Online Dating – Part 5: Social Media
I admit it, I’m a very tough match. I’m not an average guy on almost any axis or scale, with lots of complexities and contradictions, so it stands to reason that I’m not going to be attracted to, or attractive to, an average mate. This is why I don’t think my failure to find “the one’’ online means that the concept of online dating doesn’t work. I do know that online dating has worked for a lot of people, including a number of people I know. But knowing myself is the reason that the next time I found myself back in the dating pool, after yet another work related cross country move, I decided not to give eHarmony a try. From all I read about eHarmony, I could pretty well predict that I would be among the 20% of applicants who would be rejected as “unmatchable,” but only after spending an hour or more answering their 258 questions. So why go to all that work?
When eHarmony and other “scientifically designed” dating match services appeared, they held out the promise of eliminating the randomness of dating, zeroing in on likely matches according to “proven” principles of compatibility, based on very detailed information you provide about yourself. They concentrate on who you say you are, rather than what you say you want, much as I had done with my Match.com ad. Their algorithms are secret, their claims of success are impressive, and for several years people have flocked to their sites, money in hand. For people with strong, specific criteria, like meeting someone with identical religious beliefs, I think that’s a reasonable expectation for a computer model to meet. And it’s just common sense not to pair someone highly sexual with a person who has a low interest in sex. If your interests and proclivities are mainstream and close to average, it seems to me it’s not that hard to throw enough similar profiles up on the wall that something will stick. And by eliminating the outliers like me upfront, they help their success rate.
For all their business success the last 10 years, these sites seem to be starting to decline in popularity, and there have been several articles recently about this change in the trend. It’s not just that they’ve never proven their success statistics, and in several cases actually had to retract their claims in order to avoid false advertising charges, but the terrible state of the economy has affected people’s willingness to pay their fees. And then as Facebook and other social media sites began their ascendance in popularity the last couple of years, a lot of people discovered that although they are not designed as dating sites, they do provide dating opportunities, and do it in a much more organic and natural way.
Think about how people met before the advent of online dating. They primarily met through mutual friends or mutual interests. And those are the primary drivers on sites like Facebook. You expand your circle of friends there through the network of your existing friends, and by contact with people who have similar interests or points of view. And you’re not shotgunned into instant dating mode when you make a new contact on Facebook; you actually have a chance to sit back and get to know somebody first before you make that decision. Their profiles tell you a lot about people, if they want you to know a lot about them, and that is useful information either way. And what people post tells you a lot more about them than most profiles would. You can see what is really on people’s minds, and what is important to them, by watching what they post to their friends, and the comments they make to others. Of course all of my previous rules about online dating still apply, but you do get a broader picture of someone when you can observe the way they interract with others.
I have described Facebook to non-users as a kind of virtual cocktail party, where people of all descriptions mingle and chat about every possible subject. And the online socializing leads to lots of offline opportunities to mingle with a group, because somebody is always organizing a birthday or other life event celebration, or gathering a group to go to a performance of some kind, or just putting together a TGIF party that is open to friends of friends, or to the public. I didn’t know a large number of people on Facebook, and I hadn’t been using it terribly long before I already had my choice of several local gatherings every week to attend if I wished. And when I do happen to meet someone interesting offline due to other circumstances now, using Facebook as a contact point afterwards is a safe, easy way to follow up, without any pressure.
In this way, I find that social media do enable dating, if that is what you’re interested in, in a more natural and relaxed way than the single minded hunt of dating sites and personal ads. And as a secondary benefit, you can make a lot of new friends in the process, people you may not be interested in dating, but who can provide companionship and support in other ways. And I’ve found Facebook to be a terrific way to reconnect with people from my past I’ve lost track of over the years. I’ve found or been found by people I was close to 20 years ago, 15, 10, 5, and picked up the thread of relationship again, even across long distances. That lends a richness to my current experience, and helps fill in the gap for what I’m still missing in a personal relationship. For me, at least, it’s taken much of the urgency out of my ongoing search for “the one.”
Next, I’ll summarize this series and offer my recommendations on “safe and sane” online dating.
Photo & text © 2010 David Kinne from “Mysteries/Answers”