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Online dating: virtually a reality?

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March 30, 2012

By Emily Jane Marchant

What does Julian Assange, hacktivist and editor-in-chief of whistleblowing website Wikileaks, have in common with members of The Glitterati, Halle Berry and Joan Rivers?

They’re all rumoured to have used online dating websites.

One of the few sectors to rise out of the ashes of the recession unscathed, the web dating business is estimated to be worth a staggering £2bn a year worldwide. Even Property Ladder presenter Sarah Beeny has set one up called My Single Friend. As the industry grows, people’s perceptions and attitudes are changing about using the internet to meet people and find a date. It does have its upsides.  It’s cheaper than meeting a man in a bar, you’re sober at the time of first contact, and you can find out immediately whether you have anything in common with a quick sweep of his dating profile.

Sound interesting? I spoke to a number of women who regularly use dating websites to find out if they had any tips or advice for people looking to venture into the world of virtual match making.

First you have to pick a site. There’s a huge range on offer, from niche sites like JDate, a place for single Jewish people to meet, to the massive Match which caters for everyone. Is it worth paying for a service, or are the free versions just as good?

“I don’t think they’re worth paying for, but with the ones that are free you get more people looking for sex. At least if you’re paying for it, people seem to take it more seriously.” Ros Mari Grindheim, PA, 42 told me. She’s used both the paid for match.com, and the free site Plenty of Fish.

“Yeah, you’ll put some effort in at least,” said Jemma Humberstone, PA, 30. “You spend about an hour on Match doing this long questionnaire which is supposed to match you with people like you. On Plenty of Fish I think it’s pretty much like ‘I want a man, within this radius’.”

“Who you’re matched with on Plenty of Fish changes all the time, so I don’t think it means anything,” added Nikki Siciliano, Catering Manager, 35.

Jemma met her current boyfriend, Andy, on Plenty of Fish (POF). They’ve only been together a few months, but she’s already met the parents and they’re talking about in moving together.

Nikki also met her boyfriend on POF; coincidently he works about a five minute walk away from where Nikki works, and he’d even seen her on her lunch break. However, she insists they would have never met if it wasn’t for online dating.

“I wasn’t sure whether I’d like him, because his picture on POF isn’t the greatest, but then I saw him in person and thought ‘thank God’. We had the same interests he likes to travel; he likes bikes, same music. We’re quite similar in our tastes. We were only talking for a week. We didn’t talk on the phone; it was all through Plenty of Fish. He contacted me,” she said.

So you’ve found yourself a date, it went fantastically and now you have a shiny new boyfriend. What will your friends think? Has online dating become a socially acceptable way of finding that elusive new partner?

Dating websites have certainly become more visible in mainstream media. In 2010, POF appeared in Lady Gaga‘s ‘Telephone’, Natasha Bedingfield‘s ‘Touch’, Ke$ha‘s ‘We R Who We R’, Flo Rida and Akon‘s ‘Available’, and Jason Derulo‘s ‘Ridin’ Solo’. Match.com has produced a number of catchy adverts that has brought the site to a much wider audience. It’s no longer something that’s swept under the carpet, but something we see every day.

“I think it’s getting there, thanks to things like Facebook and, back in the day, MySpace. I know quite a few people who have dabbled, if only for a giggle. I think it’s more accepted for people in their 40s – it’s harder to find love at that age, when you’re settled with a group of friends and a job and so on, and don’t find yourself in a situation where you could meet new people, i.e. at a club or as a student at university. My mum and her boyfriend met each other on match.com and have been together 6 years now.” Lucy Williams, Vice President Communications at Kingston University Student’s’ Union, 23, told me.

Student Amanda House, 22, agreed to some extent: “Maybe because people use Facebook and Twitter, it’s pretty similar to those, so people have less of a problem with it, plus you get to know more about them than you do with meeting someone in a bar. However, at the same time, there is still a stigma lots of people would prefer not to say how they met.”

The influx of social media has certainly made it seem less alien. In essence a dating site is based around a similar profile structure site, but instead of looking for people you know, you are able to search according to preferences such as height and interests.

But there is still an issue with internet dating. It’s very easy to lie online, and make a perfect persona for yourself.

“You’re meeting total strangers, and what they’re saying on a dating site is often not true what so ever. They tend to lie about their height, and their weight,” Ros Mari said.

According to a survey by Ok Cupid in November, people are 2 inches shorter in reality than the height they’ve posted on their profile. They also found that people are 20% poorer than they say they are, and they’re more likely to lie about it as they get older.

In a survey of 1,000 singles, commissioned by online dating site Beautiful People, it found that men were most likely to lie about their job, height and weight. Women are more likely to lie about their weight age and physique.

Ros Mari has some good advice: “You have to take it with a pinch of salt. You can’t expect too much. One guy said he was taller than I am (6ft) and he must have been 5ft!”