The State of the Online Date

The State of the Online Date

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I met my wife April 27, 2003 — the old-fashioned way. Actually, that's a bit of a lie. We'd been introduced by a mutual friend two years before. But my wife doesn't even remember that meeting. That day in 2003, we bumped into each other again standing in line at a movie theater. I reintroduced myself. And the rest, as they say, is history. It was a serendipitous, God-orchestrated encounter.

I have to admit, though, that I was growing pretty impatient waiting on serendipity to strike back then. I was 32, and I had a long, inglorious track record of things not working out, dating-wise. In my darker moments, I despaired of ever meeting anyone whom I might one day marry. Sometimes I would think, Well, maybe I should just try that whole online dating thing. Then again, going that route seemed rash and risky, a final act of settling because I'd been unsuccessful at finding someone compatible in the "real world."  

Back then, there was significant stigma connected to online dating. Most of my peers still looked at it as an option of last resort when everything else failed. It was, in other words, something only the most desperate among us did.

Fast-forward 10 years and that stigma seems to have been moved to the digital trash bucket on people's desktops. Online dating isn't just for the desperate or the brave or the foolhardy. Rather, it's become just one potential context for finding a spouse among many in our complex, wired world. And it's a context that seems to be producing more marriages these days than any other.

A massive new study conducted by University of Chicago social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that nearly 35 percent of new marriages today start online. Cacioppo's extensive survey gathered data from 19,131 American adults who married between 2005 and 2012. Of those people, 45 percent met at online dating sites, while 20 percent connected through social networks. The other 35 percent met via other Internet venues, such as chat rooms, online forums, blogs and online gaming sites. About those findings, Cacioppo says, "I was astounded to see that over a third of marriages are now starting online."

The study also unearthed some other interesting correlations. Couples who met online were slightly less likely to get divorced than those who connected offline, and they also reported higher levels of marital satisfaction. On the other end of the satisfaction spectrum, meeting through blind dates, in bars and at work correlated with less marital satisfaction. And, perhaps not surprisingly, online marital matches were more likely among older couples, those in the 30 to 50 age-range, than those under the age of 30.

The study hasn't been without critics, however, because it was funded by online dating giant eHarmony. Cacioppo, however, insists that its backer didn't influence the data that was gathered. "I had an agreement with eHarmony that I had complete control, and we would publish no matter what we found, and the data would be available to everyone." The study's data was also audited by two independent statisticians who verified Cacioppo's analysis.

Concerns about potential bias aside, however, Cacioppo's findings aren't too far afield of another, smaller study conducted by Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld. He collected data on 926 unmarried couples from 2009 to 2011. His research found that 22 percent of newly formed couples had met online and that those who met online were twice as likely to marry as those who had connected offline.

If we combine the data from both studies, the research indicates that the percentage of couples who meet online these days is somewhere in the range of a quarter to a third. Comparatively, about 20 percent of couples are introduced by friends and another 10 percent meet via school or social gatherings.  

It seems, then, that the days of social stigma regarding online dating are a thing of the past, an acknowledgement that Cacioppo makes. Ten years ago, he says, online dating really was seen as the last stop for the otherwise unmarriageable: "Poor John has to date online. He's such a loser." Now, however, he says that's not the case. "Dating, or at least meeting, people online is no longer stigmatized," he says. "It is not even associated with adverse outcomes."

So what do you think? Is the online world just one of many potential venues for meeting someone these days? Or do you think there's still a lingering prejudice against it?

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  • --There's definitely still some lingering prejudice, but so what? There's also a stigma against meeting at Walmart, in a bar (especially in the Church), or on the street. If you meet a great person, that's all that matters. I haven't done online dating in a while, but the one time a friend found out, my only response was, "Say what you will, but I've got a date with a very attractive, intelligent, funny young lady tonight. Have fun doing homework alone."

    That said, I hate seeing Christian Mingle's Jars of Clay commercial.

  • --There may be a prejudice, but I don't particularly care. Went from no dates (not ever even being asked out) for six years, to meeting and getting married within 2 years. Can't complain :-) Of all the people I've told, I don't think I've had a single negative reaction.....just "Oh, neat. Yeah, that's how things go these days."

  • --Confession for you:  back in 2004, I agreed to meet my would-be husband in person for the first time while I was visiting my aunt, who lived in the same city he did.  I lied to my aunt, telling him a friend had suggested we start emailing, rather than the truth, which was that we had met on a dating site (I told her the truth later that evening).  But ever since, I've been very upfront about how we met.  

  • --I've been doing the online dating thing for about 4 years now, and I've gotten mixed responses.  (Of course, I don't tell just everyone that I'm doing online dating, but neither do I keep it some huge secret if it comes up.)  Some people think it's great; those are people who either found a spouse online or are close to someone who did.  Other people just caution me to be careful, because "you know most of the people on those dating sites are losers, right?"  I guess they forgot that I am also on the dating sites...does that make me a loser, too?  Some people have said that surely I can't be that desperate yet.  Others said that they guessed God could work through online dating if He wanted to, but that I shouldn't hold my breath.  

    The most negative response I've gotten was from my own mother.  She is strongly opposed to the idea of me occasionally contacting a guy before he contacts me...she says that it's just inappropriate for me to initiate communication.  If that's how online dating works, then online dating is wrong.  I've tried over and over to tell her that I'm NOT pursuing these guys.  I'm just saying "hi" and hoping that they'll check out my profile.  It's up to them if they want to answer my message or acknowledge my wink/smile.  Still, knowing that she disapproves makes the whole online dating thing harder for me.

    So yeah, in general there is still some lingering prejudice, but maybe it's getting better with time.    

  • --I still to theory that it's too easy to lie. I learned that the hard way. I was "catfished" as part of a cruel prank done by two so- called friends.

    So, I would urge caution.

  • --For me it’s an option that, so long as it’s used wisely, is really morally neutral. There are few biblical stories about how couples meet, and generally these are illustrated as exceptions to the more common social practices of the time and are not instructive. So ask God, and if you have peace that it’s a good way to go, I’d say go for it.

    The reason I don’t use it personally is the analysis paralysis / overchoice problem. In the 12 years since I left high school I’ve attended one large church that has a young adults ministry with consistently over 300 attendees, the largest proportion of which is single women. Thus it could easily be argued that I have had and do have more than enough valid options to pursue right in front of me, and I’m not about to add more options to the mix!

  • --I was surprised by peoples reactions when i met my hubby on Christian Café. I fully expected backlash....and only got 1 or 2 from folks who i didn't really even know....we both fit into the over 30 category, so online dating was kinda a last min idea. Welllll i can say ive been married for 8 months now and am amazed at how well GOD matched us together....we are both grateful to Him for the marriage he gave us...even if it came from an unlikely source! ;)

  • --There may still be some lingering stigma regarding online dating, but I’m glad I didn’t let that discourage me. My husband and I met online and we’ve been married for 10 months now. I couldn’t have found a better husband!

    I believe there are actually benefits to seeking a spouse online. It’s easy to be upfront regarding the fact that you’re seeking marriage (not just dating “for fun”). When you meet in person, sometimes it takes an awkward conversation to get this across. Likewise, it’s easier to talk early on about important issues such as the particulars of your faith or your desire for children. There’s no reason to get involved with someone who lives far from you (which is often the case when meeting people online) if you don’t agree on these things. Thus, there’s extra motivation to discuss these important topics before you get too involved.

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