Up until this morning I always thought internet dating was a part of an exclusive grownup club; kind of like having a mortgage, owning business cards or being divorced. Both my parents (who have mortgages, business cards and are divorced) are well established in the online dating sphere and many of my friends’ parents are regular RSVPers and like to cast a line out on About Fish, in hope that another middle aged divorcee will take a nibble at their middle class bait.
As I said, I thought this was the case, until a gorgeous, intelligent and extremely eligible friend of mine told me that she had signed up to internet dating. My mind was blown – where have all of the smart, socially minded, artistic men disappeared to in the world that my extremely eligible friend cannot find a date through regular social interaction? If my slim and dynamic friend cannot find a man what hope do the rest of us have?
My friend’s new found hobby, or should I say, interest, got me thinking – is internet dating really that bad? Do you have to be desperate/divorced/weird to do it?
Maybe internet dating for young 20-somethings isn’t a last resort for the wounded, as my mum would say. Maybe it is the next big thing; an avenue for young people to find other young people who are ready for a committed relationship, or are at least open to the idea of intimacy rather than the ‘pash -and-dash’ culture which I and many friends are consumed by. My friend said she signed up for the service because her friendship group lacks eligible heterosexual men and she wanted to open doors that would facilitate meeting young men that aren’t in her immediate or secondary friendship circles. I couldn’t think of a better or more valid reason to join the internet dating bandwagon.
From a sociological perspective, the largest barrier for many of my friends under the age of 50 to joining an internet dating site is stigma- am I really 20 years old and unable to find a date? How weird am I?
Erving Goffman, a sociological theorist, defines stigma as “ …an attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: it causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one,” or in the context of internet dating “ a special kind of gap between virtual social identity and actual social identity.”
We worry that the people who are attracted to internet dating go there because their original identity is not accepted by society, and they need to take refuge in a place where they can create another more accepted virtual identity- an identity that can be carefully crafted through means of edited photos and a list of fake hobbies. So then we fear that we’re left with sleazes, creeps and the socially inept as our only options for internet dates. No wonder internet dating gets a bad rap.
But what if internet dating was the norm? I mean, we spend hours and hours a day socialising through means of Facebook, Twitter and various chat programs; sometimes more than face-to-face interaction-.why is it so bad that my friend wants to open up her dating options through the same web based medium? In fact, it makes sense.
My friend is not socially inept; she has more hobbies than I have pairs of underwear (and that’s a lot), nor does she talk too much or too little. She is a perfectly normal, lovely young woman setting an extremely high calibre for internet dating. Maybe we should all sign up, because if there is a male version of my friend online, I sure as hell would love to meet him.