Singles aren’t meeting the way they used to. Shy glances eventually leading to “hello” are frequently replaced by planned meetings of virtual strangers in bars, coffee shops and diners around the world. Fueling this change are dating apps, such as Grindr, OKCupid and Tinder, which alone boasts 9 billion “matches.” What chance do these pairings have of becoming meaningful relationships, though?
Emily Keener, an assistant professor of psychology at Slippery Rock University, said there’s no reason why the way you meet someone should be good or bad.
“People who use the same dating sites probably have similar values,” she said. “When people share values or have things in common a relationship could form.”
Virtual dating can be more efficient, Keener added, noting that “it seems like starting on the third date.”
“If my goal is to find someone to marry and have children with, I can click ‘no’ and say ‘bye’ to anyone who doesn’t want that,” she said, indicating that many of these services allow users to weed out incompatible matches, so long as they are honest about their intentions.
Dating can be difficult after college, Keener continued, noting that it may be the last time many people are around a large number of age-mates.
“Maybe you don’t want to date at work and you don’t go to church or bars,” she said. “Where would you go to meet new people?”
Brandon Fuhs, a senior information systems major at SRU who has used a number of dating apps, agreed that they make dating easier.
“More and more people are joining these apps because of how easy it is to find someone you’re compatible with,” he said. “I think fewer people than before want to meet someone randomly in person first and, rather, they’re seeing the benefits that online dating can bring.”
A journal entry published by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) in 2012 titled Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science supports this assumption.
The study found that, between 2007 and 2009, 22 percent of heterosexual relationships began online, making it the second most prevalent form of dating. The study indicated that this percentage has likely grown since.
Fuhs emphasized the usefulness of dating apps to those who may have natural dating barriers.
“Being a gay male, dating apps make it much easier for me to find a guy that’s my type,” he said. “I can’t go up to a guy and assume he’s gay like straight girls can go up to a guy and assume he’s straight. I’d probably embarrass myself, insult the guy or get punched in the face.”
The APS study found that, during the same time period, 61 percent of same-sex relationships began online.
LGBT+ dating app users can feel more confident that they’ll find someone who is mutually interested, Fuhs said.
Keener cautioned that not all virtual dating is equal, however, indicating that some apps are likely more “hook-up” oriented.
“Grindr and other location-based apps seem to be more ‘I’m here, you’re there, let’s hook up,'” she said. “Sites like eHarmony that use compatibility matches seem to do a better job of producing relationships.”
Fuhs agreed, saying few people download these apps intending to find their soulmate.
“Why would they though?” he asked. “It’s so easy to swipe right, start a chat, meet up and then never see that person again unless you awkwardly walk past them on campus.”
App users tend to be upfront about what they’re looking for, Fuhs said.
“I’ve had things said to me on these apps that I hope no one would say to me in person,” he said. “If someone starts the conversation by sending a revealing picture, you can be pretty sure they don’t want anything meaningful.”
Apps that are web-based, such as Match or Plenty of Fish, tend to be more serious, Fuhs continued, because they allow users to provide more information about themselves.
“You put more detail into your profile and answer questions about ‘long walks on the beach’ and how many kids you eventually want,” he said.
Keener said that face-to-face communication isn’t always necessary for a relationship to form, using the 2013 movie Her, in which a man falls in love with an operating system, as an example.
Any venue by which ideas and personality are shared can result in a friendship or relationship, Keener said, using pen pals as an example of how this idea “isn’t new.”
Fuhs said his experience with dating apps has been generally good and the APS study suggests many people agree.
In 2008, 76 percent of online daters in or near Los Angeles rated their experience positively and 73 percent of them said they would recommend online dating to a friend.
Meaningful relationships absolutely can develop online, Fuhs said, indicating that he is “very happy” in his current relationship.
“I met my first boyfriend on Grindr and I met the guy I’m dating now on Plenty of Fish,” he said. “My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost six months and so far it’s been great.”