Ana Taverez almost tripped as she got out of her cousin’s car. It was a chilly night in March last year, but perhaps spring was a symbol for new beginnings.
“I was so nervous. I really didn’t know what to expect,” she said.
The 24-year-old had moved to Virginia a few months earlier from New York City after a bad break up. She had moped around for months after the split, but now she was taking a risk – online dating.
The aroma of smoke mixed with fresh Middle Eastern spices immediately hit her as she stepped into the hookah lounge where she and her online date had agreed to meet.
“I stepped into the café, and I swear there was this guy looking at me and he was seriously…” she paused to remember the moment, “the most beautiful guy I have ever seen. You ever experience those moments where everything stops for a moment, just like the movies?”
Searching for partners on line
The number of online dating sites has proliferated in recent years. Some are general in nature, including Match.com, eHarmony, OKcupid, Tinder and many others. There are also sites that specialize according to religion, such as ChristianMingle or JDate. FarmersOnly offers to find partners whose profession is farming or ranching.
Taverez chose a site called PlentyOfFish (POF). She chose a cute username, and filled out a questionnaire about what she wants in a partner, such as “looking for casual dating/no commitment” or “I am serious and I want to find someone to marry.” She picked “I want to date but nothing serious.”
Almost immediately, Travis Dennis found her in his search results. He thought they had the same interests and sent her a message. After a bit of flirty banter, they agreed to meet up because, as he recalled, it was “convenient for them and both loved their neighborhood Hookah lounge.”
The number of Americans who find online dating socially acceptable is on the rise, says the Pew Research Center, which has just conducted a new survey on the subject. Pew says the share of 18- to 24-year-olds who report having used online dating has nearly tripled in the last two years. Today 27% of young adults report that they have done so, up from just 10% in early 2013.
Meanwhile, the share of 55- to 64-year-olds who use online dating has doubled over the same time period, from 6% in 2013 to 12% in 2015.
In an earlier survey Pew reported that 21% of Americans believe that dating online is a form of desperation.
Relationship expert LaDawn Black says criticism of online dating tends to be outdated and generational. “Younger listeners and readers love them (dating apps). It makes sense to them, they jump in with both feet. Older people tend to look at it as. ‘Well I am just really not sure that this is something I should be doing when it comes to my love life.’”
Can virtual relationships be real ones?
Counselor and priest Dominque Peridans cautions that there is a huge difference between real relationships and virtual ones. “A relationship that stays in the realm of social media…is going to be very, very different, and I would say is not a real relationship.”
While Pew says that people who have used online dating report mixed opinions, Peridans says the chances of success are lessened because online, people are approaching relationships in an idealized way - with a list of what they’re looking for - instead of getting to know the person they are dating.
But idealizing relationships isn’t limited to the online dating sites, says relationship expert Black. “That also happens when you meet someone at a bar or through a good friend. They present themselves as employed or the nicest person ever and you start seeing them in a different light. A few weeks in, you realize maybe they do have issues with being aggressive and they aren’t working.”
Online romance blooms
Taverez considers herself an introvert, and studies show that introverts turn to social dating sites in order to find their life long partner with more success than more outgoing people. In a 2014 article, Psychology Today said that introverts and Internet dating go hand in hand.
“She was so cute but shy,” Dennis said about the woman in the gray leather jacket he saw standing in the entrance to the hookah bar.
Five percent of Americans who are in a marriage or committed relationship say they met their significant other online, says Pew.
Counselor Black is an absolute believer in finding love online. She calls it, “just another tool to find your partner.”
Today, Taverez and Dennis are still together and deeply in love after almost a year. Travis asserts that the intensity of the relationship is still the same as at that first meeting, only with a deeper connection.
When asked if he had any plans for Ana for Valentine’s Day, he responded, “Ideas…” he paused to chuckle, “I have lots of ideas. Really it’s a surprise. Not saying any more.”