I actually don’t see in my data any negative repercussions for people who meet partners online. In fact, people who meet their partners online are not more likely to break up – they don’t have more transitory relationships. There are online sites that cater to hookups, sure, but there are also online sites that cater to people looking for long-term relationships. What’s more, many people who meet in the online sites that cater to hookups end up in long-term relationships. This environment, mind you, is just like the one we see in the offline world.
There’s no obvious pattern by which people who meet online are worse off. And, conversely, online dating has real benefits. For people who have a hard time finding partners in their day-to-day, face-to-face life, the larger subset of potential partners online is a big advantage for them. For folks who are meeting people everyday-really younger people in their early twenties-online dating is relevant, but it really becomes a powerful force for people in thin dating markets.
It’s harder to feel alone when you’re 23, because everyone is a potential partner. But when you get to 40, most people your age are already settled down.
In a 2012 paper, I wrote about how among heterosexuals, the people who are most likely to use online dating are the middle-aged folks, because they’re the ones in the thinnest dating market
So it’s fair to say that the experience, at least from a bird’s-eye view, isn’t as different as we make it out to be? At the very least, it isn’t worse in the way many say?
Once you’re in a relationship with somebody, it doesn’t really matter how you met that other person
Look, there’s always a fear that comes with a new technology. The idea that the new technology is going to undervalue some really important social values is real and rampant. People have had that fear about the telephone and the automobile. They have even had it about things like washing machines. If people weren’t going to go to the laundromat to wash their clothes together, how would we spend time together? That was something people were legitimately concerned about. But now that we have washing machines – and know that people still talk to each other – it’s clear that that fear was overblown, that it was unnecessary.
I think the same fears are expressed a lot about the phone apps and Internet dating. The worry is that it’s going to make people more superficial. If you look at apps like Tinder and Grinder, they mostly function by allowing people to look at others’ pictures. The profiles, as many know, are very brief. It’s kind of superficial. But it’s superficial because we’re kind of superficial; it’s like that because humans are like that. Judging what someone else looks like first is not an attribute of technology, it’s an attribute of how we look at people. Dating, both modern and not, is a fairly superficial endeavor.
When you walk into a room, whether it’s a singles bar or a church, you’re making these same sorts of judgments, the same kind of subconscious evaluations. It’s not the technology that makes people superficial. How someone else looks is important to us – it always has been. The visual cortex of our brain has a very powerful hold on how we interact with the world around us. There’s nothing wrong or really new with prioritizing that.
One of the most interesting things you have found is that online dating, despite its reputation, actually seems to usher people toward marriage in a way real life dating doesn’t. Can you elaborate?