by Loren Seibold
My friend lost his wife to cancer about a year ago. His children are grown and gone, and the house is stiflingly quiet. "Just a house," he sighs. "Not a home anymore." So after being alone for a respectable amount of time, he signed up for an online dating site. He didn't want to do it. He feared that dating sites would throw him in with people so desperate and dysfunctional that they couldn't meet others in the normal course of life. But being an introverted person himself who after 30 years of happy marriage wasn't practiced at meeting women, plus living in a low-population area, and because of his conservative faith uncomfortable in traditional meeting places like bars, he didn't know where else to turn.
A new Pew Research study suggests that the stigma against online dating is declining. Thirty-eight percent of Americans who categorize themselves as "single and looking" have used an online or mobile dating service, which translates into 11% of American adults. And fewer feel like the people they meet online are "desperate"—a descriptor that means, apparently, scraping the bottom of the barrel and willing to do anything to get a spouse. Compared with a 2005 study, more are going on dates with those they meet on line, and 23% of online daters said online dating had led to a marriage or significant relationship.
My friend opted for a niche dating site: in his case, one that matches up members of the conservative Seventh-day Adventist church. While there are big players in the online dating market like eHarmony and Match.com, targeted dating services narrow the field for those looking for something quite particular. There are sites just for Catholics, Jews, farmers, smokers, body-builders, deaf people, and fans of the cartoon "My Little Pony".
At least one Christian dating service presumes on God's good graces to suggest that finding love with them is Divine destiny. Christian Mingle's overconfident slogan, "Find God's match for you," led one tweeter to quip, "How did Christians meet before God invented the internet?"
But even with all potential love interests qualifying on one significant point—in my friend's case, all Seventh-day Adventists—he found the process more draining than he expected. He's not alone. Talk to online daters, and you'll hear stories of white lies and exaggerations, or of investments emotionally and financially that don't pay off. Sometimes, the truth is the problem: when my friend was contacted by women who were looking for their sixth marriage, or who opened the conversation with health or financial problems that they wanted him to solve, just having a faith in common wasn't enough. "The odds are good," he observed, "but the goods are odd." From female friends I've heard of men introducing themselves with boasts of their sexual prowess, which says loads about the quirky dynamics of internet self-identity: it's hard to imagine them doing that in person.
At its best, online dating works. But it's different from the old way of dating. First, the pool is larger—generally a good thing. But second, not living together in a community (the way most of us met one another when we were young) and instead forming our impressions in the artificial world of the internet, means there's a danger of being deceived. I can't imagine going into a mid-life marriage nowadays without legal protections like credit, criminal and identity checks, backed up by prenuptial agreements.
That sacrifice of romance to practicality may be the cost of dating in the digital age.