Looking for love in the digital age? Matchmaking sites, apps connecting people

Mallory Johnston

Features Editor

All things change over time: laws, cars, prices, people, and even places. We tend to accept that.

But what about our social lives? It’s safe to say that, in the 21st century, social lives can be labeled as one of the most dramatically changed parts of society. Fifteen years ago, social media could easily be limited to email, texting and blogging. In the last 15 years though, social sites have become a staple of everyday life and, increasing, the search for love. 

Social media helps people keep in touch with each other whether they are family, friends, classmates or even celebrities. But what about meeting new people? In a digital age, people have receded into this tiny screen held in their hands until social awkwardness has become a commonplace. People just don’t communicate like they used to. And with this change, dating life has taken on a new spin. 

Cue websites such as Match, OKCupid, and ChristianMingle.com. These websites are built for mainly one purpose – dating – though some people gain friends from their experiences on these sites. They offer a chance to meet people behind the screen before face-to-face encounters. It’s like a form of speed dating, only it offers a chance for singles all around the world to meet special people who are located hundreds, even thousands of miles away. It’s a place that advocates that talking to strangers isn’t always a bad thing. According to Pew Research, 17 percent of marriages in 2015 were the result of online dating, up from five percent in 2013. 

“Research will show that there’s so many more options for people, it’s hard for people to stay focused on just one person. Whereas in, prior to the digital age, if you were interested in a person, you would just stay focused on that person and that’s who you spent your time with. Now, if that person doesn’t say something in their opening line that’s catchy or funny, there’s 15 other matches to choose from, and so it’s very easy to lose interest,” says Craig Watson, a licensed professional counselor at The W’s Counseling Center.

So people tend to be picky about their potential mates. Is that really so surprising? Dating sites showcase bare basics at a glance: a picture, an age, a location. It is set up to either like or reject a person based on these simple artifacts. If you are familiar with dating profiles, it is easy to say that if a person doesn’t immediately pique interest, you quickly move on to the next prospective profile.

A W student who prefers to use the name Lola says that she has had a form of success from using Tinder, a match-making app that allows users contact with another only if both people swipe right on one another’s profiles. She notes that she has had more than 30 dates in the three months that she has been a user, ranging from genuinely nice dates to nightmare occasions that even had her being stalked by her suitor. However, this did not turn her off to the idea of gaining rendezvous via the digital world. 

“I wouldn’t say that Tinder is not successful because there are some nice guys that are on there,” she says. “I’ve met a few nice guys that we’ve had a nice time and everything, but we just haven’t really connected.”

However, social sites like these are not used just for finding a special someone. They are also used for finding friends in new, unfamiliar places. Justine Gifford, a student at The W, says that she has gained plenty of friends using the same app.

“I’ve never really used it to actually get relationships. It’s been more just friendships. I still have a lot of those friends and still hang out with them,” says Gifford, who is not a native to the Columbus area. 

While this dating online stuff may sound exciting in some aspects, it carries more than just a thrill. For some, it can be a time-passing tool. For others, it could be a place to find a possible hookup. But for many, they really use it in hopes of finding that special someone. With such a mixture of different intentions, it can be hard to tell them apart.

“Social Psychology Research also shows there’s a lot of people building up this expectation of a perfect romantic relationship, a fairytale relationship, so they’re being too hard on people,” says Watson. “You have people who say rude things online or people that harass you, but that’s online, it’s real life.” 

Exposure to so many possibly faux people sounds like a sketchy situation to put oneself into. So should these sites and apps be used? Or do people really just need to leave the comfort of their homes to meet that significant other? That can probably be left to preference, but Gifford says that being knowledgeable about what you are on the site for is a key factor in being successful in online ventures.

“Utilize it, but know what you’re getting into, because a lot of times people who do online dating aren’t looking for anything serious, from my experience with it,” Gifford says. “The first question I always get asked is, ‘what are you looking for?’ And usually my answer is ‘I’m just looking for friends.’”

Remember: dating sites are a type of test run before letting the real thing happen, but almost anyone who is a dating site member can tell a horror story of a date gone wrong. Lola recapped one of her worst: a guy she talked to for months failed to mention in their conversations that he was a crossdresser. 

“If that’s you, that’s fine, but I’m just not into it,” Lola laughed. “We stopped talking after that.”

Online dating definitely holds a lot of possibilities for people looking to find both friends and mates. Tales of Tinder gone cold may send someone running, but the reality is this: dating in the world has changed. And while finding that special person in the old-fashioned way is definitely not obsolete, it can sometimes be hard to do in a fast-paced world. That’s where apps and websites come in and help broaden that social horizon. Fear is normal, but so is overcoming it. Love is a chance. Swipe right.