Online dating, once a fringe and stigmatized activity, is now over a $2 billion industry. Over 40 million Americans have given online dating a try, and over a third of the American couples married between 2005 and 2012 met online.
The first prominent online dating site was Match.com, which launched in 1995. eHarmony started in 2000, OkCupid in 2004, and more recently, a wave of mobile people-swiping apps, like Tinder and Hinge, have become wildly popular.
But is this a positive development or something to be concerned about? Is online dating making the world better and dating more effective, or is something important being lost or sacrificed as a result? The way the current trend is heading, what will dating be like in 2030, and will that be a better or worse time to be on the dating market than 1995? Ideally, what would dating look like in 2030?
Tim’s Answer: I think this is a no-brainer positive development. The key thing is that it’s not online dating—it’s online meeting people followed by in-person dating. I think the term “online dating” is part of the problem and makes people who don’t know much about it think it refers to people forming entire relationships online and only meeting in person much later.
Simply considered as online meeting people, it makes a ton of sense. I’ve already expressed my argument for why in two posts: one on how critical it is to find the right life partner and how seriously we should take that quest, and another on why going to bars is a terrible life experience. The first step in ending up with the right person is meeting the right person, and for something so important in our lives, we’ve had no real system for doing it efficiently and intelligently. For socially weird or anxious or shy people, trying to meet a stranger in public is a nightmare, and even for someone charming and outgoing, it’s a grueling task that requires a lot of luck. The alternative that often happens is meeting someone through friends, which can work, but it’s limiting yourself to single people your closest friends and family happen to know.
Effective dating definitely needs to take place in person, the same way your grandfather did it, but I see no good reason why meeting people to date in the first place can’t be systematic and efficient. Yes, there’s something special about the romance of meeting someone in public and hitting it off right away, but that rarely happens—and for the most important mission in most of our lives, it makes no sense to crush your ability to meet great people to try a first date with because it’s not as good a story to have met them online. I have a friend that goes on two or three first dates every week with people he already knows are potentially good personality and physical matches for him—that’s how you find the right person, and good luck keeping up with him meeting people the old-fashioned way. And for people who have no interest in serious dating and just want to find people to hook up with? Online is a much better way to accomplish that too.
As for the current online dating options—they strike me as a good first crack at this by humanity, but the kind of thing we’ll significantly improve on to the point where the way it was done in 2014 will seem highly outdated in not too many years. Now that the stigma has diminished, you know this industry is going to race ahead because there’s so much money to be made by whoever can be innovative. So in 2030, I think we’ll be somewhere very different, and I think today’s nine-year-olds will have really incredible ways of finding love when they’re 25. Maybe I’m a future stubborn old man about dating being in-person, but I believe that needs to stay that way and the innovation in this industry should hone in more and more on optimizing the process of getting the exact right people on first dates with each other—that’s its job.