Dating Blogger Kelly Seal asks "Is online dating a thing of the past?" Certainly, at this point, the answer is no. And it's a little difficult to imagine a world with the internet, but no online dating. However, it is fair to to say that things are evolving.
Have you ever heard of social discovery sites? I don't think I have before this morning. Here's a description and a bit of commentary from Seal's current article:
Social discovery sites provide a place where people can meet and socialize online - to date, make friends, play video games, exchange music, or a number of different things - not just for dating. Which means users who join stay around longer, even after they meet a significant other.
AreYouInterested's new move from a dating app to a social discovery site is an interesting one. They already have a large user base (more than 6 million monthly active users) and are synced with Facebook, so it's obviously popular for singles who want to meet via Facebook. The company wanted to expand its purpose, to be more than a site used only for dating. According to an article in Mashable, this move will appeal to a broader audience.
Users who are already on the site for dating purposes can continue to use it for dating, but new users might be there for different reasons. So I have to ask the question - doesn't this kind of muddy the water? How do you know if someone is interested in you or if he just wants to hang out and be friends? It seems much less ambiguous to join an online dating site, since you know why people are on it.
Ambiguity. Yeah, I don't think there's any way around ambiguity. On her blog, Seal declares herself "not a fan" of ambiguity. She goes on to say, "Maybe I’m old-school, but if you’re interested, why not show it – at least enough to let a girl or guy know that it’s a date, even if they don’t want another one after that?"
It's funny. If you look at things historically, what we call formal dating has existed for perhaps a little over a century now. Coinciding with the rise of urbanization, introduction of the automobile, development of restaurants, and the increase of equal rights and opportunities for women. And so, while Kelly might be "old school" in one sense, we are all new kids on the block in another.
I think one of the big challenges facing us all is that the rate of change is so much quicker these days. Twenty years ago, "online dating" was mostly a concept in the imaginations of a few enterprising, and perhaps lonely, tech geeks. In just over a decade's time, we went through the meteoric rise of online dating, and the corresponding cultural struggles to develop appropriate guidelines and mores for people trying to meet each other, and develop successful relationships. It all happened so fast; it's no wonder so many people are looking for something, anything to hold onto to understand what's going on with.
Over the past few years, it's become apparent to me that the waters of online dating are already muddy. Kelly suggests that the multi-purpose approach of social discovery sites is making things more ambiguous and by extension, more confusing. I'd argue they're just a more transparent expression of what's been happening with online dating in general. When I first started doing online dating, back in 2003, it was quite clear that the vast majority of people on websites like Match.com and the old Onion Singles were looking to date someone. They may have had a diverse set of understandings about what constituted a "relationship," but the idea that we were single people looking to go on dates with other single people was pretty much universal. This simply isn't the case these days.
Some people use online dating sites as a form of entertainment. Or to find penpals who they can write to, but with whom they have no other strings attached. Another percentage of folks are date collectors - people who like going out with other people, but who really have no intention of making any sort of commitment. Some of these folks aren't even looking for sex; they just want the short term companionship. Then there are the relationship fakers, who write like they want a relationship, but actually only want casual sex, but can't come out and say it straight up. The list goes on and on, but what Kelly is worried about changing as a result of social discovery sites has already happened.
Is this a good thing? I don't really know. It makes things more challenging in some respects. On the other hand, Americans claim to love their "freedom" and "independence." Which makes me think "Hey! Here it is folks! You don't have to be tied down to anything. You can meet someone, hang out, do whatever and not call it anything in particular.
I do think that learning how to be at peace with ambiguity is a life skill everyone would be wise to develop. Whether you put a label on what you are doing early on or not, it's always ambiguous in the beginning. You're getting to know each other. You have no idea if you match up over the long haul. The unknown is infinitely more present than the known.
At the same time, there is a danger of free-floating for years on end. And perhaps Kelly's comments could be pointing towards a culture where such free-floating and lack of definition is considered the highest achievement. I have wondered this myself in a different way. Thinking that you have the free floaters on one side, and the reactionary "traditionalists" on the other side. And the rest of us somewhere in the middle.
What do you make of all of this? And how do you handle ambiguity?