To say that online dating has gone through a transition would be an understatement. Calling or texting, going out on more bad dates you would like to admit, falling in love.
The beautiful mess of meeting new people is as universal of an experience has humanity has to offer. We are a social species after all, and no one wants to be alone when we are at our worst. Despite this magnetic need that keeps us drawing closer and bouncing off each other, it sometimes feels insurmountable. Not just to meet the one, but meet someone to spend an evening with. We all would love that perfect match. Bumping into each other walking down the street. Becoming best friends before awkwardly confessing our feelings. Coincidence and fate are not always reliable though, which is why we have the internet (among other reasons).
Dating Through the (Modern) Ages
Before there was an Internet, there were personal ads. The first personal ad has been tracked down all the way back to 1695, but they used to be a staple in newspapers and bulletin boards up until recently. For the longest time, these ads had a stigma attached to them. Showing romantic/sexual agency, while at the same time being unable to achieve this in person, branded you at best a failure, and at worst a deviant. Early and frequent adopters of personals where the LGBT communities. Unable to express themselves in the far more repressive societies of the past, ads allowed for coded communication as a way to meet your peers.
Newspaper ads stayed popular despite the baggage surrounding them. Only during the shift in zeitgeist during the 1960s, the perception changed. Partially due to a rejection of traditional models of romance, and partly due to a broader acceptance of homosexuality. At the same time, students built the first computer-based dating platform was experimented with. Coined “Operation March,” it was the first algorithm-driven system designed to find the perfect match. Based at Harvard, it used to the same model of filling out questions to cross-check answers with other user’s results, used in one form or the other on dating sites today.
During the 1990s it was finally time for dating to go online. Online dating giant Match.com was founded in ’95, and stigmas of desperation and failure did not stick around for long. As the Internet took the world by storm, so did finding love through it. Not only does the majority of the population find it positive, but the number of long-term relationships and marriages are on a steady rise.
Types of Online Dating
As with any successful business, imitators are soon to follow. These days online dating makes up one of the largest chunks of digital revenue. Therefore it is not surprising in the least, to see the variety of online dating options for lonely hearts. Variety, however, can be tricky sometimes. To help interested people out, here is a quick overview of some of the more popular websites to find love.
The granddad of dating websites, and naturally it also boasts one of the largest user bases on the market. In a lot of ways, match.com is a platonic ideal. After you sign up, you fill out a questionnaire, add pictures and fill in information about yourself to create a profile. You can browse recommendations or browse freely based on filters. You get matches based on liking each other, or try and get prospective mates attention through “winks.” Where match.com differs, however, is that to message someone, you need to pay. While you can dip your toe into the water for free, actually getting to the point of dating, meaning basic communication, money is required. While this does represent a hurdle for some, it also means that users generally take their time serious. So in that sense, the website is for people looking for something serious.
OkCupid is the website for people who want to express themselves. Registration and most of its features are free (there are some optional premium services), at first glance the service seems rather pedestrian. The real unique selling point questions. While a questionnaire is not novel, the level OkCupid takes it to is. Divided into categories such as dating, sex, and lifestyle, you can answer hundreds of different questions potentially. Based on your answers you receive percentage points with other users, based on how often you answered the same. This enables you to tailor the degree of expression, based on how much time you want to spend. In that sense, this website is excellent for people who like to spend some extra time online, before committing to anything. OkCupid is also very popular with LGBT people.
Zoosk is quite similar to OKCupid, in that it is also a very data-driven. And data really is the name of the game. It adds global popularity meters to its users. It uses data based on your choices in their match features to tailor recommendations. And you can customize not only your profile but also add information about your ideal partner. With all these features it is the premier service for any perfectionists out there. Refining your presence to the last detail and percent point, it boils down dating to some hard and fast numbers.
Tinder and Co.
While most online dating sites have mobile applications, it is still important to talk about those options that are exclusively mobile. Bumble, Blendr, Happn, or Tinder. They all fall under the category of dating apps or hookup apps. Unlike most websites, they simplify the process. Especially the notorious Tinder is almost wholly based on pictures. Users see, depending on your location, an almost endless stream of potential partners. Criticized for being superficial when it first came out, Tinder now fully arrived in the mainstream. And despite the bad press, it is probably the closed online dating equivalent of going out to a club or bar, and trying to talk to a stranger you find attractive.
It is the service for people looking for a quick dating fix. Just do not disappoint yourself with how throwaway it can feel at times.
The Way of the Future
Regardless of where you fall on the online dating spectrum, the dating industry will have the service for you. The Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail” came out 20 years ago. And what back then felt new and novel enough to base a whole movie around, feels quaint today. The digital world has taken over every aspect of our life. Big Data is the driving force binding much of our global society. And online dating on our phones enables us to browse for people like they are shoes. All of this sounds more negative than it is. What started as sonnets about love in the middle ages, is today still the same: A perpetual search for a human connection and an everlasting hope to find Love. Is that not worth it?