Dating in the digital era
By Stacey Ritz
photo: Kelly and Rob Fisher met online and are now married; photo credit: Stacey Ritz
“I was in an online relationship for about three years and then just like that, it was over.” Keith Rowman explained while thumbing through his text messages. “I thought I had found my soul-mate, I really did. But it turns out she wasn’t the same girl in the photo she had sent me. She was someone totally different. I had been totally fooled.”
Rowman vows to never meet a potential soul mate online again, but that doesn’t ring true for other online singles. Cheryl Brun met her life partner, Jeff, online. “I was on several different sites before I met him. I had some really interesting experiences before meeting Jeff!”
Is online dating the only way to meet people in the 21st century? Is it possible to bump into someone at the grocery store and ask them on a date or are we too busy to find love through the traditional methods? Have our social skills declined while social media soars? With the countless abbreviations (i.e., TTYL, LOL, JK) are we losing our ability for real conversation? Is social media overtaking our ability to connect in-person, through its sheer ease of use and convenience?
In 2012, the Huffington Post reported that online dating is now the second form of matchmaking in the United States, as cited by the University of Rochester. “Only meeting through mutual friends is a more popular way to meet a mate. In a single month in 2011, nearly 25 million unique users around the world were online dating.”
With over 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, we have an ever-expanding 40-60 something dating pool. Has online dating made us more courageous to seek a divorce when we hit difficult times? Websites like SeniorMatch.com are soaring in profits from those looking for a second chance at love.
The dating scene has significantly changed for Pat Rayle. “I married my high school crush, we built a family together and when the kids were grown and had moved away, my husband and I got a divorce. I had never lived on my own … I didn’t realize how different everything would be. It was a shock. After a while, I wanted to date again so I enlisted the help of my daughters to join several online dating sites. I was excited and I’ve been on countless dates from the websites. Not one has worked out. Oh, the stories I have! Very rarely are people who they say they are. One man I met showed up and he was missing his arm. He never mentioned anything to me prior to us meeting and we had been talking for several months. He asked me to feed him by hand and I felt too awful to say no. He was a nice man, but I felt betrayed that he hadn’t been honest with me, and I later learned that it wasn’t just about his physical appearance – that was just the tip of the iceberg.” After several years of online dating, Rayle has shut down her accounts and prefers only to meet potential dates in “real life.”
28-year-old Tanner Brown attended a speed dating session and commented that it has both pros and cons. “Speed dating is great in that you know what someone really looks like, they can’t fool you because they are standing right in front of you. But otherwise, you don’t have any time to get to know them. I wasn’t really a fan. It wasn’t for me.”
Are we so busy that we can’t take the time to get to know someone? Do we have so much on our plates that dating has been moved to the back-burner? If we’re all in search of love, why are we in so much of a rush that we can’t meet the people that exist among us, but instead we stay up late at night to chat with potential soul mates from around the globe, hoping to find that feeling of a fluttering heart and sweaty palms? Is it possible to find a feeling online? Do you really know how you feel about someone before you meet them face to face?
An informal survey of one-hundred Dayton area residents yielded that 64 percent of online daters hope to find long-term relationships. However, 31 percent responded by saying that they participate in online dating strictly to find physical relationships, while five percent are still unsure what they are searching for. Do any of us know what we are really searching for or will we not know it until it smacks us in the face? If you are searching for online love, are you also searching in real life? Do you attempt to make human connections with those that surround you on a daily basis? If someone on the bus asked you for a date would you be more likely to turn them down versus someone who asks you out online?
Cheryl Brun explained, “I had three different guys who I met online try to scam me out of money. Sometimes, when you’re lonely, you want to believe what they are telling you … they would say all of the right things and then all of a sudden there was an emergency – they were usually out of the country during that time – and they would ask me to wire money to them. Thankfully, it all seemed too good to be true so I never really believed it. In another online relationship, I came to find out that I was the other woman. I’ve tried countless sites and I did actually go on some fun dates in between the crazy ones.” Is online dating worth the risk?
Brown shared, “The people I met online were … pretty crazy. The ones I have met in bars have been, too. I guess the Internet just gives you a bigger pool of crazies?”
Anna Simenson agreed, “I spend a year on plentyoffish.com and went on dates with five men. I am now married to a man, but not one that I met online. Online dating didn’t work out well for me. My advice is that it’s probably worth a little money to use one of the better websites instead of the free one I used.”
26 year-old Kim Robin used several popular online dating sites to find love. “It was an experience. You think you know who you’re meeting because you’ve talked to them online first. You think you know what you’re getting into when you meet for your first real life date, but you have no idea. You really don’t meet the other person until you sit down with them in person. People are never who they say they are and they rarely look like their photos. It’s pretty shocking sometimes.” Robin said that she lost count of how many dates she went on through the dating sites, but said that she is shy, and therefore had a hard time meeting people through traditional methods. “Online dating was comfortable, but it wasn’t easy. After several years, I finally had a date that went really well. For the first time, I felt a connection with someone. Now we have been dating for two years.”
Dayton resident and Dayton City Paper writer Tim Anderl met his wife online. “I’m not sure I knew instantly in talking to my future wife via e-mail and telephone that she was the one. But I did know that we had chemistry and similar interests. I definitely entertained those feelings when we finally met!” Anderl stressed the importance of patience. “It’s easy to exhaust your (dating) options within your immediate social circle for one reason or another. It is easier to meet someone via a dating site that you haven’t crossed paths with in real life, I think. My college friend Sarah Betts-Jacobs met her husband Randy online and encouraged me to join an online dating site. My wife Amie’s mom met her husband on a dating site and encourage her to join.” As fate would have it, Amie and Tim were encouraged to join the same dating site at the right time. “We enjoyed dining out and getting downtown on those early dates. I think I knew Amie was the one when I realized how loving and considerate she and her family were to each other. I grew up in a home with a lot of love and my family is very important to me, too. When I realized that this kind of family-centric relationship was of paramount importance to both of us, I knew I wanted to really get to know her.”
Brun explained that while online dating can be challenging she believes in it. “My advice is to be yourself and don’t pretend to be someone else to attract another person. Trust your gut; if it’s too good to be true, then it’s not true. There are positives though, too. With online dating you get to potentially meet more people than you could at a bar.”
Anderl agreed, but cautioned others to keep their guard up. “Be patient and meet for the first time in a public place. I have some female friends who have dated online and I always warn them about posting pictures with their children in the profile. Not because there is anything wrong with having kids, or any stigma attached to that, but because there are predators out there who will purposely cozy up to a woman with children for the purpose of taking advantage of her children.” Exercising common sense and performing a quick Google search can save you a lot of grief.
Is the end result of digital dating functionally the same as it was 50 years ago? Even if we don’t know it, aren’t we all just searching for someone who understands us, someone to connect with and someone to spend our time with? The goals of dating haven’t changed, but the paths we take to get there continue to evolve on a daily basis. If you are searching for love, where will you look? Will you ask out the person you say hello to in the coffee shop each week or will you log on to your online dating account and take a blind chance on love? In this age of technology, it’s still possible that love can be standing in front of us, literally, while we sit and search profiles and photos of what may never be. Don’t forget to open your eyes and take in your surroundings. Love might just be staring you in the face, but sometimes you have to look up from your computer screen to find it.
Reach DCP freelance writer Stacey Ritz at StaceyRitz@daytoncitypaper.com