More and more people are going online to meet new people, go on dates and, in some cases, just have a little fun. But is this the solution to finding long-term love? Increasingly, it appears this is the case.
Despite some remaining stigma, the use of dating websites and apps is becoming ubiquitous with tales of swiping right becoming the norm around the dinner table and braai. On the surface it would seem the millennial generation is gravitating towards apps over online dating sites, but surprisingly, stats reveal that in 2014, leading dating website Match.com enjoyed a global audience of 35 million unique monthly visitors – the numbers speak for themselves. According to Pew Research, 1-in-5 adults aged 25-34 have used online dating, but it is also popular with older singles. Closer to home, Match.com may still appear rather US-centric, but active South African websites like MWEB Dating adequately fill the gap for lovelorn locals.
Tinder is the app mentioned most often. It is well-known for asking users to view photos of others in the vicinity; a left swipe means you aren’t interested while a right swipe means you find something about their profile intriguing. Tinder simply describes itself as: “Tinder is how people meet. It’s like real life, but better”. Another popular app is Are You Interested (AYI) which says it “makes it easy to meet singles by connecting them through their mutual friends and interests”.
Another, more niche app – but no less popular – is Grindr, which specifically targets homosexual men. A Cape Town man in his thirties says he wasn’t looking for something serious on Grindr. But he found exactly that, sharing a life and home for five years with a man he met through the app. He says while he was in the closet, Grindr offered the anonymous ease of finding intimacy. “It was like standing on the corner without other people seeing you. And I got lucky. One night turned into half a decade.”
It makes sense that South Africans are looking for love online; that’s where many of us are spending much of our time after all. Nearly 25 million South Africans – about half the population – have Internet access. Average time spent online via desktop computer is five hours daily while mobile users spend three hours online daily, according to a report by agency We Are Social. Research however shows that couples are, for the moment, more likely to meet in the more traditional ways – through mutual friends or at work – but anecdotal evidence suggests this might soon change. Our lives are becoming increasingly busy and meeting people offline can take a backseat to other activities.
A 30-year-old Gauteng-based woman says that’s exactly why she chose to look online for love. “There are a lot of cool people online who just have busy lives or social circles where they don’t always get the chance to meet new people,” she says, adding that she found a lot of stigma associated with online dating. “People assume you’re online dating because you can’t meet people organically but that’s often not the case.”
She cautions those wanting to try online dating to be patient and somewhat cynical. “Online dating requires patience because you will meet duds and people who are using it as a sex site. Also keep in mind that just like social media sites where people only post the best version of themselves, online dating sites also have those phonies. I met quite a few people who had posted fake photos.”
That said, she encourages those who are curious to give it a go. “It’s a great way to meet people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet but I would advise that you keep an open mind, have fun and don’t go in looking for your soulmate.” She and her boyfriend of two years didn’t meet online, but through another non-traditional avenue – they met while speed dating.
Research from the University of Chicago has found 35% of recently married couples met online. They were happier and more likely to remain together than other couples. The research report reads: “Marriages that began online, when compared with those that began through traditional offline venues, were slightly less likely to result in a marital break-up (separation or divorce) and were associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction among those respondents who remained married.” It has been suggested that this is because people are logging onto online dating sites and apps with the intention of finding love.
A 26-year-old Western Cape woman agrees, saying the intention to date seriously is clear and understood. “There’s none of that song and dance that goes on for months about whether you find someone attractive and whether it is okay for you to ask that person out, or wait to be asked out. The great thing about Tinder is that you can only initiate conversation with someone if you have both swiped right and therefore indicated that on some level you find that person interesting and/or attractive. There is a kind of symmetry to it. There’s less of being coy and more of getting down to, ahem… business.”
She’s happily been dating a man she met via Tinder for about two months but admits to first being hesitant about venturing online to look for love. “At first I was a bit mortified about the idea of being on Tinder, partly because of the stigma of online dating, but also because Tinder has a less-than-savoury reputation as being a ‘hookup app’.” She’s found South Africans, unlike others internationally, tend to use the app for dating rather than hookups and admits she was lucky to only have good experiences with the men she connected with. “I think it’s really about the expectations you go in with. The worry is that you will meet weirdos who drop dirty come-ons. But in the two weeks I used it, I met four different men, and each one was gentlemanly, interesting, and – this was the best part – good conversation. I might have been lucky, but I had such great ‘dates’ with each of the interesting people I met.”
The reality is that for every online dating match, there are also plenty of awkward conversations, painful rejections and too many bad dates to mention. So much so, that an Instagram account, @TinderNightmares, has been created purely to document bad Tinder interaction. A recent, desperate post reads: “Please sleep with me. Please. Pretty please. I’m so lonely.” The important takeaway, it would appear, is to give technology a chance, be careful, have fun and remain hopeful that love can be found where you least expect it.
*This article first appeared on MWEB.