Is Online Dating Ready to Come Out of the Closet?

Jul 15, 2010

coming out of closet

Photo by kaysteiger

I spotted an interesting post yesterday on Gizmodo that analyzed the wealth of data of the members of dating site OKCupid. The online dating space is a fascinating one to me, as the interactions are virtual to physical, and all of the up-front judgments (deciding whether to contact a person, sending contact, sweet talking to the point where you meet) are done virtually as well, and then you finally meet up in person. It's like trying to get a job, but the gig might actually last for life!

The OKCupid has some fantastic data, including statistics indicating that people on the site who indicate they are bisexual don't actually express their preferences that way (that is they only contact the members of a single gender). Incomes and heights are also misrepresented (especially for me), which makes sense when you see that the higher those values the more likely you are to be contacted and get dates.

The topic of dating had me considering what the cultural acceptance of online dating is now. I have used online dating in the past, and I remember when I did that the general sense I had from friends was that it was a bit taboo to be on an online dating site. When I used Match and Yahoo! Personals I was a little nervous about putting my picture up, especially initially, and I tried not to reveal too much personal information about myself lest my identity as an online dater be revealed to my friends, resulting in much ridicule (or so I thought). I remember finding a friend or two on Match, and also found that they viewed me (what a nice little spying feature they provide), but we never connected or discussed our online dating.

As the internet ages, however, I find that online dating seems a lot less taboo. When I ask acquaintances now about how they met their significant others it seems like a much higher number than before name online dating. It seems like the industry is going through changes as well, as ad-supported sites gain momentum agains their paid competition. As ad-supported sites gain critical mass you'd expect that more people would join, as one of the main barriers (cost) to joining online dating gets knocked down.

I had a positive experience using Match in 2005 - I met an ex-girlfriend on the site. To get to that point, however, I had to jump through a few hoops:

  • Sending emails or Match's winks (analogous to Facebook's pokes) can be a frustrating experience. You send a large number out, get a much smaller number of responses, and then you have to come up with something compelling to say in an email and hope you'll get a response back so you didn't waste your time

  • I went on 3 in-person dates. The first girl was much more... more than her pictures indicated. And after we went out she wouldn't stop calling me. That experience almost soured me on the whole thing. The second went fairly well, and we ended up hanging out a few times, but I found she was a just a bit immature for my tastes. The third was my ex-girlfriend, so that one worked out fairly well.

  • After trying a few different dates I realized the first date needs to be something low key. Coffee or a drink is perfect so you can get the hell out of there if it's not going well. With dinner you're likely stuck there for an hour at least.

Overall I had a pretty good experience with online dating, and coupled with my anecdotal experience that more people are meeting from online dating it seems like it's becoming a big part of mainstream dating. I think it's time for us to no longer be embarrassed to have met online.

I, however, met my girlfriend at a bar :)