Screening for love

Online dating is becoming more prominent among a younger demographic

Tinder, a smart phone app for online dating, plays into the hook-up culture at universities.
Tinder, a smart phone app for online dating, plays into the hook-up culture at universities.

A computer screen or a phone doesn’t seem like a normal place for a relationship to begin.

Yet, that’s where society seems to be headed. With online dating sites such as eHarmony and apps like Tinder, relationships — and, to an equal extent, casual hook-ups — are evolving into something increasingly digital.

I never thought of the internet or my phone as an avenue for finding a significant other. As someone whose past relationships have strictly started in person, I was uncertain about my decision to sign up for Tinder, as well as PlentyofFish, a Vancouver-based online dating site. Founded in 2003, it has over 70 million total users.

While both platforms offer the same thing, it felt like there was a clear difference between the two. PlentyofFish was about dating and relationships, while Tinder felt more like a place to facilitate hookups.

With that in mind, I charged forward into the perilous world of online dating. Signing up for PlentyofFish under the username of SeanBurgundy, I hoped for the best.

My previous knowledge of online dating stemmed only from watching the documentary Catfish, and the trend that came from the movie. “Catfishing” takes place when someone takes on another persona while engaging in an online relationship.

According to Shannon Smith, advertising and PR coordinator at PlentyOfFish, catfishing is a concern for PlentyOfFish, but the company takes steps to ensure it doesn’t take place.

“PlentyOfFish considers the safety and security of users to be our top priority,” she told the Journal via email. “The site features advanced scam detection systems and a dedicated staff that works seven days a week, moderating the site and investigating any reports and concerns.”

I ended up learning some startling things about myself.

After the initial questions regarding my personal information, I was confronted with several difficult ones — including whether I would be interested in being matched with a single mother or women who were overweight.

Both are difficult questions to face, because there’s a feeling of shallowness if you choose to say you wouldn’t. It felt like a nasty implication of character.

Even though I said yes to both questions, when I actually started getting matches, I knowingly shied away from women I found unattractive. Looks played a larger role in my decision than any other factor, even common interests.

According to Smith, this isn’t a completely unique situation.

“Images can be the first aspect of a profile to catch someone's attention,” she said, “but in reality it's what is behind the profile that matters.”

That’s a notion that impacts dating everywhere. I sent messages to two women I found on the site, and neither got back to me, despite us having similar interests.

It was a disheartening thing to go through. On the one hand, I felt embarrassed that these women clearly weren’t interested in me, but at the same time, I was treating all the girls who messaged me the exact same way.

Some people have had much better experiences on dating sites.

John-Kurt Pliniussen, a professor in the School of Business, met his wife on an online dating site he joined in 2000 called “One and Only”. He said a big part of meeting people online was creating a profile that would get them interested.

“One of the keys was to talk a little bit about what you liked and didn’t like with the hope that someone reading it shares those values,” he said. “The next part was coming up with a subject header that would get people interested.”

Pliniussen said that after emailing a potential significant other, it was important to get them on the phone. This would help one gain a better impression of whether the person has the same personality as their profile.

From a business perspective, Pliniussen said the sites benefit from the fact that they offer an in-demand service.

“Certainly in our culture, the dream is that you find someone that can make you happy,” he said. “To some extent we’re all looking for that.”

My experience with Tinder has been more positive, and one that I’ve found strangely addictive.

Tinder is simple enough, with users swiping right or left on their touchscreen phones depending on whether they find a person attractive or not, respectively. While the profiles present up to six photos connected to a user’s Facebook profile, whether you’ve “liked’ someone remains anonymous until both users pick each other.

In my case, I swiped right more often than left and found myself with 15 matches. While I had higher hopes, I was still content with this solid number.

Of the 15 matches, two of the girls started conversations with me, while I started conversations with an additional two. None of these conversations progressed any further than two or three messages, however.

I did find myself checking my Tinder as often as I could, in hopes that I would have a new match. According to a recent Huffington Post article, 60 per cent of users check the app daily.

Dave MacFarquhar, Sci ’15, has been using Tinder since the beginning of the school year and, while not daily, he does check his matches every few days.

“A couple of my friends had it and I was curious,” he said. “If I’m bored in class, I’ll take it out and be like, ‘are there new people on Tinder?’”

He said he swipes right more often than left.

“Queen’s is a pretty attractive school. There’s a lot of interesting profiles,” MacFarquhar said.

MacFarquhar said he sends message to one-third of the people he’s matched with after taking a closer look at their profiles, though those conversations don’t always turn into in-person meetings.

“Out of those conversations only maybe like 10 of those have turned into actual conversations,” he said.

MacFarquhar added that when he meets Tinder users face-to-face, there’s a different feeling than meeting someone for the first time in person.

“There’s a different implication to it. In person, it’s just meeting them and things are a blank slate,” he said. “On Tinder, there’s definitely some expectation of the fact that you were using Tinder in the first place. It’s not just ‘Hey, I think you’re an interesting person’; it’s an undertone.”

The undertone is one that involves hook-up culture, a fairly common occurrence on campus.

Shanlea Gordon, MA ’13, wrote her Masters thesis on contemporary hook-up culture at universities.

She said that Tinder bridges the gap between relationships and hook-up culture, as it’s not as serious as online dating, but still offers up some ability to see a person’s personality.

“Tinder does allow you to chat with your matches,” she said, “so you can talk to your match while sober and can determine whether or not they have an attractive personality that matches their attractive physical appearance.”

She contrasted this with hook-up culture, in which personality often takes a backseat to looks, especially when alcohol becomes a factor.

Gordon said that the female students she spoke to were, for the most part, not using dating sites, partially because of the tendency to engage in hook-up culture instead.

She said that Tinder, however, is changing the way university students view online dating.

“More traditional online dating sites were not as prevalent in post-secondary cultures because of the prominence of the hook-up culture,” she said. “Tinder is seeming to change this … Tinder is giving [online dating] a comeback in the post-secondary institution culture."

A female perspective — one Journal staffer’s experience

I didn’t expect much when I downloaded Tinder last Thursday afternoon. Within a few hours, though, I had accumulated about five matches. By early Monday morning, that number had ballooned to 39. I’m rather selective in who I “swipe right”; I usually choose one out of every 20 men I see, making choices based on distance and shared interests. In the end, I only had a meaningful conversation with one — a graduate student who I later chatted with over a few text messages. Besides this, and one or two other polite conversations, I didn’t see much value in the app. While it was fun to see who matched you (a confidence boost, more than anything), nothing real came out of it. At least, not yet.

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