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Serendipity In The Digital Age

By Bianca Moragne

It can be almost impossible finding a promising suitor while fishing around for dates at the local bar–the common drinking hole among Singletons. As our lives become busier with balancing work and a social life, it seems that the “perfect match” is harder than ever to find. But as the world continues to become more digital online dating provides a modern tool that eases the process of looking for love.

The people that join dating websites are desperate, socially awkward, lowlifes or freaks who still live in their mother’s basement, right? Perhaps you have the wrong idea. In a 2006 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, most Americans who are single and looking for dates have used the Internet to pursue their romantic interests and many know people who have tried and succeeded at online dating. Truth be told, online dating has become the latest trend as millions of “normal” people worldwide continue to recognize it as a credible way to find new relationships; however, mainstream society still holds a stigmatization of online romances.

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Niche dating sites provide an easier approach towards meeting suitors by allowing users to narrow their options based on similarities.

Today’s singles have more options than ever before to date online with niche dating sites such as, DateMySchool, OkCupid, Match and more. Online dating offers an easier approach towards meeting someone by chance by allowing users to date based on their criteria and build online-generated profiles that are pre-screened for similarities. According to Balazs Alexa, the co-found of DateMySchool, online dating provides a “wider range of selection compared to randomly chatting up a stranger. It’s also a more safe and private experience that results in greater efficiency.”

Two Columbia University business students, Alexa and DateMySchool co-founder Jean Meyer, launched the dating network in November 2010 as a way for Alexa to date girls from another department on campus. At the time, the business school had a 70 percent male population, so the pair created an efficient ploy to meet women in a more straightforward way than the library. Within weeks the dating network became a hit at Columbia and currently has 191,000 users, catering to alumni and college students nationwide. Alexa even found love soon after launching the site; he registered on DateMySchool and got a date with the “girl of his dreams” within 30 minutes. They have been together for two years.

According to the Pew Internet study, 66 percent of Internet users believe online dating is dangerous because it puts personal information online but despite the stigma, dating online can be safer than real-world experiences as it allows user choice while playing the field. Many websites feature privacy filters that allow users to block conflicting suitors. Unlike common dating venues, bars and parties, online dating provides a safe and effective reality.

“We don’t allow strangers into our homes, why would we want anything different online? But, there are more problems when people date random strangers they bumped into by chance offline,” Alexa says. “I think people don’t want to be seen as someone who needs a dating site to find a partner and argue that online dating takes out the romantics of dating; but I would argue that it takes out only one thing: luck. The way people used to date was purely based on random events and luck, but you still have to impress and fall in love online after you have met him or her in person.”

Online dating holds qualms among young adults, but that attitude is quickly fading. “The stigma is disappearing. Younger people are starting to become open to the possibility of online dating,” says University of Texas professor of human development and family psychology, Paul Eastwick. “People feel they have really diverse social networks and don’t need online dating, maybe that’s true for some people, but the vast majority of people don’t meet new people all that often.”

UT Communication and management professor John Daly agrees, adding that dating online is a great way to meet people, but face-to-face communication is vital. “Online doesn’t have the same texture that face-to-face,” he says. “There are different kinds of tests in a relationship online, like if someone doesn’t get back to you online how do you respond to it? There’s room for miscommunication.”

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Couples who have met online often keep that part of their relationship a secret initially.

In general, dating is a private, intimate experience, so it’s common for couples that have met online to keep it a secret from family and loved ones initially as they are embarrassed. UT student, Rachel Marino, says she used site plentyoffish.com on a whim to start meeting potentials and soon after met her current boyfriend. They have now lived together and have been serious for two years but at first were hesitant to reveal how they met.

“Dating online is modern so it’s not really a big deal anymore,” Marino says. “Originally when it came out people thought it was for nerds, or maybe older people, but now as soon as you get on you see there are thousands of people your age, you realize there are a lot of normal people on there.”

Daly says that a lot of people have a solitary job and hectic schedule with little opportunity to meet new people. “For people who don’t have a pool of a people they can meet, they have to look at an alternative,” he says. “We forget that being on campus is like a giant love boat experience. Take a single mom living in a small town. She can’t go out very often because she has kids and there aren’t many places to go or people to meet in her area, so online dating gives her the whole world if that make sense.”

Sarah Kettles, a UT student and Texas 4000 biker, says she began using OkCupid due to her busy lifestyle. “It depends on what kind of lifestyle you lead. I like to go out and party but wasn’t interested in dating anybody I met at those parties. My college lifestyle is that I work during the day and don’t really talk to my classmates all that much, so for me it was a time thing,” Kettles says. “I figured that I might as well give it a shot and if there are other quality people on here than maybe I’ll find somebody.”

Kettles met her current boyfriend just three weeks after joining OkCupid and they have now been dating five months. OkCupid matches people based on an algorithm and the profiles users build on the site through detailed questioning. People can be matched all they way to 100 percent compatibility for either romance or friendship. Kettles and her boyfriend were a 96 percent match, she says. “You have a narrative, a baseline and are able to process information prior to the date which is beneficial. I think it’s a little bit more normal to meet someone online than at a bar nowadays,” she believes.

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