All Tech Considered
3:43 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

Online Dating Is On The Rise (But There Are Still Haters)

Originally published on Mon October 21, 2013 5:14 pm

Ask Michael Hofmann how he met his girlfriend, Addi, and he'll tell you, with a laugh, "www.Match.com."

He signed up for the online dating site shortly after moving to D.C., last year. He was finding it hard to make connections at bars, he says, and didn't have time to search for more meaningful places to meet people.

He hit the romance jackpot: Addi was the first woman on the site he went on a date with. They both liked The Sound of Music and Harry Potter — but more important, they liked each other. After dating for nine months, they moved in together.

Hofmann is among a growing portion of Americans who are turning to the digital world for matchmaking. Online dating — and social support for it — is at an all-time high.

A new Pew Center study shows that 11 percent of American adults have ventured into the world of online dating, either with websites like Match.com or mobile apps. That's up from 3 percent using dating sites in 2008.

(Among Americans who are "single and currently looking" for a partner, the percentage of online daters is closer to 4 in 10.)

Nearly a quarter of online daters have met a spouse or long-term partner digitally. Nearly half use Match.com; nearly a quarter use eHarmony.

In 2005, only 15 percent of Americans said they knew someone who met a long-term partner online; now, that number has doubled. Unsurprisingly, this correlates with an increase in positive perceptions about it. More Americans now say it's a good way to meet people and that it allows people to find a better match.

Hofmann has found this to be true: He says people are generally excited when he says he met his girlfriend online. Several have said the story encourages them to try online dating themselves.

Still, he acknowledges there's a stigma attached to it. At the beginning of the relationship, he told people they met at a restaurant.

And according to the Pew poll, a "sizable minority" of Internet users still view it in a negative light.

"Even some online daters seem to find both the process itself — and the individuals they encounter on these sites — distasteful," the report says.

One in five Internet users, and 13 percent of online daters, agree with the statement that "online daters are desperate."

That might stem from the fact that the results online can be disappointing. The percentage who've felt that someone else has been "seriously misrepresented" in an online profile? More than half.

This seems to be a problem as old as online dating itself. A 2003 New York Times article detailed anecdotes of fraudulently altered height, weight, age and even zip code.

"But what is most persistently frustrating, veteran online daters say, is not so much the obvious lies as the difficulty in judging physical chemistry through virtual communication.

" 'Certain things look really good on paper,' said Rebecca Hammond, a computer consultant in Manhattan who has met several boyfriends through Nerve.com. 'Then in real life it's a completely different story.' "

There's also the issue of bad communication. Lisa Bonos mused in The Washington Post about the nuanced difficulties of ending relationships online, which may seem fitting if you begin one there.

"A digital rejection can be efficient and effective: The dumper can control the message; the dumpee can't interrupt or argue. No body language to misread, no tears to witness, no awkward hugs and no breakup sex. But ... a face-to-face breakup vs. splitting up digitally is the difference between ending a romance with a namaste bow or using a karate chop."

But then again, none of these problems is unheard of in the world of in-person dating, either. As Bonos says: "When was the last time you were rejected and thought: 'Ah, that felt good'?"

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