What on earth happened to good old-fashioned romance?
Published 22/08/2014 | 02:30
Were we better off in the days of house phones and blind dates than we are now, with dating apps and sites to beat the band?
It might be pure nostalgia, but it has always sounded to me like meeting the love of your life used to be easier. A conversation with my Nana about ten years ago springs to mind, where she described how back in her day, Dublin of the 1950s, there was no such thing as waiting around for Mr or Mrs Right.
You met someone, went out for a while, got married and more or less made it work. She was lucky, and had a long and happy marriage. Her theory was that young people today were too picky. That we're holding out for the perfect person, when the perfect person just doesn't exist.
We all have a basic desire to find the love of our lives. Maybe it was those fairytales we were read as kids, or maybe it's just the simple need to share our lives with someone, to be a team, facing the world together. For that very reason, the dating industry is cashing in on singles, all looking for love, or just a bit of fun. As we put off marriage and kids until we are older, the search for Mr/Mrs Right can seem endless.
Are our modern expectations too high? What is it that we are really looking for in partner? And are we being too picky? Is the dating industry helping people to meet at all, or is it just a money spinner, trading on the hopes of people looking for love? And what makes people invest time, energy and often money, in online dating?
Sarah* is one of the success stories that dating websites like to brag about. She met her boyfriend John on popular dating website PlentyofFish.
"I first decided to try online dating because my flatmate at the time was doing it and seemed to be having a great time. I was also sick of meeting the same types of blokes in pubs and clubs. I initially joined Another Friend because that's the site my flatmate was on, but after a while I joined PlentyOfFish as I had heard good things about it. I went on about six or eight dates during my time using online dating. Some were awkward, some were funny, some led to more dates.
I was becoming very disillusioned with online dating when I met John. When I saw his profile I wasn't bowled over, but there was something that made me think that just maybe this one was different. We exchanged a few messages and that evening he called me and we chatted for an hour. Determined not to have another drawn-out period of message exchanges that eventually led nowhere, I suggested we meet up that weekend, and he agreed.
Our first date went incredibly well and there was definitely a spark. We met up again two days later and after that the relationship progressed pretty quickly. That was almost three years ago and we have been together since."
The success of online dating seems to depend on how invested both parties are in it. As with all kinds of dating, there are always going to be some people who go into it looking for different things. Some are doing it for a bit of craic, others are on the hunt for a relationship.
Shannon Smith, PR and Media Coordinator for PlentyOf Fish, says that the average age of a PlentyOf Fish user is 32. Is it purely coincidence that this is the average age for a woman getting married in Ireland today? Could signing up to a dating agency, online or otherwise, be a knee-jerk reaction by some people to their friends and colleagues getting married around them?
Well, if it was, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, according to relationship counsellor David Kavanagh. "It is just as good as meeting in a pub when you are drunk, I'm never worried that people are meeting online, I'm more worried that they snog without knowing their names and end up in bed together before they have even held hands!"
Shannon Smith from PlentyOfFish agrees on this point about meeting in bars. "Our lives have become incredibly fast-paced, and it's increasingly difficult to find the time to meet new people outside of our workplaces and social circles Many people feel out of their element in social settings like nightclubs, so we provide an alternative that allows people to formulate well thought out messages and start meaningful conversations on their own time. Plus, unlike stepping into a bar, you log on to PlentyOfFish and you know everyone is single."
This is an important point about online dating, everyone is there to meet someone. Or are they? The launch of dating app Tinder last year caused some controversy, with it being dubbed shallow by some, and as a hook-up, rather than a dating app. Some called it a straight version of the popular gay app Grindr.
For the uninitiated, Tinder is a smartphone or tablet app that is downloaded and matches users who are attracted to each other via a swipe right. Swiping left is a no. If two users like each other, only then they are free to message each other. The controversy surrounds the fact that the initial attraction is almost purely based on looks, or more accurately, on the users profile pictures. The only information that you have on the other users is a few pictures, their name (or username), their age, where they are from, and maybe a tagline.
In a country as small as Ireland, using Tinder lead to awkwardness rather than romance, as Aisling Bradley discovered when she downloaded the app a few months ago. "Initially I had no reservations and thoroughly enjoyed the 'video game' like element to it - swipe left, swipe right.
However Galway is a small town and I soon began to see mutual likes around town. Since we'd never actually spoken it was quite awkward. Tinder is like a mate who tells everyone who you fancy." Although she has since signed up for PlentyOfFish, Aisling says she has yet to go on a date with someone she has met online.
This 'video game' element, plus the ease of use (all you have to do is download the app), have led to a lot of what have been dubbed "Tinder Tourists", users who are either not single, or not looking for anything, but are just messing around with Tinder, with no intention of ever meeting up.
I have to confess to being one of these. Although people do undoubtedly meet up after chatting on Tinder, there are also a lot of users who are just there for the craic rather than for romance.
At the other end of the scale are more specialised dating sites such as Elite Singles. This site charges a subscription, but in return it promises to manually check each profile to ensure that users are serious. Anna Teigle, a relationship expert with Elite Singles says: "The way we set up the site, introducing members to others based on their personality and their stated relationship goals, means first dates are better as you know you have something in common already. Meeting people online undoubtedly makes the chances of clicking when you see each other much higher."
Ah but does it? What attracts us to someone, after all, and does this initial physical attraction translate to long-term love? Just because something looks good on paper, doesn't mean that it will work in real life. Cupid can be fickle when he wants to be, and dating apps and sites are a handy, time efficient way for people to meet up. The people I spoke to all mentioned the ego boost that signing up to a dating site brings, logging on and seeing that you have new messages and new likes.
But are we any better off than we were 20 years ago? Perhaps, in terms of confidence and sexual freedom - we're more free to shop around before settling. But does online dating remove some of that organic excitement from the whole process, or is that even important? It's doubtful we'll ever return to the ways of the past wholly.
While some sites are more legitimate or serious than others, most users seem aware of the risks and enter into the world of online dating with their eyes open. And why not give love a little helping hand? Who knows where it could lead to? A word of advice from one serial online dater who wishes to remain anonymous: Be honest, but open-minded. Don't take the pictures at face value, and use realistic and recent pictures of yourself. Oh, and happy hunting!