Online dating: From stigma to commonplace

We sat in the high school parking lot, and I laughed every now and then — awkwardly I may add. David Gray blasted over the car speakers, and I squirmed with tension and anxiety. My hands felt sweaty, and I remember rubbing them on my pants to dry them off. After an impossibly long period of time — my mind spinning with questions — I leaned over and had my first kiss.

Dating was different back then. When I graduated high school in 2007, love and like were simple, in-person concepts. That was one month prior to Apple’s famous iPhone release. After that, the Internet was accessible everywhere. Everything completed IRL (“In Real Life”) could be duplicated online — a mirror.

Online dating started to boom in popularity and I heard news/rumors about this growing trend. Honestly, it seemed like it was only for old farts and socially awkward people. Dating seemed effortless in college. In a way, I thought you had to fail at “real life” to turn to online dating.

I had a huge bias: Why would anybody turn to online dating?

This is more popular than I thought

11% of American adults…have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps (Pew Internet Research)

By the time I graduated college, online dating was much less stigmatized. In fact, a shocking number of people have tried it. Based on U.S. Census numbers, that equates to about 33 million people in America who’ve tried online dating. TechCrunch reported that, “38% of people who are ‘single and looking’ have used a dating site or app.”

After I graduated college and was suddenly single, I decided to start my first profile. I was embarrassed to tell anyone. Uploading my pictures and customizing that profile made it real. I tried to represent myself as best as I could, but always felt askew — was this really me? Off and on throughout the years I joined dating sites and actually had some entertaining meetups. Slowly, my stigma began to disappear. Despite all this acceptance, I’ve never paid for online dating.

Should/would you pay for online dating?

Free dating sites have exploded in popularity among Millennials, and the options are plentiful. From swipe-to-date apps like Tinder to the question-and-match power of OkCupid, these sites are exceptionally popular with younger generations. OkCupid offers one of the largest populations of potential matches — all free. People can try out the site, message freely, and quit whenever they want. The intention and commitment is minimal, and the potential is great.

Stalwart dating sites such as Match and eHarmony charge monthly fees for access/communication with other prospective daters. Match.com offers an easy, free signup where you can look at matches, but you can’t send messages or get a phone number until you pay the fee. It costs about $35.99 per month to use this service. eHarmony provides a similar dating and match service for potential compatibility. The site offers a detailed personality inventory to gauge your needs in a potential match. To access these features, you’re looking at $59.95 per month. At these prices, it’s hard not to feel like they’re gauging your wallet to gauge your compatibility.

To pay $36 or $60 a month for an opportunity to meet someone is a scary amount of money — especially if you stay online for multiple months. But sometimes it’s worth the price. Paying for online dating sites is a proof of your intention and seriousness to other people. That monthly fee suggests you’re likely desiring a committed relationship. Likewise, that purpose attracts a community of people that can be hard to come by on free dating sites.

Unfortunately, the for-pay websites often use shady tactics to attract visitors and hook people with longer-term contracts. For instance, Match.com doesn’t show you who can receive messages. And eHarmony forces you to take a survey that takes about 30-40 minutes, suggests you’ll see your “matches,” but then limits how much of the profiles can be seen without a price. These tricky business practices scare me, and they should scare your budget.

When it comes to paying for online dating, I can’t imagine spending the money. Maybe I’ll eat my words someday, but I don’t want to spend money on something that’s available for free elsewhere — regardless of the overall intention among members. I’m excited that people are interested and open to meeting through new mediums, but I question the expense.

Would you ever pay for online dating? Have you noticed any difference between free or subscription-based sites?