We Are Never Ever Going To Stop Online Dating

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Over at Slate, Amanda Hess speculates that dating websites like OKCupid and Tinder will die out soon.

It's a strange argument because it's pegged to a Pew study that says the opposite. More people are using online dating sites and more people have favorable opinions towards them. Hess builds her case around the idea that people still online dating's sad:

21 percent of plugged-in Americans still think that “people who use online dating sites are desperate.” (In 2005, 29 percent of them said so.) Even 13 percent of people who date online consider themselves desperate. Though online dating has become normalized, it’s still seen as a little sad. 

But can't something be seen as a little sad and still be pretty popular? Like, for instance, dating in real life? Think about singles bars, or speed dating, or "my cute friend who you will love and just have to meet." Which of those is consistently fun and never sad?  A single person who is actively trying to date will feel like a Cathy cartoon at some point. Maybe most points. 

Hess's other knock on online dating is that it unnecessarily ghettoizes the dating process. She argues that we can just as easily meet our romantic partners on non-dating-specific websites: "As online dating becomes more normal, and less desperate, we will feel less incentivized to segregate our online romantic dealings from our digital business connections and social spaces." 

I half-agree. It's true that in real life, you can meet someone at the grocery store and fall in love. But life online already reflects that. People meet on Twitter, and on Xbox Live, and improbably enough, on 4chan's /b/ board. The benefit of those places is that they can be a better filter for similarity than the clunky, algorithmic questions that most dating websites rely on. The mere fact that you and I both like 4chan says more about our similar tastes than we'll ever know from OKCupid's weird, Blade Runner-esque personality tests.

I think what Hess underestimates is that the appeal of sites like these is that they cordon off dating. Everyone knows why everyone else is there. A DM on Twitter can mean a lot of things. A message on OKCupid is a clearer indication of romantic interest than you're likely to get anywhere else in the world. The downside of meeting in the proverbial grocery aisle is that the other person might just be shopping for groceries.