The day after Valentine’s Day. That day so many singletons take the plunge and turn to what is (apparently) their last hope — the internet. And not for porn. Not this time. This time, it’s to sign up to a dating site.
I know exactly what some of you are thinking: “that reeks of desperation.” And not just by the smug, coupled, non-internet daters — by ‘users’ themselves, so to speak. I’ve recently had some ashamed friends begrudgingly admit to me that they’ve joined Match.com, and as they tell me, wracked with embarrassment, that they didn’t think they could meet anybody otherwise, my eyes pop out of their sockets cartoon-style at the money they’ve coughed up in the process. They all say the same thing; that they know it’s desperate, but they’re sick of meeting people in bars or being set up by their friends.
There still appears to be an unfortunate social stigma attached to online dating among the general population in the UK, despite the fact that it’s been around for the best part of 20 years. The first dating website popped up in 1994, so the masses have had a good 19 years to get used to the fact that technology has spilled into yet another aspect of our lives and has slowly replaced its predecessor — the local paper’s classifieds. The attitude seemingly developed around the basis that if you were on a dating site, you were actively looking for not just a relationship, but ANY relationship, entirely going against the modern-day social-brainwashing that you only have one perfect partner, and that you’ll meet them in some romantic magical fashion. Blame Disney — I do.
But why does the stigma exist in the first place, considering that online dating increases the pool of potential partners that one can possibly meet, a hundredfold? Surely simple statistics would cause even the most die hard of anti-internet daters to admit that it could potentially be a good thing. Online dating in a minority group sort of proved that.
In the LGBT community, the location based mobile dating app Grindr slotted seamlessly into gay culture. It’s now a widely and naturally-accepted tool, which uses the GPS in your device to tell you how far away each user is from your phone or tablet, along with their photos; a brief description, and some physical details (which might shock the more innocent of you, if you saw). Polishing it off, a simple IM function enables its 3 million or so users to chat each other up worldwide, with the UK being one of its biggest markets.
So why has Grindr been so readily accepted and embraced by gay men? Apart from the obvious point that it increases the availability of sexual partners dramatically and instantaneously, if you ask most gay men why they use it, and other dating sites, the majority will admit it is to find a date, not solely for random sexual hook-ups. In the UK and Ireland, especially outside of cities, Grindr and other dating apps/sites have made dating for gay men infinitely more accessible in places where there’s nowhere locally that exists to specifically meet potential partners of the same sex.
And why shouldn’t the same rules exist for straight people? Surely if somebody is willing to dress up (or down?) and go out to to a nightclub with the sole aim to “pull”, while wholly intoxicated and not knowing whose mouth their tongue is in, or what emotional or mental problems they’re going to wake up to the next day, dating sites should be a lot more socially acceptable?
Anti-internet daters throw comments around like “I prefer to see someone in person first; everyone just puts up a fake picture”; “there are a lot of weirdos and psychos online”, or my favourite, “how do I tell my mother I met someone on a dating site?”
Well, internet dater-haters, all I have to say to you is this: An online picture is no faker than that lovely lady from Camden you were talking to last weekend with an inch of makeup on her face. Those weirdos and psychos go to pubs and clubs just like the non-weirdos and non-psychos, only there they can follow you around physically rather than online (feel safer yet?).
Let me help you out with the last quandary. “Mum – I met someone online recently; we got to know each other really well before we even met in person, then when we did meet, we knew we’d get on and the relationship started from there…”
Or, there’s always this…
“Mum – I went to a bar last night and got completely plastered. Don’t remember bringing anyone home but woke up and there was someone in bed with me. In the painkiller/coffee scramble afterwards, we decided we’d give a date a shot (excuse the pun; I’m still hanging badly).”
Get over it.
Long live internet dating.
…Just remember to delete your profile when you get into a relationship. Your significant other tends to get annoyed otherwise.
Alex Kennedy is an ex-chef; Apple fanboy; nutrition nut, and geek who juggles work in production; lighting design; tech and for TiE (@theatregiant). Also a consumer psych and media consultant; you can follow him on Twitter here, or read his blog here.
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