Earlier this month, Vanity Show published an article announcing a “dating apocalypse” ushered in by the advent of Tinder and other online match sites. According to the article, online dating destroys everything in its path, from erections of guys to the collective ability of humanity to maintain long-term relationships.
The post apocalyptic predictions may have been grossly exaggerated, and have been criticized in a long, slightly deranged rant of Tinder following its publication. However, the article made a point that remains almost impossible to disprove for anyone who has used dating apps: these things make dating (and hookup) more accessible than ever. So who do we use our newfound freedom to date? People like us, for the most part, according to Wayne Brekhus, professor of sociology at the University of Missouri and author of Peacocks, chameleons, centaurs: gay suburbs and the grammar of social identity:
“The problem with old-fashioned dating is that meeting people for day-to-day interactions is extremely inefficient. We are therefore witnessing the rise of highly specialized and demographically focused dating sites. Part of what they’re supposed to accomplish is effective filtering – they immediately narrow the horizons, eliminating many people who are probably not demographically suited. “
All dating sites allow you to enter a basic level of preferences: the gender (s) of the partners you are looking for, a brief bio and, on many apps, a location filter. But some services offer specialization far beyond that, with more and more niche options popping up all the time. OkCupid’s advanced search feature (available for as low as $ 4.95 per month) allows users to filter matches by attractiveness, body type, and specific responses to questions involving a political belief or religion. There’s The League, an app for Ivy League graduates, and Farmers Only, an app for people involved in farming. There are ethnicity or religion specific apps like BlackPeopleMeet, JDate (an app for Jewish users), and Christian Mingle. Others are hobby-specific, like High There (for potheads) and Equestrian Singles (for horse lovers). Raya, maybe the most exclusive of them, is aimed at “people in the creative industries”, including a vaguely famous clientele.
According to Chelsea Reynolds, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Communication which studies gender and sexuality in mass media, the exclusivity of these new applications has a series of effects.
“There are two different phenomena happening here: you have class or religion based sites sorting people out, and interest based sites choosing people,” she said. “It catalyzes the accessibility of new partners and removes external groups and makes you feel like you are part of something. “
With the right apps and settings, you might never have to interact with someone unlike you, and according to Brekhus, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Killing partners based on demographics similar to yours may seem like an effective way to eliminate people, but in the end, it just limits your dating horizons.
“It’s kind of what I would call McDonald’s dating,” he said. “It makes everything calculable, measurable and efficient, but it gives you a standardized model. This is good in the sense that you know exactly what you are going to get, but it also limits the magic and the possibility.
The homogeneity of today’s meetings is not so surprising: settling with a partner has always depended on finding people with whom you can identify. Brekhus put it this way: Dating has always had a high degree of inbreeding, but now we come back to inbreeding by choice rather than by chance. “It’s ironic that in a completely free and open environment, these sites reflect old-fashioned dating and arranged marriages,” he said. “People who are different from you are going to stretch you in new ways. It’s about new experiences and exposure to new experiences, and these apps partially limit that.
Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, said these apps can be effective for people with a specific, non-negotiable gateway variable, such as those who only wish to marry a Jewish or Christian person.
“When people start looking for something specific that gives them more in common with someone, or if they have very high standards for a certain problem, it can widen their pool,” Schwartz said.
This was the case with Lisa Becker, who met her husband on JDate 15 years ago. At the time, he lived 30 miles from her and she didn’t believe their paths would have easily crossed organically.
“I am Jewish and it was important for me to carry on the family tradition and to meet someone who shared the same ideas in this sense,” she said. “I always knew that the person I wanted to create a life with would be Jewish, or would be willing to forgo their own cultural holidays and customs in favor of mine.”
Becker said she credits JDate with her 15-year marriage, two children and a novel she wrote about online dating. But according to Schwartz, for people looking for partners based purely on leisure rather than demographics like religion, the effectiveness of niche services is more fragile.
“You go to these sites for people who rarely appear, and that’s going to limit who you can choose from,” Schwartz said. “You might find that the only thing you have in common with these people is that you both love horses – and that might not be enough. “
That said, apps can be invaluable for people stuck in geographies where their demographics are isolated, like LGBTQ users, for example. Aswan Morgan, founder and CEO of dating app The Know, said he has used BlackPeopleMeet intermittently over the past 10 years to seek out African-American partners in the largely white environments of Silicon Valley and from Stanford, where he attended school.
“For someone invested in their career with very little free time, when I was using BPM it was extremely valuable as it nurtured a wide range of like-minded candidates that I couldn’t access without a high level of effort, “he said.” At the time, to be sure, the experience was a bit awkward, but that was overshadowed by the benefits of accessibility and appeased by the fact that the community was nested in the same niche: we already had something in common to relate to.
Specialized apps are also bringing sex subgroups into the mainstream, with sites like FetLife and Collarspace lowering the barrier of entry to test new issues and identities, according to Reynolds.
“Kink sites make subcultures more visible than they have been in the past; they came to the fore and into the mainstream culture, ”she said. “Sites allow people to explore. Maybe you don’t know if you’re ready to jump into BDSM, but you can explore these options without committing to the social element that you would need in real life.
Specialized dating services also widen the pool of people for stigmatized demographics. At 425 pounds, Hope Venetta said she always had a hard time meeting men until she signed up on a site designed specifically for men looking for taller women.
“I decided to sign up because other dating sites clearly aren’t for me,” she said. “The men there weren’t looking for someone my size, whatever my personality.”
She was using the site, called SSBBW Match (Super Size Big Beautiful Women), for less than two weeks when she met her husband.
“I would recommend specialist dating sites to anyone,” she said. “Being in an environment where there were men who were specifically looking for someone of my stature made it easier to connect and meet minds. There is no doubt that fights like this benefit tall women and remove any stigma associated with morbid obesity. Everyone needs love.
If you had to believe Vanity Show, online dating eradicates emotional intimacy, destroys all advances in the feminist movement, and exponentially increases the number of “fuckboys” young women interact with on a daily basis. But if you asked more people outside of the straight, white, and wealthy mainstream, you might hear a different story.
“There is definitely an element of class here – historically, dating has not been easy for people outside of the upper echelons of society. You have to have financial stability, access to a social community, etc., ”Reynolds said. “These online dating sites make it easier for people with physical limitations to go out. Overall, this allows many people to explore a much larger pool of potential matches than they previously could. “
It is not yet clear how the apparent McDonaldization of dating will play out, or whether the ability to sculpt our dating pools into images of ourselves will truly usher in the apocalypse. But while we were busy wringing our hands about the death of Tinder-initiated romance, people like Venetta were meeting the love of their lives, in some of the only places created to make it easier.