According to a recent article in Maclean’s magazine, 20 per cent of heterosexuals and 60 per cent of homosexuals claimed to have met their mates online in 2009. The article goes on to quote experts who believe that online dating -- while great for helping people meet others outside their networks -- is altering our traditional cultural goal of finding a mate for life. I believe it. The question is whether we’ll allow this trend to continue.
I tried online dating just once when mass use of the Internet was in its infancy, circa 2001. Just out of a long relationship, I checked out a local dating website in Ottawa. Most of the entries -- there were only about 75 men on there -- were laughable. But there was this one guy.
He was a soccer player. He was tall, had great legs, worked in a sports shop. He was very good looking. And based on our online chat sessions over a few weeks, he was dumb as wood. Perfect!
We went on a date. It was nice. I didn’t have to talk about anything intelligent. We flirted over the table, went for a walk after dinner, he kissed me at the front door. This was definitely a guy I’d like to call again, and not, you know, for conversation. I dreamed about his legs for approximately 72 hours.
The following weekend, however, I met my now-husband on a camping trip in Gatineau Park, and Mr. Soccer Legs never got a call back.
The thing is great legs are great. But they’re not the type of thing to sustain a relationship long term. The recent Maclean’s piece highlighted growing doubt that algorithms used to match people online according to similar tastes, hobbies and interests mimic what people look for in the real world, particularly in a lifelong mate. This point was brought home when I met my husband. One of the first things that impressed me about him was his ability to cut grapefruit with precision. It’s not the kind of skill one would note in a dating profile, nor is it something I would actively seek.
Of course, most of us realize that online dating is really just a massive public relations’ exercise. People put their best selves forward and in return, dating sites promise you’ll meet your “soul mate” with just a click of a button. When your match turns out to be less than desirable, it’s easy to move on and find your next “soul mate.” Sure, in some cases, online dating turns to marriage and the people live happily ever after. But in the virtual world, as in the real world, this may be a statistical anomaly.
In most cases, the point of online dating isn’t to find Mr. Right, but Mr. Right Now.
Not only that, but the Internet makes the dating marketplace so much bigger, notes Maclean’s author Katie Engelhart, that it’s contributed to an increase in philandering. Engelhart says the logic goes something like this: “Why settle down when a better match is just a click away?” Only the future will tell if the majority of us will allow this to become a societal norm.
Funny enough, about five years after my first and only online dating experience, the subject came up at a ladies’ drinks’ reunion with some of my university colleagues. Turns out, we’d all dated Mr. Soccer Legs within six months of each other. Mr. Soccer Legs may have appeared dumb as wood, but we’d underestimated him. In fact, he was the only person to achieve his goal with that primitive dating website. We were all looking for a mate. Silly, in hindsight. Because there was really nothing about that picture of his legs to suggest he was looking for a wife.