We Use Dating Services More Than Ever, But We’re Still Embarrassed By It

Studies
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I dream of the day when I can stop writing about this.

I spent years hearing about the social stigma that surrounded online dating. Then it was "Hooray - the stigma is over!" And now media outlets are halfway back to where they started, pulling a massive "Just kidding!" on all of us. These days, the headlines proclaim that, although we are using dating sites and mobile apps to find partners more than ever before, we're still kinda embarrassed by it.

Good grief. Can't we just make up our minds already?

The latest to jump on the Just Kidding bandwagon is The Washington Post, which recently published an article that bluntly addressed the problem: "As dating apps grow in popularity, people still feel some stigma."

"More and more people are doing it," the article begins, "but no one wants to talk about it. On the record, that is." There's no doubt about the first half of that statement. The recent Pew study on online dating found that 11% of American adults have given it a try - a figure that shows a massive jump from the 3% it was at five years ago. Among Internet users who were currently single and looking for a partner, 38% had decided to give online dating or mobile apps a go.

Yet, according to the same study, 21% of Internet users also agree with the statement: "People who use online dating sites are desperate." That's an eight-percentage-point decline from the Pew study in 2005, but still...ouch. Why are we still so inclined to pass judgment on those who use their laptops and smartphones to find love? Especially when we've probably tried it ourselves (or at least been tempted)?

"I think people don't like to admit that they are having trouble in their romantic life," said Eli Finkel, a social psychology professor at Northwestern University. "That concern is misplaced. It is totally normal to figure out who is compatible for you." Finkel, who published a critical analysis of online dating last year, has seen everything online dating has to offer, from the highest highs to the lowest lows, but he remains a firm supporter. "In general," he said, "it is a great thing that exists."

On the ground, however, feelings are still mixed. The Washington Post spoke to one man who said that he and his friends consciously keep online dating out of most of their conversations and off their social media profiles. "We don't want to put something that is supposed to be like a dating, personal ad into our real world," he says. "I think that delineation, that separation from online-date persona and in-person social situations, is a real thing."

Another man praised the anonymity offered by dating services, because he doesn't think the world is ready for people like potential bosses to search his name and see it tied to the latest dating mobile app. "More and more people are having those conversations," he said. "But we're still not at the point where everyone is comfortable."