When I came back to my co-op last summer, I found a house enthralled with OkCupid and the likes of “fingerboy69,” a friend’s facetious handle. I couldn’t really understand the appeal as I’ve never particularly enjoyed putzing around with random strangers; The Chatroulette craze a few years back had left me dazed and confused.
I did, however, create an OkCupid account — for science’s sake. Upon signing in, you’re prompted a set of questions for their super-secret matching algorithm. Some were mildly narcissistic (“Would you rather be normal or weird?”), and others were difficult in other ways: “What’s more interesting to you now? Love OR sex?” Damn. Knew you couldn’t have it all.
That said, despite we millennials’ tendency to self-consciously poke fun at the Internet and the absurdity of Internet dating, a recent study done earlier this year found that one-third of all recent marriages began behind LED screens. A good friend of mine just celebrated her nine-month anniversary with a partner she met on Tinder, a smartphone dating app in which you swipe “hearts” or “X’s” at photos of people. She had made her account just to mess with people and ended up meeting someone of a similar mindset. Their goofing around with each other vibed, and, well, that’s that.
Of course, it’s not always jestingly sardonic people falling in love with other jestingly sardonic people. Online dating in this day and age is a solid way of meeting new people; there is a site for pretty much any orientation or inclination, be you bisexual, bicurious, transsexual, gay, genderqueer, Christian, Jewish or a farmer in the Central Valley. You name it, it’s out there. The Rule 34 of dating websites.
Likewise, you’ll likely able to find like-minded folk in terms of what kind of commitment level you’re looking for. I recently interviewed a friend of mine who is more a fan of Craigslist’s Casual Encounters’ more blunt approach than of OkCupid’s conversational one: “I just want to meet someone if they seem cool, chat with them in a coffee shop, and if it works out, chill,” he says. A couple of years back, after a breakup and some difficulty finding someone new, he made a friend of an older lady in a similar situation via CE. He said the straightforwardness and honesty was uber-refreshing.
Although people do have positive experiences on Casual Encounters, there is a reason it has an iffy reputation at best. The aforementioned friend was actually tricked into a threesome during his second Casual Encounters experience. Halfway in, the “super-hot chick” he had met brought in a lady who was probably in her 50s. He proceeded, but it’s a good note of caution: When meeting someone IRL for the first time, be alert. Meet this person in a public place before you go anywhere private; need I say not everyone has noble intentions? A bad threesome isn’t the worst-case scenario.
But the whole online thing as a whole? I get it. I find meeting people I like hard enough in college; imagine graduating, when your only options become your workplace, some old friends and bars. The Internet can be as valid as any other medium of meeting people, with its own sets of pros and cons.
I deleted my OkCupid account in three days after being intimidated by the flood of emails to my inbox. Too much “Hey sugar lips, you tryna give me diabetes?” However, a recent Dan Savage Lovecast helped me see things more sympathetically: Online dating is kind of like going to a bar, except imagine a bar in which everyone is trying to meet you. The effort to meet all of them back — or respond to their digital winks, in this analogy — is too exhausting. So you pick and choose whomever draws your eye. On the other side, rejection isn’t so bitter because it’s not face to face. There is plentyoffish.com in the world, and you can always make up excuses such as, “Well, maybe his Internet broke forever, or maybe her dog died. Or maybe they just suck.” (Maybe her or she is just not that into you? Nah.)
But implicit in the sea of pixels and photos, possibly, is a sort of “dehumanization” that the older generations in particular decry, as Arielle Hixson notes in “Online Dating: The New Normal?” on HuffPost. What does it mean to reduce one’s first impressions of a person to pixels on a screen, carefully selected for the best angles and most charming smile wrinkles? Does it lessen the experience of dating if you talk to someone online for a month or two before you share the same air with him or her? Can you really determine your true self, your partner’s self and your chemistry, over a series of questions and online correspondences?
Well, who knows? Still, navigating the landscape of angled photos, bad pick-up lines and potential Sketchy McSketchers might just be the new strategic bathroom break in the middle of an awkward dinner date.