Internet Dating: The Worm and the Bud
Imagine this: in a passionate mood, a charming Irishman, with the accompanying oh-so-charming accent, sweeps an American lonely-heart off her feet by flying over the Pond to propose within two weeks of meeting, with the confident command of “you’re marrying me”. How romantic. The twist: they met online. Is this a 21st century love story with that elusive fairytale ending? Well, it’s a true story; Nigel McGill from Limerick and his North Carolinian sweetheart, Rio Rox, married the very same day that Mr McGill proposed. So with success stories like this, should everyone be internet dating, or do you just need to have a knee-trembling Irish accent and confidence beyond measure?
Everyone knows the dangers of the internet, just as every child is warned never to accept sweets from ‘strange men’. So the horror stories circulate of the murderers, rapists, paedophiles and perverts roaming the world wide web, hoping to ensnare a fly in their trap. The infamous issues of safety on the internet may deter some, but Nigel and Rio prove that there are others who are willing to throw caution to the wind and follow their hearts. So should we all be doing it? Bare it in mind that you are likely to meet persons of equally depraved character on the internet as you are at a bar, on the tube or at your second cousin’s wedding.
Not all people on internet dating websites want to murder or rape you, but there are other dangers to internet dating. One problem is fraud: the conman has evolved. Scammers build up a relationship with the magnanimous yet desperately lonely. They complain of money troubles, asking for assistance with their studies or sick family members and persuade you to stick your hand in your pocket to help them. Though, if you are a user of certain dating sites such as seekingarrangement.com, do ignore this advice as I gather that this is the point of such sites: the aid-seeker, a sexy young blonde looking to fund her studies in return for her company with the provider, an older, yet rather generous gentleman. On the other hand, users of other sites will probably not have the pleasure of the young blonde, but more often, are likely to find a Nigerian man in a hut.
There are even more audacious fraudsters on the internet dating scene: the dating websites themselves. OK, not all of them. There are websites such as OKCupid or PlentyofFish that are free, which raises the question: why do websites like match.com, eHarmony, Zoosk and DatingDirect.com (the list really is endless) charge people to use them?
The basic business model does not make sense. They profit by not doing their job, by not finding you a match and by not giving you a fairytale ending. If you look at the price plan for eHarmony, you can instantly see how they tempt you to sign up for twelve months: it is roughly half the cost per month to sign up for a year (£13.95 per month) than for three months (£27.95 per month). You can expect then that it could take a year or more to be successfully matched. And I think it would. Not everyone who has created a profile is active, since not everyone would pay. In fact, it has been estimated that 96.25% of eHarmony profiles are dead.1 Some profiles will not reply to sent messages, leaving the sender disheartened and causing them to mail out even more messages to less suitable profiles, becoming less personalised and so receiving fewer replies. It’s a vicious cycle.
But does paying for internet dating sites have worse implications for you than being ripped off? There is a moral complication too. If you sign up to eHarmony, you expect something in exchange for your money: the site offers you a service – they can find you love – so you expect a return on your investment. In effect, you are buying love, turning it into a consumer product.
But then, finding company has always been a market, how could it ever not be? Visit any nightclub and view the cattle market in its basest form: the females dance waggling their rears for the prowling males to inspect allowing them to best decide who to buy a drink for, take home and fuck. The sex market is the oldest and most competitive market out there and we all know that prostitution is “the world’s oldest profession.” The internet has simply facilitated the expansion of this market, making it more efficient to find whatever it is you are looking for, whether it is love or sex. Though, as Harlan Ellison said, for some “Love ain’t nothing but sex misspelled.” And with websites like seekingarrangement.com it is even more evident; they blur the line between internet dating and prostitution, and force questions that we may not want to answer.
Perhaps it’s best to let the moral compass spin on these ethically-dubious issues, though there are similar ones that dating sites bring into focus. Adultery is a lot more infallible with numerous sites available to help and encourage you to cheat. In fact, if you google ‘adultery’, the first web pages to come up are dating sites for “People looking for additional uncomplicated excitement” (www.maritalaffair.co.uk) or for the “married and lonely” (www.affairsclub.com). Yet just because something requires less effort and is within a shorter reach doesn’t mean that it has to happen. “I can resist anything but temptation” said Lord Darlington in Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan; but even he might have had enough self-control to abstain. Then again, there are all those new theories that adultery can actually help save a marriage…2
If you don’t want to have an affair in real life, create an alter ego and have a virtual one on websites like secondlife.com. Some do seem to take it pretty seriously: in 2008 Amy Taylor divorced David Pollard when she caught him having sex with a virtual prostitute and an affair with ‘an American girl’ on the site. I guess he wasn’t getting any at home… his virtual home that is.
The internet seems to be an easier place to make friends; the barrier of your computer screen creates a sense of safety and anonymity and it is just too easy to lie, exaggerate and create an alter ego. Chop a few years off your age, increase your salary by a few thousand, and who needs a boob job when you have Photoshop? The golden rule of dating is “to be yourself” but internet dating sites seem to encourage you to do the opposite. You can’t even be sure that the person you are talking to exists. But even if you haven’t lied and have met someone with whom you feel a real connection, humans need physical contact to feel secure: hitting the ‘x’ key to send a kiss is just not the same as hugging a real life friend.
Online dating lacks romance. A computer coldly calculates your best matches from algorithms, which are then trusted as you pick out a potential partner from the results, whilst at the same time doing the weekly shop and updating twitter. It seems people are being turned into products. There is no sense of fate or chance; no moment of chemistry; no flittering eye contact when anything feels possible; no, as Carrie Bradshaw puts it, zsa zsa zu. There are a few ways to inject the romance back into online dating – take Nigel and Rio, who (although they may be crazy) no-one can say that they aren’t passionate. Visit the ‘Missed Connections’ section on Craigslist and see if you have moved any strangers today with your dazzling charms. Though I do wonder how many of these cases have ended with a restraining order rather than a wedding ring.
Internet dating is obviously not a fad; it is now the third most common way for couples to meet. It use to be that internet daters were stigmatised, labelled as desperate or seedy, but it seems that everyone nowadays has dabbled a bit, if only to see what all the fuss is about. Has internet dating become socially acceptable to the extent that it is now a normal and encouraged way to meet your future prince/frog? In 2010, 17% of couples married that year had found their partner online. Surprisingly, this is also true for the older generations: the 50+ demographic is the fastest growing in the market. And there is a site for whatever you are looking for. If you fancy something platonic, go to rentafriend.com. Just looking for a hook up? Then forgetdinner.co.uk is your site; and whatever your proclivity is, there is a site out there to meet your every need.
Internet dating is challenging: it brings to light issues of safety; it questions one’s morality and redefines the notion of ‘romance.’ Yet it is popular: the watering-hole has simply evolved into the online-pool. So many people are willing to take a dip and once they have learnt to swim, it only seems natural that they shouldn’t leave without someone else to towel them down. And the appeal is definitely there. Online dating has some allure: the feeling of entering the unknown, that nervous excitement of going to a party where you know hardly anyone and could be anyone you like, if you wanted to. However, once the novelty has worn off, is it still worth it? We all should avoid hopeful denial: it seems that the mindset of buying love like a product, one’s anonymity and the lie-culture present on these sites supports and encourages it. Add to this the look on people’s faces when they ask how you met and you have to reply with “on the internet”, unless of course the lie-culture has infected your offline life too, then you can say what you like.
1 Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating, Christian Rudder. The calculation was made by Christian Rudder, a founder of OKCupid, who also claimed in the same article that “you are 12.4 times more likely to get married this year if you don’t subscribe to Match.com.” The article was pulled around the same time as Match.com bought OKCupid for $50 million.
2 For excuses to start your affair, read: When Good People Have Affairs by Mira Kirshenbaum.