Online dating

I recently discovered that some friends used dating sites. My initial reaction was “poor things they must be desperate” because I, naively, did not realise how popular internet dating is.

This seems to be the reaction of many people and yet more and more single people do make friends or find love online. One male friend explained: “Maybe there’s a lot of stigma still held by a tiny minority, but I think you’ll find that everybody else has been doing it for a long time. What’s the alternative, hang around in a bar looking single?”

Whilst there are still many “traditional” ways to meet, such as at work, volunteering, clubs, inviting out acquaintances etc., these people are not necessarily available for a more intimate relationship and our busy lives make it difficult to meet likeminded people or to have the time to develop friendships. On a dating site you know people are available and this can save the awkwardness of first dates because when you meet up, you are already close.

Social media has taken over people’s lives, so it is a natural extension to make new friends online. One UK survey found one in three people meet this way.

The first dating site was Match.com, launched in 1995, and nowadays there are over 8,000 sites worldwide, 750 in Portugal and 1,400 in the UK, with nine million Britons as members generating £170million for the UK economy. I was surprised to find specific sites for different religions, ages, gender and even type of person, such as Muddy Matches for country folk and Vegetarian Daters. In London there is a site for members to search by tube station for lunchtime dates!

There are also websites known for extramarital relationships, with Ashley Madison being the market leader having 36 million members from 46 different countries. Members’ accounts were recently hacked and personal details made public, which has already led to divorce proceedings and suicides. Approximately 3,500 Algarvean members were exposed in the scandal!

Badoo is popular in Portugal with over 200 million members worldwide, although only 25 million are actually active. One young girl in her late 20s told me she joined the site because by meeting up with other men for one-off dates she gets the excitement lacking in her current relationship.

People of all ages, backgrounds, religions and nationalities submit their photographs and personal details looking for friendship, no commitment dates or love. The average age group is mid-twenties to mid-forties.

Confident, attractive individuals who could easily pick up a date by more traditional methods fill the sites and there are also those who lack the confidence to make friends in the “real world”. Some want a fantasy relationship, whilst others are busy professional workers looking for a fast-track way to find a partner.

The most dangerous person online is a predator who is out to humiliate and control women, and there is a rise in dating site scams where fake profiles con people to part with money. In the UK over 230,000 people are scammed yearly, losing thousands of pounds.

The major risk of online dating is, of course, how can you be sure that the person in the photograph is exactly who they say? On MTV, a programme called Catfish clearly illustrates how people are deceived by falling in love with somebody who turns out to be someone else completely. The gorgeous girl has often turned out to be a guy!

Many members are happy to just conduct online relationships and one third of online daters never actually meet face to face. However, it can be a stimulating and enjoyable way to make new friends.

When you join a site you are marketing yourself and you should shop around to find the sites that most meet your needs. It is also important to understand exactly what the other person is looking for to avoid unrealistic expectations and disappointments, because you can still get hurt and feel rejected online. To be successful, members should upload flattering photographs and honesty should be paramount. For men, do not say you are 1m80 and when you meet your date, she towers over your real height of 1m50! Photographs should be recent ones and not you before you went bald!

Online, it is easy to initially judge people on appearance and unfortunately if someone is less attractive, their profile is likely to get fewer hits. But, maybe the less attractive individual is actually the loving and attentive person you want, whilst the more attractive one you contacted turns out to be arrogant and disloyal. Apparently the most popular individuals are those with evasively minimalistic and humorous profiles. It cannot be easy competing with so many others vying for attention and men usually far outnumber the women. On Ashley Madison 85 % of members were male!

There are free and paying sites but does paying guarantee members are more serious and of a different calibre? Did you know there are dating coaches and people you can hire to pretend to be you online until you actually meet someone for a first date?

So, are dating sites a more effective way to meet people? The eventual relationship is no different and it is simply an alternative process to get to know each other. You have the advantage of knowing you are both interested and relationships progress to intimacy much faster, sometimes creating a false sense of familiarity, so it is vital to meet up to ensure the chemistry remains strong.

Online dating has now advanced to telephone apps allowing people to find potential friends at organized events or by location. The top app Tinder has 50 million members (including celebrities), and uses your GPS location and Facebook information to create your profile and find potential matches near you. If two people “like” each other they can message! It also has the advantage that unlike dating sites only someone you “liked” can contact you.

Friends have a huge impact on our lives, sharing our happiest and darkest moments, and with youngsters growing up in a social media world, the stigma of online dating is far less than for older generations. At the end of the day it does not matter how you initially meet, and whatever your age, it is never too late to make new friends or even find love, as my friend recently has!

By Isobel Costa
|| features@algarveresident.com

Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

So now you know!