The first time I entered into a relationship of any significance with someone I’d met on a dating site, he insisted we construct an elaborate backstory – complete with mutual friends, missed connections, and other tales of suspicious derring-do – to unload on anyone who dared to ask us “Where did you meet?”
Evidently, the horror of admitting that – as two time-poor, relatively socially anxious people – it made sense to date online, was just too awful to comprehend.
(My very mature reaction to this was, during this relationship and others, to blurt out “WE MET ONLINE!!” then lean back and enjoy the fireworks as my recalcitrant fellow online-dater squirmed. Look, I’ve had a lot of therapy since then.)
Flash forward a decade and a half and it seems things have only changed incrementally. Tinder and its associated app-based dating facilitators have entered the collective unconscious to the point that we might not necessarily cringe about “my Tinder date”, or “new Tinder profile photo”, but it appears that – once casual dating becomes a relationship – we’re still reticent to admit we “met online”.
A survey released this week by data and analytics group YouGov revealed 53 per cent of Millennials would be embarrassed to admit they met someone online – even though the same demographic are the most enthusiastic users of online dating and dating apps. This is also despite the fact that 73 per cent of Australians surveyed said they wouldn’t think any differently of a couple who met “online”.
I was born in that grey area between Gen X and the Millennial generation: old enough to remember my first 7″ single and time before home computers (and hey, kids, let me tell you about 5¼-inch floppy disks…), but young enough to be considered something of a “digital native”.
It’s fascinating, then, to think those younger people who came of age with smartphones in their hands still confess to finding online dating a bit embarrassing. Despite record levels of internet and smartphone use, there’s clearly still something about “having to” engage in online dating that stings a little.
As someone who enthusiastically embraced online dating, and who also maintained “internet friendships” with pen-pals overseas, I’ve long been aware of the cultural differences between international users and Australians.
In busy cities like Los Angeles and New York, it was just another way to streamline your social life: set up the dates online, whack them in the planner, and carry on with your life.
Those who did seem to embrace online dating here seemed (assuming they weren’t lying about their work) to already spent a lot of time in front of screens: writers, tech developers, analysts, academics.
Enthusiasm for internet dating in the broader population seemed to be thin on the ground here, though; and there still lingers a sense that dating online in Australia is a last resort, something that was fine for those weirdos who already hung out online, but not something that “normal” people needed to engage in.
Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg’s great book Modern Romance touches on this: “Their fear is that using an online site means that they were somehow not attractive or desirable enough to meet people through traditional means.”