Are dating sites the new normal for those seeking long-term relationships?
Dating sites and apps seem to have exploded in popularity over the last 10 years or so. In times gone by, online dating had a certain stigma attached, and users were often thought of as being unable to attract a partner in real life. Using a dating website was a sure-fire way to be mocked by friends and family alike.
But with the launch of the dating app Tinder in 2012, online dating started to become more mainstream, and one estimate now suggests that there are upwards of 15 million singles using online dating in the UK alone.
A figure this high begs the question: has online dating become the new norm? And are people using dating sites to look for love, or are these platforms simply a hotspot for hook-ups?
Why people use dating apps
There are a number of reasons why people use online dating. For one thing, dating sites and apps offer huge convenience compared to traditional, in-person dating. Online daters are all looking for some kind of romantic entanglement, and the huge number of similarly focused people in one place increases the pool of possible dates enormously — with the added bonus that users can swipe or browse matches from the comfort of their own home.
Another plus of online dating is that approaching or messaging people digitally is far less daunting than doing so in person. Chatting with someone online is a great way for people who suffer from shyness or social anxiety to engage more easily with others, without the pressure of in-person interaction.
Rejection is also less personal online, and many dating sites require a mutual desire to connect before messages are able to be sent — in other words, both parties have to agree to chat before a conversation can start. In many instances, a lack of a match will simply be forgotten, whereas the type of face-to-face rejection brought about by more traditional dating can be embarrassing and painful for both parties.
Dating through apps and sites also allows for a more ‘targeted’ partner search. For some, this is a way to make sure that there is a mutual physical attraction between both parties before going on a date, but for others, this is less of a skin-deep benefit. Dating apps often allow users to filter their matches by age, interests and political views, while many dating websites use questionnaires to provide users with a number of prospective matches based on an algorithm that pairs them with other compatible people. Options like this let users avoid awkward situations and potentially find a more suitable match than might otherwise be possible.
In it for the long haul?
Although online dating sites have been around for a long time, their recent surge in popularity means that it may well be too early to tell if more permanent relationships are being formed online than offline nowadays. It is clear that at least some long-term relationships are the result of online dating, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that a huge number of people have met current or previous partners online rather than in a more ‘natural’ setting.
For many people, however, it is difficult to tell if they have a connection with someone when all initial interaction is done online. Judging somebody based on their looks is one thing, but developing a rapport and seeing if attraction grows with conversation is something entirely different. Because of this, many people seem to use online dating, apps in particular, to look for quick and easy hook-ups; instant physical attraction and a willingness from both parties to engage in casual sex means that long-term relationships are less likely to be the end result.
Not all apps are created equal
That being said, there are certain things at play that seem to affect whether people use online dating to find long-term relationships or to engage in more casual dating and hook-ups.
Certain websites and apps, such as Tinder, Grindr and We Love Dates, are targeted at people looking for casual relationships. Users know that most other users are not hoping to find a long-term or serious relationship, and this leads to easier and less fussy hook-ups.
Other platforms, including Bumble, Hinge and eHarmony, have a userbase made up of people looking for dates that have the potential to turn into something more serious.
Some platforms offer the best of both worlds — Badoo, for example, gives users creating their profile the chance to select whether they’re looking to chat, to hook up or to date more seriously.
So how many people are opting for each of these choices? Tinder is one of the most well-known apps on the market in terms of online dating, and it has over 50 million registered users globally, suggesting a huge number of people looking for casual dates. But Hinge has also reported over 50 million global users, and relationship-focused Match.com claims to have over 20 million users. Does this imply that relationships and hook-ups are found (or at least looked for) in equal measure online?
An age-old question
A final thing to consider is the targeted age group of dating app and website users. For the most part, dating apps target younger, often millennial, users. Tinder, typically used for casual hook-ups, claims that half of its userbase is aged 18–24, and 85% of its many users are thought to be under the age of 35. On the other hand, adults between the ages of 30 and 44 are the most numerous users of both Match.com and eHarmony, dating websites with more of a relationship focus.
Could it be that the answer to who is looking for love and who is looking for sex is often just a matter of age?
The new normal?
It is difficult to know whether online dating has replaced more organic ways of meeting long-term romantic partners, but one thing is clear: the stigma associated with dating apps has all but disappeared. With the onset and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are digitally dating more than ever, but only time will tell whether these new online crushes will lead to long-term love.