Valentime – Who Makes You Click?

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In this digital era you may be less likely to be checking your letterbox for a Valentine’s card this year, but rather checking your email inbox, or even your dedicated message folder on one of any number of online dating sites.

Dating, if not romance itself, has certainly gone virtual in recent years. Before the advent of the internet 99% of new relationships began through face-to-face meetings, the classified ads always accounted for only a tiny proportion of hook-ups. Now, although it varies country to country, a huge percentage of dates are arranged virtually.

The Pew Research Center reported that in 2005, 37% of US singletons with internet access had tried online dating. It was the second most popular method of dating after meeting through mutual friends.

Online dating has clearly gained a great deal of social acceptance over the years, fuelled partly by the wave of social media seen in the wake of the launch of the big social networking sites such as MySpace and of course Facebook. The normalization of being social online has certainly accelerated the degree of comfort that we have with online dating.

Nonetheless the practice has been accused of bringing various negatives to the process of dating, along with the obvious benefits of enhancing our range of options and making dating an easier and more engaging process.

It is often suggested that online dating sites inevitably encourage a “sugar-coating” approach which presents only the best of us to the strangers we hope to impress, and that many feel disappointed when they meet someone in person.

But what does the research say? As with any form of Internet Studies, the pace of change in technology and software innovation is so great that academia has a job to keep up, but there is a huge amount of research out there now on just how much of a game-changer online dating has been thus far.

A huge meta-analysis collating data from over 400 academic studies and public surveys was published in 2012 in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, and concluded that the greatest benefit of online dating was the sheer size of the pool of potential matches made available to users. On the flip side they did note a risk of being overwhelmed by choices.

One thing the meta-analysis found no evidence for was the so-called scientific basis for the numerous algorithm-matching mechanisms offered by dating sites. This is not to say that none of these have any merit, but simply that there is no scientific basis for their functionality.

There have been a number of sites and apps in recent years which have attempted a major twist on current norms in online dating, partly centered around the division between real life social networks and online dating profiles, and around the limitations and excesses found in the profiles themselves.

One site called Hinge actually allows contact only with users who are at most a fourth degree removed Facebook connection to you. Another offers feedback from exes as part of the site’s function, a dangerous feature indeed but one which must discourage cheating spouses.

The Dating Ring calls itself an “offline dating site” as it offers no online profile viewing at all. Instead users connect with a team of “matchmakers and happiness deputies” who organize blind dates on their behalf, removing the whole “browsing for a date” feature from the picture.

Tinder of course broke new ground with its “swipe picture to show your interest” feature, which only allows users to contact once both parties have expressed interest.

Among the many spin-offs is an app with an interesting gender-based twist – Antidate allows only the females to invite the males on a date, thus encouraging a mini-revolution in the old norms of male-centric courtship. They are currently not offering LBGTQ dating as it is proving complex to similarly define how to restrict contact options in this regard!

Finally, there are a few companies now offering a form of biologically deterministic dating. While this writer finds the concept a little unsettling, there are those who believe that sharing certain genetic markers will increase chance of compatibility.

Singldout markets itself as a “LinkedIn for dating” to professional users, and matches using a saliva-based genetic test kit along with personality profile. I personally find this approach a bit backwards, and would prefer to celebrate the cultural and genetic diversity which other dating sites tend to bring.

Now gentle reader I must log off these dating sites before my partner (who I must admit I simply met at a friend’s party!) starts to raise one too many eyebrows. Happy Valentine’s Day.

References

Finkel, E.J., Eastwick, P. Karney, B., Reis, H., and Sprecher, S. (2012) Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science, Psychological Science in the Public Interest. DOI:10.1177/1529100612436522

Image via Preto Perola / Shutterstock.

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