Social networks get a lot of attention for the way they help people connect to each other and to a wide variety of services on the Internet, but online dating and finding romantic relationships through social networks has received more interest than many topics. As discussed in the section on Friending, exactly what, or who, becomes a “friend” on a social network can be a complicated issue, depending on the reason a person hopes to “friend” another. Using online services to connect to potential romantic partners has a history that predates social networking, and scientists have developed a number of theories about using electronic systems to introduce people with the purpose of creating a lasting emotional bond. But, at the same time, the hard science that might explain how someone is attracted to another person through an online website or mobile app is hard to pin down. But whether you are an optimist or a pessimist in terms of thinking about whether online dating services work or not, the online dating industry has been growing about 10 to 15 percent a year, and earns approximately $1.9 billion a year ( Boorstin 2010 ).
Before the Internet, computer dating became a business that would help people “scientifically” find their best matches. In 1965 Project TACT (Technical Automated Compatibility Testing) was the brainchild of Lewis Altfest, an accountant, and Robert Ross, a computer programmer, who designed a system to allow New Yorkers to find potential partners with a computer program. Clients filled out questionnaires that had more than a hundred multiple choice questions. They then paid $5 to have their data processed by a computer and the computer made the matches based on the data. As might be expected, the computer dating scene was riddled Page 123 | Top of Articlewith critics who bemoaned the technologizing of something as personal as personal attraction and decried mechanized matches as a gimmick. Still, there are advocates of using available technologies and programs to meet people. In a Valentine’s Day spot dedicated to online dating on National Public Radio, UCLA social psychologist Benjamin Karney said that “Online dating is an amazing technological advance, and it really makes it easier to find a potential partner … and we know that people are willing to do and say all sorts of things online that they wouldn’t do face to face” ( Singh 2015 ).
Though not well known yet, and lacking statistics to indicate the level of the problem, anecdotal evidence has emerged to blame online dating sites and social networking and “friending” as contributors to the breakup of some romantic relationships and family units. As one divorce attorney wrote: “Facebook has certainly created constant business for us … Families dissolve because of it. People will sacrifice long-term, real relationships for these on-line connections which can actually be very fleeting” ( Boorstin 2010 ). She also cautions her clients to stop all social media interactions while a divorce is in progress, because online comments or pictures can contribute to suspicious relationships that can muddy divorce proceedings.
But despite the grumblings of those who doubt the efficacy of using the Internet to find love, the number of online services and social networks dedicated to helping people find a romantic partner have blossomed. According to a study conducted in 2013 by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, 38 percent of Americans who are single and actively looking for a partner have used online dating at one point or another. The study also indicated that most of the online daters were in their mid-20s to mid-40s; 22 percent of the 25- to 34-year-old respondents and 17 percent of the 35- to 44-year-old respondents had gone on a date with someone they had met online. One-fourth of the online daters reported that they had entered into marriage or had a long-term relationship with someone they initially met through a dating site or app ( Smith and Duggan 2013 ). The Pew Research Center’s first study of online dating in 2005 identified people who are heavy Internet users as those most likely to use an online service or app for dating or romantic purposes.
There are both general sites and niche sites for people interested in using the dating sites or apps. Match.com and eHarmony.com are the largest sites and both have a global presence. Match.com was launched in 1995 and now operates in 25 countries in more than eight languages. In 2014, Match.com launched a mobile app called Stream that uses photographs and location-based pictures. eHarmony has a stated mission to match people for long-term relationships, and was launched in 2000, but now has members in more than 150 countries. It also has a division particularly for same-sex users called Compatible Couples. eHarmony also has a mobile app version. Both of the sites above use the typical membership based upon Page 124 | Top of Articlea subscription service, but there are also a number of free sites that operate on ad revenue rather than on a subscription service, like PlentyofFish and OkCupid.
And though there are a number of general sites that do much the same thing as Match.com and eHarmony, there are also a large range of niche sites for people with specific interests. The company that owns Match.com (IAC) owns Blackpeoplemeet.com , singleparentmeet.com , and seniorpeoplemeet.com . JDate.com focuses on Jewish clientele, and Christianmingle.com is geared toward people of the Christian faith. Both sites are owned by the same company, Spark Networks. Ethnic interests can also be addressed on Amigos (for Latino/a singles); Asian People Meet (obviously, for Asians), and Shaadi (for Indian singles). One of the potentially largest markets is the baby boomer generation, those born during the period of 1946–1964, for whom about 30 percent are single, either by choice, by divorce, or by becoming a widow/widower.
There are also “dating” sites that do more than introduce people for potential romantic relationships. Some sites specialize in helping people meet others for sexual encounters, those that specialize in physical types, or even fetish sites.
Though there are all types of sites and apps available, the Internet and social networks are not the only technologies that facilitate people meeting other people. In fact, as more people use online social networks for specific reasons that involve attraction and personal characteristics, video dating has become an important feature of some websites and apps. Virtual dating is another variation in which people play out their entire relationships online. Dating assistants can also be used to help craft a person’s digital persona to make a person more appealing to someone else.
At the time of this writing, the mobile app Tinder was getting a significant amount of press. According to social psychologist Eli Finkel, “The new paradigm is a mobile app like Tinder. You quickly browse photos on your phone, swiping to the right if the photo appeals, to the left it if doesn’t. If the attraction is mutual—that is, if both of you have swiped right—you might try to set up a date for, say, five minutes later” ( Finkel 2015 , SR9). While some have likened Tinder to a video game rather than a dating site, Tinder calls into question the element of time; can one make an immediate decision in the few microseconds it takes to register an emotion based upon a picture?
See also: Anonymity ; Cyberbullying ; Identity
Boorstin, Julia. 2010. “The Big Business of Online Dating.” CNBC.com . Accessed February 27, 2015: http://www.cnbc.com/id/35370922 .
Finkel, Eli. 2015. “In Defense of Tinder.” New York Times. February 8: SR9.
Groth, Aimee. 2011. “This Is What ‘Computer Dating’ Looked Like in the 1960s.” Business Insider. Accessed March 1, 2015: http://www.businessinsider.com/first-online-dating-site-2011-7 .
Paumgarten, Nick. 2011. “Looking for Someone.” The New Yorker. Accessed March 2, 2015: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/07/04/looking-for-someone .
Singh, Maanvi. 2015. “Apps Can Speed the Search for Love, but Nothing Beats a Real Date.” National Public Radio. Accessed March 25, 2015: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/02/12/385745267/apps-can-speed-the-search-for-love-but-nothing-beats-a-real-date .
Smith, Aaron, and Maeve Duggan. 2013. “Online Dating and Relationships.” The Pew Research Center. Accessed March 25, 2015: htttp://www.pewinternet.org/2013/10/21/online-dating-relationships/ .
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX6485200067