In a time where there is an app for every convenience—Netflix for movies, Pandora for music, Uber for rides—we’ve applied the same logic to the dating world with Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Match.com, take your pick for a date. But how does treating dating as yet another need filled by technology affect those involved?
Will O’Beirne, Front-End Engineer with OkCupid
Originally from Reston, O’Beirne has worked with OkCupid for three years and has been a regular user of the site and other online dating services. Although O’Beirne places his faith in the product, he admits that there are people who use it as means of writing off potential dates. “We do see a lot of this behavior emerging from people, this behavior of gamification, where they’re trying to find the person who checks the most boxes—kind of this cookie-cutter outline of what people want. And if you don’t fit into it, they’re not willing to give you the time of day,” he says. “With OkCupid, we try to bring people out of their checklists by injecting a bit of randomness into the system because we don’t pretend to know 100 percent what people want.” Occasionally, the site will include people a little outside an individual’s criteria as a way of mimicking the serendipity of meeting people in real life who may not have been considered.
“There is a method to the madness,” O’Beirne says. Along with age and geographic location, the site uses oddball questions as a way to better match people for personality rather than preferences, questions such as, “Would you chuck everything in your life and live on a boat?”
An analysis comparing the site’s user base in 2005 to its user base in 2015 found that in 2005, 70 percent of users leaned toward sleeping with someone on the first date, but in 2015 users were split 50-50. “People belonged to the extremes in the early world of online dating, skewing one way or the other,” O’Beirne says. “Now, online dating is becoming more ubiquitous. There are a wider variety of people using it.”
The platform has become a solace for people who have otherwise had little success dating or for those who may not be as comfortable approaching people in real life. “There are plenty of people who are interesting and thoughtful, but the thought of approaching their preferred partner and striking up a conversation is so daunting,” O’Beirne says. “Online dating has given those people the tools to be successful.” He adds that OkCupid prides itself on being a platform for the LGBT community, with 20 different gender options, as well as for those in open relationships, with a feature allowing people to link their profile with their partner’s so they can be viewed as a unit rather than individually.
“The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep your eyes open and try to say yes more often,” says O’Beirne. “Don’t let yourself get in the way.”
Susan Trombetti, Founder and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking
The former investigator-turned-matchmaker has been matching couples for six years and has been featured in Cosmopolitan and on networks like ABC, NBC and FOX. She now gives relationship advice to celebrities and singles across the country as well as in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Trombetti sees online dating as a flawed system that is too time-consuming with little benefit. “It’s a place where people are less than authentic with limited options,” Trombetti says, stressing the risk of meeting people who aren’t who they say they are or are still hung up on past relationships.
“These are algorithms where people have the tendency to believe it’s so great because its ‘unlimited.’ [They] just keep hitting next, and there’s another one and another one,” she says. “But truth is it’s very time-consuming.” However, Trombetti admits people can find the one they’re looking for. It just takes a lot of effort, which is why people come to them to help with the process.
With services such as Tinder, the formula of matches is based on whoever is geographically closest and who has the best picture rather than compatibility or commonality. “Your photo is 98 percent of how Tinder works,” Trombetti says. “Swiping left and right, it’s all based on visual. That’s why everyone is single. They have this idea that there are more people out there, so they can be pickier. It creates this mindset that they can pass on dates.” In fact, a 2013 study from Pew Research Center shows that 32 percent of internet users believe online dating prevents people from being in relationships as there are too many online options.
“The thing with online dating is you kind of disguise who you really are. This guy I was talking to for two or three weeks shows up, and he’s not the guy in the photo, nothing like him. He’s probably 40 pounds overweight, different name, different everything, and he’s just like, ‘Oh, that’s just my online persona.’ You can’t do that.
Another date I went on, we were walking through Central Park, and he’s like, ‘Oh, I want to get you a flower.’ He jumped up to get one, landed on my toe and took my toenail off. I was bleeding, so we sat on a bench, and he fell asleep [hungover.]” Jenny says that years later, her best friend married his best friend, and the two walked down the aisle as bridesmaid and groomsman at the wedding.
Alesia Ruby, 42, visiting friend in area
“He asked if I had guys send me naked pictures of themselves; I replied that I had not and that I didn’t want them to. He said I should know I wasn’t wasting my time and that he was perfectly fine making a fool of himself sending me a half-naked selfie. I reiterated that I really didn’t want one, and within five minutes I got a half-naked selfie.” Despite the unsolicited selfie, Ruby decided to give him a chance. “I agreed to meet him for dinner later, so I met him at the bar—he’s wearing this Hawaiian shirt, and he’s talking about how wealthy he was and how much I’d like living at his house. He asked me twice if I had a gun. I said, ‘No, why would I have a gun?’ He said that a woman pulled a gun on him once. He later informed me that I should take my name off the site because I had found the one.” Ruby is currently happily dating someone she met online. She says that some authenticity is lost while online but says she would return to the platform if she were single because it is a better option than meeting someone at a bar.
Jenifer Christiansen, 46, Centreville
“Eleven years ago I was recently divorced and signed up for a free trial of Match. I’m a researcher, so I just read anybody’s profile that came up that matched mine. I scoured through and only picked two guys that I ‘winked’ at. I was talking to both; I was very hesitant. I heard stories about not giving your phone number and meeting at restaurants. I didn’t even use my real first name—I used my middle name. I talked to them through email for a while, and I eventually felt comfortable enough to make dates with both.” Christiansen notes that one of the guys lived two hours away while the other lived close by, so she ended up on a date with him first. “I met him at a restaurant and nursed two glasses of wine for four hours. After that I went out with him a couple times over the next few days and canceled my date with the other man. I’ve been married to him for over 10 years now.” Christiansen says that if you’re smart about it, proactive and know what you want, online dating can be better than traditional ways of meeting people.
Leah Wade, 41, Bethesda
“I would meet about three guys a month. I got really good at streamlining dates; I was just meeting guys for a cup of coffee on my lunch break at work, so 30 minutes tops. I realized quickly you find out in person if there’s chemistry there or not. I felt the site was very helpful. You get a lot of information up front, like if they were married before, if they have kids, if religion is important. Going in you knew what their background was and what they were looking for. The only way to meet people now is through work, which I never felt comfortable with. People have these ideas of what is a deal breaker. I preferred to date someone without children, but when I got a message from someone with a child, he was cute and his message was sweet, so that criteria went out the window. Once you get on there, you realize no one is your ideal and that our deal breakers are really not for the right person. It gets you in contact with someone you never would share social circles with. I think online dating is great; I never would have met my fiancé any other way.”
Brad, 20, Fairfax
“With online dating you have everyone from your area in front of you, and that makes it easy. But it’s also difficult because striking up conversation over messages is more difficult than talking in person. It’s harder to be funny, it’s harder to get your personality across, and you don’t know how they’re reading you. My [ex] boyfriend of a year and a half and I met over Grindr—he was the only person I talked to over the app that ended up working. We got annoyed trying to have long conversations over the app, so we just decided to meet and realized our chemistry. Of the seven people I met, only two I met with again. The other five I realized were completely different than how they were over the app. They’d be much friendlier over the app but in person became much more reserved. I’m going to be 21 soon, and my goal is that when I go out more I’ll have better luck meeting people in person. But when I think about the future, I don’t think about meeting my husband over a dating app. However, I don’t have a problem if I do.”
Maddie, 18, Winchester
“Where I live there aren’t a whole of people like me. I’m pansexual, and there’s not a big LGBTQ community. Whenever I go to concerts or museums I try to find people in the area who want to go to D.C. and meet different groups of people. My experiences have been pretty positive. If someone sends me inappropriate things I unmatch right away; that’s not what I’m looking for. Everyone I meet is sweet and open-minded, and with some people it’s like I’ve known them for a long time—we just instantly click. In my experiences, you have a wider range of people to talk to and develop connections with people anywhere.“
Nicholas Bradford, 25, Frederick
“There’s a running joke that you never find love on Grindr—you’re just wasting time, data and battery. For me that’s a true statement. It’s not worth the time or effort people put into it, especially nowadays. My generation doesn’t want commitment—let’s not go and meet somebody; let’s sit at home and swipe right and talk via app then actually go out and interact. It really has changed the way you interact with society. Interactions aren’t how they used to be. It’s best to take it with a grain of salt: Things that work on paper don’t always work in real life.”
Christopher Roeder, 20, Lovettsville
“I’ve met a cool friend and a couple long-term relationships that ended on a good note through online dating. But some of the bad things are there are a lot of judgmental people out there, some people who just want certain things that aren’t really what I want. Most meetings go OK; some are awkward first dates that don’t pan out to anything at all. A few of them panned out into friends.”
5 percent of Americans who are currently married or in a long-term partnership met their partner somewhere online according to a Pew Research Center study. Among those who have been together for 10 years or less, 11 percent met online.
According to a 2012 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Marriages that began on-line, when compared with those that began through traditional off-line venues, were slightly less likely to result in a marital break-up (separation or divorce) and were associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction among those respondents who remained married.”
12 percent of American adults have used an online dating site, up slightly from 9 percent in early 2013 according to Pew Research Center.