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As we head into a new year, and the pandemic crisis continues to cause waves worldwide, it looks like the rise of online dating is set to be a permanent fixture.
We've seen tremendous growth in the sector, with cyber communications and video dates an alternative option where face-to-face contact isn't possible, and social distancing becomes the norm.
Once the remit of casual hookups and digital flirting, online dating networks are the 'new normal' of romance.
But, if you meet someone online, with all the nuances involved, does that mean you're more likely to make a tenuous connection that doesn't stand the test of time?
Or, is digital dating going to be the first step towards a lifelong commitment in the new age?
Perhaps one of the more obvious reasons why online dating has been seen a little 'sketchy' is linked to social media platforms.
Both offer opportunities to visit profiles or other people, search for members based on your criteria and connect online via chat or video.
Of course, the big difference is that social media platforms are all about sharing content, ideas and media, and perhaps making a few friends in the process. Online dating is squarely aimed at finding love or romance - in whatever form suits you!
But, it has to be said that social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to superficial qualities often seeming to take precedence over other, more fundamental factors such as ethics, values, and kindness.
Interestingly, a study by the University of Geneva has looked at this exact subject in Switzerland.
The project aimed to establish whether online dating is contributing to this focus on the superficial, whereby we make important life decisions based solely on what somebody looks like and whether we find them physically attractive.
A lot of the focus here is on the famous swipe platforms. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again - this forces you to be a little fickle, and deciding whether someone is worth getting to know based on one picture isn't going to foster authentic relationships in many cases.
However, it does matter, particularly at this time in history when online dates are the only option for many singles that aren't able to connect in any other way.
Indeed, AllConnect researched the volume of US residents who have actively used a dating site or app. They found that this has risen tremendously from 30% of people in 2019 to a whopping 53% in November 2020!
Ok, so down to the results. The University research team looked at over 3,000 people aged over 18, analysing couples that have met on a dating app.
In Switzerland, as context, the divorce rate stands at about 40% (compared to 42% in the UK and slightly higher in the US).
Here are the outcomes:
This strikes me as a significant shift in how society views online dating - and the increase in users during the pandemic has undoubtedly increased the pace at which that perception has changed.
You are now more likely to find a long-term relationship online, than to discover the connection doesn't work in real-life, which is probably the first time that has even been found to be the case across a broad spectrum.
The Pew Research Center published some stats back in February 2020, and while these might have changed a little in the meantime, it also adds useful snippets of data to the overall picture.
Of the groups most prevalent online, some of the largest are among the LGBTQ community. This backs up the conclusion drawn in Geneva that having online networks helps people diversify who they meet and, therefore, their typical relationships.
These figures show that:
We all know that there are flip sides, and with some sites offering lax security, spammers continue to be an unfortunate burden.
Around 60% of women in the 18 to 34 category said they had received unsolicited messages or contact from somebody they had already turned down. Of that, 57% reported explicit communications - and I think a lot of that is to do with which service you choose to use, and the quality of their safety controls.
For me, this recent Swiss study is useful. It clarifies that, while general opinions might still be that online dating is primarily for casual hookups, the attitude of users is holding such a service to a higher account.
New users aren't going to settle for spammy messages, dodgy naked photos or one-off dates. They're looking for a real connection, authentic matches, and a dating platform that is going to help them achieve long-term lifestyle aspirations.
In terms of the dating industry as a whole, this has to be good news. There are those quick swipe apps out there for people who want to get their kicks, and there will always be a place for them.
However, the bigger picture is that single people today want more from life than a bit of excitement at the weekend, and as our expectations change, and perceptions evolve, that puts a greater demand into the market - which dating providers, we're sure, will be very keen to meet.