"Someday I’m going to find
somebody and love him and
love him and never let him go.”
‑from Tender Is The Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
You’re at a party or a nightclub or a hotel ballroom or the bingo hall (your imagination, your venue, you pick) and in walks this woman (or man) and you are immediately attracted to her (him). You don’t know why and the why doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that the attraction is immediate and strong. You are drawn to her like light to a black hole in space and time. She has destroyed you and remade you in the same instant it took the light in the room to bring the vision of her into your eye. You welcome the oblivion, the annihilation. But now you are consumed with the horror of having to approach her and strike up a conversation to act on this initial attraction. What if she’s not attracted to you? What if she isn’t interested in you? What if she rejects you?
Now imagine you see a picture of her in an app on your smartphone. If you are attracted to her and would like to meet her, you swipe right for approval. If not, you swipe left for disapproval. Sounds a bit cold and disconnected? Perhaps. But you essentially did the same thing at the party (nightclub, ballroom, bingo hall, etc.). There were others in the room whom you observed (i.e., “viewed”) and discarded as a potential mate. We are highly subjective beings. You swipe right and left all the time in the real world. This is how human mating works.
Meanwhile, in the virtual world of the Internet, she sees a picture of you on her smartphone. If she’s not interested in meeting you, she swipes left and nothing happens. If, however, she is interested too and swipes right, then a chat session is opened between the both of you.
I’m not making this scenario up. It’s happening all around you right now via the hottest new dating app called Tinder, which makes it easier than ever to meet a stranger. Without even having to leave your home, Tinder virtually puts you in a thousand rooms full of people looking for a relationship seeking anything ranging from a one-night-stand hookup to a long-term relationship.
Online dating has been around for almost a decade now. Most of us have probably heard of the big online dating websites such as eHarmony, Match.com, and OKCupid. Some of you have used (or are currently using) one or more of these services. Others may be patrons of one or more of the almost 4,000 online dating websites that now crowd the growing market.
The online dating industry has been steadily growing at 3.5 percent per year since 2008, proving to be one of the few recession-proof industries. Today, online dating is a $2 billion per year industry.
The growth of the online dating industry is fueled by shifting demographics and changing cultural norms. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of single people in the U.S. has risen from 28 percent in 1970 to 47 percent last year. There’s more singles today because less people are getting married (or entering into monogamous long-term relationships) and more married couples are getting divorced.
Currently, there are more than 6,000 divorces in the U.S. every day. The median length for a marriage in the U.S. today is 11 years. If you are married today, you have a 50/50 chance of remaining married. If you live in Oregon, your chances are a bit worse as Oregon ranks #4 among states with the highest divorce rates.
With all of that, it’s no surprise that online dating websites catering to divorcees is one of the fastest growing niches in the online dating industry. The next fastest growing niche is Baby Boomers ages 50–64, a third of whom are single and increasingly becoming comfortable with going online to meet other singles.
Online dating and, more recently, mobile apps like Tinder have completely transformed the dating scene and may ultimately revert human mating rituals back into more primitive practices. We’ve entered into an era in which it will become increasingly easy to meet lots of new potential mates but increasingly less likely to maintain a long-term marriage relationship. This could have unforeseen consequences. It could spell the end of monogamous pairings and the death of marriage as an institution, both of which were key developments for providing the stable social structure necessary for the building of modern civilization.
“Once a technology is admitted [to culture], it plays out it’s hand,” wrote the late author Neil Postman in his brilliant book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. “A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything.”
Other possible consequences can hit a bit closer to home. While researching this column, a friend of mine who is divorced and engaged in the online dating scene suggested that I sign up with some of the online dating websites and start a Tinder account to get the inside scoop of what it’s like to use these services. I opted not to because I’m married and knew something he didn’t: 30 percent of affairs today start online with one-third of all divorce litigation filings citing “online affairs” as the cause for the divorce.
I’m trying to beat the odds in a world where it’s becoming increasingly common for two people to find one another and love each other and love each other but always let go.
Scott Dewing is a technologist, teacher, and writer. He lives with his family on a low-tech farm in the State of Jefferson. Archives of his columns and other postings can be found on his blog at: blog.insidethebox.org