makes it not only harder to find someone to date but also someone you like.
Online dating apps and sites can put you into contact with people who live miles away from you, though most people still prefer to search locally. Thanks to apps, we can expand beyond our existing social circles and look for people in new areas, increasing our chances of finding someone who complements us and will make a good long-term match.
People Are More Likely to Date Those Different from Themselves
Along similar lines, traditional dating tended to only expose you to people closely aligned with your interests and way of life. And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, one of the most beautiful parts of dating is that it gives you the chance to come into contact with people who aren't like you and to gain an appreciation and understanding for who they are despite your differences.
One up-and-coming trend shows up in a study conducted by Tinder that found that 63 percent of people are more comfortable dating someone from a different race online. This makes sense as online dating allows you to connect with people who are not from your immediate area, which will expose you to people who are different. In this way, online dating is merely another way for the internet to bring us together.
People Are Clearer About Intention
When you sign up for an online dating service, you send a very clear signal: you are looking for someone to date. This is different from when you try to date in person, as it's quite likely you may be interacting with someone in a flirtatious way but that they are not doing the same. This can be embarrassing at best or devastating at worst.
In this sense, the internet has created a very intentional space for dating. As we move forward with this digital revolution, it may decrease the amount of effort people put into trying to forge these connections in person. One of the challenges of traditional dating is being subjected to unwanted advances. Still, with the creation of an online environment dedicated entirely to dating, this is happening less frequently and changing how we interact with one another.
The Stakes Have Been Lowered
Rejection is one of our most prominent fears. Nothing plays on our insecurities more than having an advance brushed off. However, when we're dating online, the stakes seem lower, making it easier for people to move past rejection and keep trying to find someone. It also makes it easier to prevent that discouraged feeling from repeated dates not working out.
As we will discuss a bit later, this can also have the opposite effect and cause people to be a bit careless towards other people's feelings. However, in general, we feel that online dating's lower-stakes environment makes it easier for people to get into and stick with the dating game.
You Can Start Dating on More Solid Ground
One of the hardest parts about a first date is finding things to talk about, and how these conversations go will have a big impact on each person's desire to move forward with a second date to continue the connection.
Online dating has helped alleviate some of these challenges by creating opportunities for people to get to know one another a bit before they go on their first date. Chatting online about interests and hobbies can help get things going and make that first encounter less intimidating and awkward.
As a result, we expect that fewer and fewer people will want to subject themselves to traditional dating styles, choosing instead to date online so that they can meet up with people who have already passed the first few rounds of compatibility testing. Of course, this doesn't mean it's no longer possible to connect with someone who you haven't talked to before, but it does mean that people will be moving forward expecting to go on first dates with people who they already know at least a little.
You Can More Easily Date Later in Life
We often assume that dating is a young person's game. While it's true that online dating tends to be geared towards younger generations, there are lots of sites out there designed to help people connect later in life.
This has changed dating by making it more accessible. If you find yourself single later in life, you don't need to give up hope, as many often do because of the more limited options they have to meet people. Online dating offers the hope people can always find a connection, no matter which phase of life they currently find themselves in.
How the Internet Has Made Dating More Complicated
As you can see, there are many ways the internet has made dating better, but there are many ways it has also made it more complicated. Notice we didn't use the term "worse," for this isn't necessarily true. It's just that this is a whole new way of dating, and as we move forward with it, we should be aware of some of its perils, such as:
We Now Face The Paradox of Choice
We mentioned how one of the things that the internet has made better about dating is that it exposes us to more people, giving us more choices about who we can date. However, this abundance of choice can easily be turned around and make things more complicated, and it does this in two ways.
First, because we have so many choices, it isn't easy to know which one is best. You may be talking to more than one person at a time and find yourself liking each one for different reasons, which can make deciding which one you want to date rather challenging.
Second, having so many choices can make it difficult for us to be satisfied with what we have. We may be dating someone great, but because we know there are always more options, we may dwell on certain things or fail to commit, which can harm how deep you can go in the relationship. This concept is known as the paradox of choice, and while having more options is probably a good thing, it can certainly make things more complicated while searching for a partner.
There is Less Personal Accountability
One issue with online dating is that it has, in some cases, reduced personal accountability. For example, "ghosting," which is when someone just stops responding to messages and disappears, is much more common in online dating because people don't feel there are any consequences. The other person is merely a name or a face on a screen, so they feel more at ease doing things that might be hurtful or harmful.
In the past, when dating people in your circle or community, doing this was much less acceptable, especially since it could hurt your reputation and chances of finding another match.
This trend is concerning because it makes it possible for dating to become even more impersonal, which is the exact opposite of what it's supposed to be.
Commitment is Less Common
Before internet dating, people tended to be much more willing to commit to something, even if they weren't entirely sure, just because they knew they had fewer options. However, in the online dating world, it's common for people to "date" multiple people at once before choosing a match. It's much more difficult to commit to one person, as there is this perception there is always someone better waiting in the wings.
In one sense, this can be seen as a good thing, as it means that people are taking the time to explore more options before committing to something. But it also means that a lot of relationships might die out before being given their proper chance, which could lead to missed opportunities and a more superficial dating experience.
It's Easier to Encounter a "Fake" Version of People
While online dating makes it easier to connect with more people, one could easily argue that it makes it harder to get to know others. Since we have total control over what we post on our profiles and which pictures we use to present ourselves to the world, it's really easy to show a version of ourselves that doesn't represent who we are.
Of course, doing this kind of defeats the purpose of dating, but people still do it all the time. This can easily discourage people and make them bitter about the whole experience, decreasing their chances of meeting someone and finding a meaningful connection.
There are More Opportunities for Scams
Lastly, and this is an unfortunate one to discuss, online dating has opened up the door for heartless individuals to play on others' vulnerability and steal their money. Getting to know someone online can feel very real, but not until you meet that person will you know that they're genuine. Yet many people don't follow this approach, and they can be duped into giving out personal information or cash to strangers all in the name of love. To give you an idea of how common this is, consider that last year, 2019, Americans lost $201 million to online scammers.
This not only creates financial challenges but can also have lasting emotional effects that will make dating harder for these victims forever. Scams existed before online dating, sure, but they are far more prevalent these days and can have far more dramatic consequences.
These are some of the ways the internet has changed dating forever, but let's not forget that this is an ongoing process. We are still adapting to the many digital technologies that have so rapidly become central parts of our lives, and this means that there are many more changes to come. But, as is the case currently, whether or not these changes are positive or negative remains to be seen.