Digital Love: The New Online Highways to Romance

Not long ago, and indeed in some cases today, love was and can be irrelevant to a proper marriage. In the 20th century however, love gradually gained an elevated status, somehow directly proportional to economic growth and the distribution of wealth as well as the growth of the middle class in developed countries. This modern approach to love had its roots in things like the launch, in the 1930s, of such men’s magazines as Esquire, which for the first time ever targeted middle-class men and helped redefine the notion of romantic love away from the 19th century stereotype.

In this century, with the development of the World Wide Web, love expectations have changed further; online media today helps redefine love and relationships thereby generating a bunch of commercial opportunities, from dating sites to products and services specifically designed to nurture relationships and help partners remind each other that they are the right ones.

Commercial opportunities

  • Online dating is often global, bringing people from foreign countries together;
  • Indirectly, new opportunities are arising. For instance, people might need help getting the first impression right. It is not about lying, simply enhancing what one has to offer. Just like a personal image consultant, love seekers can make use of “ghostwriters” to help them find the right words. Matt Prager likes to call it “dating coaching,” his work consists of, as he puts it: “Laundering emotion. Imagine if you contacted 20 people, crafted these emails, and not one person contacted you back. It’s so frustrating. My clients don’t have to experience that stuff, because I experience it for them.” www.articulatewriters.com can provide a similar service;
  • It is not only about finding a partner but also about nurturing the relationship. There is an App to help men with such a daunting task called MANsaver that notifies men of essential dates, ensuring that they never forget an important occasion. Users enter their relationship status and start date, and then the App auto-generates anniversaries, holidays and relationship milestones.

Background

The Oxford Internet Institute surveyed 25,000 couples in 19 countries who had been living together for more than a year. A report it released this summer reveals that of those who had gotten together within the past 15 years and were aged 40 or over when they met, four out of ten had met online. In the UK alone, almost 30% of current relationships that began over the past ten years began online. The business of finding the right match or new friends has always existed; only now it has been made popular with the advent of the internet. For many people it was embarrassing having to resort to the newspaper’s personal add section or a marriage company to sort out their love life. Now it is becoming the natural way to hook up with others, another alternative to dark clubs or a way of avoiding randomness. However, love could be in danger of becoming a commodity and the art of finding your soul mate a professional activity not different to looking for a job.

Sam Yagan, CEO and co-founder of OKCupid, a site that has one of the largest registered number of relationships searchers around the world says that online dating complements people’s offline dating and helps widen the scope of people we can meet in our day-to-day lives. Despite the internet boost on dating and meeting new people, marriage rates remain as low as ever.

Marriage Rates in selected countries: 1980, 2010

ScreenHunter_03 Feb. 13 11.51

Source: Euromonitor International from National statistics/Council of Europe/UN

Perhaps this is why new sites are emerging to help couples with their relationships. Launched in spring 2011, for instance, Tokii is designed to enhance existing romances. The site aims to improve personal communications via tools and games.

Love evolution

In the 19th century, Jane Austen wrote, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Since then, single women have gained a great deal of political and economic independence to find themselves also in want of a husband. In our 21st century, a mixture of romantic love, pragmatic partnerships and Cinderella fairytales has prevailed. According to Monica Whitty, co-author of “Cyberspace Romance”, online anonymity allows people to pursue the dream of being accepted for what they are, presenting what they regard as a faithful image of their inner selves while not losing sight of the pragmatic side in a relationship, just like in the 19th century.

However, a man from Hamburg, Germany, based on his five years of experience, finds online dating a double edged weapon: “On the one hand it provides us with a great deal of choice to ensure that we find the appropriate person, and honesty plays a major role in succeeding; but on the other hand, it makes it hard to stick to one person and not be tempted to search and contact new potential partners just in case you find something new and exciting.” In fact, online dating is boosting new types of more open relationships, making them visible and more acceptable. For instance polyamory, the art of having more than one partner, already provides its worldwide growing community with their own websites such as www.polymatchmaker.com or www.Lovemany.com. Some commentators wryly observe that the online comparison shopping that dating sites offer can help couples stay together by making them appreciate what they have!

Online dating revolution

Online dating websites can be broadly divided into two types. Firstly the ones open to everyone such as the above-mentioned www.Okcupid.com, which is also free of charge, match people together after they have answered an endless number of questions through which the website works out character affinity. The other type of websites takes in those with different levels of upfront discriminating policies such as www.parship.co.uk or www.elitepartner.de, both acting as agencies for sophisticated singles seeking a relationship and http://www.seventy-thirty.com that combines old offline-style counselling with online convenience. Other websites, such as www.luckyamericans.com or www.agegaplove.com and www.agematch.com also cater to those searching for an age gap relationship. Different websites offer counselling and coaching for those already in a relationship with a much older partner. www.mindtheagegap.com for instance, provides support to those who might find such relationships challenging.

There are also religion-specific websites such as www.spiritualsingles.co.uk, www.christiansingles.com, www.jewishfriendfinder.com and www.muslimandsingle.com. But they can also be ethically and politically engaged such as www.veggiefishing.com or www.ethicalsingles.com.

GPS bringing people together

Offering an alternative to dating websites, new mobile gadget applications allow users to speed up the process of getting to know people near them. For instance, location-based Grindr is a very popular App. in the gay community. Through it they can easily see who is nearby and willing to meet.

Now founder Joel Simkhai has launched a similar App for straight people called Blendr. According to Simkhai, Blendr, which is at the moment only available for iPhone users, was created and is being developed for other platforms because of the growing demand. Unlike Grindr however, which is about being gay, Blendr has a much broader approach, putting people together with similar interests, regardless of whether they are gay or straight or whether it all ends up in a date or a simple friendship. One user says, “it was such a great idea, not only if you’re gay, but also if you want to go somewhere on your own and want to meet people who are on the same wavelength, avoiding the trial and error of real life.” Another says “It is about bringing people together, breaking the ice, inviting you to go out and experiment.” With Blendr users can see who is in a club or pub, whether there is anyone willing to meet and then decide if they want to go or pay the entrance fee. Similarly, Message Party, in private beta as of May 2011, allows iPhone users to initiate instant messaging with nearby people – no contact information or invitations are required. Users can also message their friends by creating personal ‘parties’ when visiting their favourite places.

Outlook

Online dating agencies are diversifying their services and blending their boundaries with other services and activities allowing potential marketers and business to develop new ideas for products, services and advertising campaigns. Indeed it is not always about finding just a date or the love of your life; it can also be about finding like-minded people in new and exciting ways.

An example of this is whosfordinner.com dating service, a website that organises dinner dates for singles of all backgrounds, races and religions. Similarly www.eloverscommunity.co.uk claims to be about networking in different ways and not just about finding a loving relationship. “You may wish to network to improve your business contacts, attend our events to socialise or you may wish to find a loving relationship. Whatever your reason for joining, all are welcome.” There is no doubt that as more and more people join such dating websites looking for love or a bit of fun, our lifestyles will eventually be transformed.