The romantic industrial complex has dictated for decades that in order to be a fully fledged couple a pair must have a “meet-cute.”
It’s the moment of contact: the happenstance of two pairs of eyes locking from across a room, or the leashes of two owners’ dogs becoming accidentally entwined. It is less romantic, society has decided, to meet your partner online — better to make-up a story about the miracle of your meeting rather than explain you carefully picked them out of an online Rolodex of suitors.
However, fueled by the proliferation and perseverance of online dating, the taboo of meeting a partner on the internet is steadily decaying. Tinder, which became five-years old on Tuesday, has achieved a degree of success that both exemplifies and instigated this development. In 2013, when it was mostly known as a “hook-up app women actually use,” the mobile app had 20,000 daily downloads and contained 1.5 billion profiles. Today, Tinder claims that it facilitates 26 million matches per day, and has accumulated 200 billion matches to date. Instead of just being a means to casual sex, Tinder matches in 2017 can also be happily married couples.
The massive number of people who use online dating services, whether it be through desktop or mobile, expands beyond Tinder. That mobile app is actually a product of the Match Group, a business conglomerate that includes over 45 dating services, including Match, OkCupid, and PlentyOfFish, which operate in 42 languages across 190 countries. According to a report by market research company IBISWorld, there are approximately 4,5000 online dating companies.
These online dating companies only exist because of the throngs of hopeful lovers who have accepted that you can’t plan on fate providing you with a partner. In 2016, Pew Research Center announced that 15 percent of U.S. adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps, a rise from the 11 percent of people who reported the same in 2013. According to a data set of 4,002 adults analyzed by sociologists Michael Rosenfeld, Ph.D., and Reuben Thomas, Ph.D., the number of people dating online today is the result of a constant rise: The percentage of couples who met online in 1990 was essentially zero. By 2009, the Internet became the third most likely way of meeting someone, with the second most likely way being an introduction through a friend.
One of the biggest changes that has happened with online dating, is that the market for use has expanded beyond middle aged heterosexuals and LGBTQ individuals — societies that sociologists say first made use of online dating services because of more intense limitations to finding a partner in the physical space. Today, the number of 18 to 24-year old who use online dating has nearly tripled — increasing from 10 percent in 2013 to 27 percent in 2015.
These numbers correlate with a shifting opinion about the taboo of meeting online. Pew says that 59 percent of Americans approve of online dating, and 47 percent of Americans think online dating is easier and more efficient than other means of finding love.
“Online dating has lost much of its stigma,” Pew researchers Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson write, “and a majority of Americans now say online dating is a good way to meet people.”
The growth of the number of people who online date, experts say, shouldn’t be expected to slow down anytime soon. Rosenfeld and Thomas write in the American Sociological Review that “the Internet could eventually eclipse friends as the most influential way Americans meet their romantic partners.” Their statement echoes a 2002 prediction made by tech guru Rufus Griscom in Wired:
“Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won’t look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because the right books are found only by accident. We have a collective investment in the idea that love is a chance event, and often it is. But serendipity is the hallmark of inefficient markets, and the marketplace of love, like it or not, is becoming more and more efficient.”
And there’s a growing acceptance that this efficiency isn’t any less romantic. Rosenfeld and Thomas’ research demonstrates that couples that meet online aren’t any less likely to break up than couples who meet offline, and Tinder’s own sociologist, Jessica Carbino, told The New York Times that her research indicates that Tinder users are more likely to be looking for a committed relationship than their offline peers: nine percent of men using Tinder indicate that they find it hard to have a “committed relationship” while 30 percent of men dating offline feel the same. Tinder users, according to Carbino, are also 5 percent more likely to say “I love you” within their first year of dating their match.
Online daters are realizing that once you meet a match in real life, they become an actual person instead of another profile within a seemingly nebulous fraction of the internet. That actual person, it’s possible, can turn into someone you love. Sure, that’s pretty cheesy — which means it’s on par with any meat-space meet-cute.