Internet dating sites change the way we find true love

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Love, Interrupted

Photo Credit: Colin Mullin | Daily Texan Staff

You can do everything to prepare for an upcoming date with the click of a mouse — from finding a reverse happy hour on Yelp to shopping for a perfectly nonchalant first-date outfit without a trip to the mall — so why not find the person you want to date online, too?

According to Internet tracking firm Experian Hitwise, in November 2011 the major dating sites, including eHarmony and Match.com, collectively had more than 593 million visits in just one month in the United States. Though we must keep in mind that just because someone visited a dating site doesn’t necessarily mean they used it, it does present a larger truth: more people are considering online dating. Clearly, we’re using the Internet for more than Facebook stalking and ‘Funny Or Die’ videos.

Finding a date online 10 years ago might have implied that you were a desperate social outcast who couldn’t hack trying to find real love in the real world, and thus had to resort to the digital one. However, as our digital lives and real lives overlap, especially with the powerful surge of social media, the separation between those two lives is diminishing. The general thought on dating online today appears to be, “Well, we do everything else online, don’t we?”

UT professor of marketing Raj Raghunathan, who studies theories in psychology and behavioral sciences, recently spoke at the annual Internet Dating Conference. He believes the main reason people use online dating services is to cast a wider net. A secondary reason is to screen out those they wouldn’t consider dating.

“The Internet opens up the entire world, so why restrict yourself to your town or friends and relatives?” Raghunathan said.

But therein lies the peculiar irony of dating online: we go online to broaden our dating pool, and yet with the nature of constant choices the Internet gives us, we can filter people out so extensively, that the pool becomes a trickle.

Dating sites are asking their users to rate everything, from personality to physical traits, that they desire in a mate. After online dating escaped the desperation connotation, it picked up one of customization.

“Some people may feel that they have a chance to screen potential matches better on the Internet because they can screen people based on their criteria, for example terms of age, height and weight, which might be a little more embarrassing to do face to face,” Raghunathan said.

Ever since Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham) said in the movie Spiceworld, “I’ll have a deep pan, six feet, green eyes, pair of loafers and no socks,” girls have joked about ordering their boyfriends like a pizza. With online dating services, that has become sort of a reality, with less superficial options like religious or political preferences sprinkled in.

But beyond the many boxes to click on the average dating site’s profile comes the opportunity to seek out niche dating sites, such as JDate for Jewish would-be dates (though those who subscribe to different religious beliefs are allowed to use the site) and the self-proclaimed “Ivy League of Dating,” RightStuffDating.com, which requires that all its users be graduates or faculty members (with proof in the form of a diploma or piece of university letterhead mail) of an Ivy League school.

Perhaps the best way to use online dating sites is to use them with a person-to-person dating mindset. Simply use the site to meet people and face the choices you’re given while creating a profile with a level head, keeping in mind that you’re not trying to create an Adonis, but instead trying to find someone who you’ll have things to talk about with on your first date.

Also, since online dating has become yet another component of our online lives and nestled itself into the mainstream, it’s time to embrace telling others the actual story of how you met your new boyfriend or girlfriend. Because really, nobody actually believed you met your super hot girlfriend in the historical biography section of the library anyway.

Printed on Friday, February 3, 2012 as: Relationship seekers turn to dating websites