Dating in the digital age

As our reliance on technology grows, the stigma surrounding online dating is shrinking

Online dating is a relatively new trend in today’s ever-expanding technologically-based world.
Online dating is a relatively new trend in today’s ever-expanding technologically-based world.

“Do you like green eggs and ham?”

It’s not your typical pickup line, but that’s how Queen’s professor John Pliniussen caught his wife’s eye in 2001. The catch? They had never seen each other before.

Pliniussen, who was then 50, decided to join an online dating website after reading an article about what was then a relatively new trend.

“It’s very interesting, the first time that you experience it, because all of a sudden you realize that there are so many other people who are also trying to find a partner, whether it’s for casual or a serious relationship,” he said.

Pliniussen said online dating lets people get to know each other before committing to a face-to-face meeting, increasing the odds that the date will go well. In a way, he said, it’s more economical than traditional dating.

“But again, there’s always that chance that when you’re in person you don’t like their manners, you don’t like how they dress, they said they were seven feet tall but they’re actually a gnome,” he said. “In our case, it was all good.”

After talking online and on the phone, Pliniussen and his wife met for coffee in March of that year, and by May, they were engaged.

But their story of online romance isn’t unique. A number of the couple’s close friends are pairs who met online, and their daughter married an American she met on a Christian dating site.

Pliniussen said there are between 700 and 800 online dating sites today, most of which use search engine optimization to reach their clients. He said many services have psychological profiling to help users find compatible matches. Another plus is that the Internet never closes.

“You’re out there 24-7, it’s almost like the virtual you is out there looking,” he said.

“My opinion is if you’re serious about looking for a relationship and you’re not online, you’re making a big mistake.”

Halfway through our interview, Pliniussen put his wife, Marion Abell, on the phone.

“I think we still live in a world where we think that at some point you’re going to meet your partner by happenstance,” she told me. “It just doesn’t make sense that we feel so much reticence about actually looking for the right partner.”

Pliniussen said during the first six months of their relationship, the couple told people they met at a café.

“After a while we just started becoming more and more comfortable with as it became more popular,” he said. “Now it’s much more common. But there’s still a reticence for sure.”

And that reticence shows up among Queen’s students, as I discovered when I created a profile on the popular dating website

Justin Irwin, a graduate student, was a little uncomfortable when I first contacted him to ask him about his dating profile. He said he joined Lavalife two summers ago when he was working at a factory.

“I didn’t really have an avenue to pursue any dating, so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try.’”

Since he joined Lavalife, Irwin has met up with five women in Kingston, including three Queen’s students. He said first dates with women he meets online rarely differ from traditional first dates.

“You’re still trying to figure things out and get a feel for things and it doesn’t necessarily go very well, but such is always the case.”

Irwin’s profile makes note of his hesitancy toward starting a relationship online. Although he said he doesn’t think online dating is a negative thing, he has never told anyone that he does it. “I suppose I’m aware of a certain perception of it or … I have a certain perception of what the perception would be,” he said.

“I guess it’s just my sense of, ‘Okay, so how come I’ve got to be online to meet people? Why can’t I do it like a regular person?’”

Caroline Pukall, an assistant professor in the psychology department who researches human sexuality, said online dating is a natural progression in a line that began with phone and video-dating services. She said it fits in with the technologically-dependant culture we live in.

“I think it’s really just a natural outcome of all of this technology,” she said. “I think it’ll become more accepted.” She said online relationships are usually perfectly healthy when people using the services are also social day-to-day and face-to-face.

“If the individual’s social life is restricted to online activities … it might actually make things worse for the individual because they won’t try to be social-face-to face because of anxiety or because of issues that they might have.”

She said that while some people think online dating is an act of desperation, she doesn’t agree.

“If we take a look at people’s real limitations in terms of meeting other people it’s a really great avenue,” she said. “I think there’s sort of an ‘ew’ kind of factor to it, but I think people just need to understand that technology will be used in all sorts of things and it’s really great to be seeing it used in a social kind of way.”

Surfing for love

A free website for those who are serious about finding the perfect match. The site screens users across 29 dimensions of compatibility. Users rate themselves on a scale of one to seven for a variety of statements—everything from, “I often leave a mess in my room,” to where they fall on the “aloof” scale. The registration process is timely and at the end I was told that about 20 per cent of eHarmony users, “simply will not benefit,” from the service. Still, even those hopeless one in five can view their free personality profile, which includes a report on agreeableness, openness, emotional stability, conscientiousness and extraversion.

A Lavalife account begins with the basics: height, body type, smoking and drinking habits, religion and ethnicity. Users must join either the Dating/Relationship network, the Intimate network—where they can explore “intimate fantasies with sexy singles”—or both. Keeping it PG, the former requires a nickname, an opening line and answers to questions about values, romantic ideals and personality (are you “nobodys fool,” [sic] or “a cat person?”). The final step includes a personal message and an optional photo. Free members can view profiles and send and receive “smiles.” For a six-month subscription at $14.99 per month, users can send instant messages and e-mails and keep tabs on who’s checking them out.

Claiming to have more than 15 million members, allows users to communicate via wink, e-mail or instant message. Newbies are prodded to “brag a little,” when they describe their appearance, then to tell others what they do for fun and what they read—“whether it’s a novel or the newspaper, a magazine or a milk carton.” The website also asks for information about lifestyle, background and values and what users are looking for in their prospective matches. The last step includes writing an intro and a “dating headline,” as well as providing a profile photo. For a six-month membership—which permits advanced features including instant messaging, e-mailing and blocking abilities—users pay $17.99 per month.

A free website that boasts of being five times larger than any paid site. “Our members will go on over 18,000,000 dates with other users this year,” says the homepage. Users must provide basic information such as gender, body type, interests and location as well as a “headline” along the lines of “looking for good hearted men.” Other questions include: “Do you do drugs?” and “Do you own a car?” In the mandatory description section, users detail hobbies, goals, music taste and what they would do for a first date. According to the site, those who upload photos receive 10 times as many responses as those who don’t.

—Kerri MacDonald

Overheard sexy times

Girl 1: Have you ever with
a vegetable?
Girl 2: Squash or zucchini?
-Two health-conscious women:

Guy at Alfie’s: This is a long coat-check line and everybody is making
out...wanna make out?
-Guy who just wants to spread the love

Girl: Come on fucking big one! Just come already!
-Girl who’s REALLY into Tetris

—Kelsey Wibbling

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