When her relationship of a year-and-a-half fell apart last October, Liz Grimes, 26, wanted to take a different approach to the dating game. Grimes, a public relations director at Albany, N.Y.-based firm Overit, works a 50-hour workweek, and didn’t relish the thought of waiting to meet Mr. Right at the local bar.
Grimes decided to try something that 40 million Americans already have: online dating.
According to a 2009 study, nearly 30% of couples in the U.S. meet online, making it the second-most-common way to meet a partner, after introductions through mutual friends.
Although online dating is common across age groups, it seems likely that the social-media generation would gravitate toward it: They grew up in front of screens and have been groomed to embrace social networking since the heyday of AIM and Myspace. It’s a natural progression for twentysomethings to embrace dating in the sphere they know best.
“It’s very inorganic, but it’s easy,” said Grimes. “If you’re the type of person who is ready to be in a relationship, it cuts out of a lot of the work, and a lot of the questions: Does this guy have a girlfriend? Is he interested? The simple fact that the guy is online dating and messaging you already answers that.”
Inspired by a co-worker who met his wife on OKCupid, Grimes joined Plenty of Fish in mid-February. After wading through countless messages from less-than-desirable candidates, Grimes decided to meet a man she found intriguing. The date went exceptionally well — they closed down the restaurant — and this week, the couple will have their third rendezvous.
“It’s easy, and it can be very exciting,” said Pepper Schwartz, an author and sociology professor at the University of Washington. “When students meet each other on campus, they often don’t know how to approach someone or what to say. When you go online, everyone has permission to be approached. It makes it easier for things to begin than face to face.”
Although she emphasized that she doesn’t think Millennials are “less emotionally capable” than older generations, Schwartz said they’re accustomed to “talking in short form, like texting. If you get used to relating online, it’s hard to learn other forms.”
OKCupid is standout in the Millennial online dating market: A million people a day log on, and the site boasts about 4 million active users. Most users are ages 18 to 32, says spokeswoman Justine Sacco.
OKCupid asks users such questions as: “Do you believe in the power of prayer?” “How do you feel about government-subsidized food programs?” Based on rankings of the questions’ importance and other factors, OKCupid’s algorithm finds the most compatible matches.
“We do everything online now: shop, take classes, work and meet new people,” said Sacco. “We’re always connected on Facebook, Twitter and so on — online dating is just an expansion of the way we act daily.”
OKCupid recently launched Crazy Blind Date. Users in the same city are matched with zero interaction and go on a blind date that very night, in an effort to get more users offline.
Other dating services are tapping into the online-to-offline trend: Grouper was one of the first to capitalize on the idea by using Facebook profiles to arrange blind dates between two groups of three friends at a bar, lounge or club.
Host Committee was founded last year on a similar premise — the idea that young people would rather socialize with a safety net: their friends. The service uses Facebook to curate private parties for a network of “hosts,” each of whom brings his or her own group of friends.
“When you get invited to go to a party blindly, no girl wants to go alone,” said Carli Roth, Host Committee’s director of events. “We bring people between one and two degrees of separation together, which gives them the ability to build professional and personal relationships.”
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