How we view online dating

October 21, 2013

Forget its stigma: Online dating has become downright commonplace, according to a Pew Internet and American Life study released Monday.

The latest study of the world of online romance reveals that 11 percent of American adults have used online dating sites, including 38 percent of American adults who identify as “single and looking for a partner.”

Plus, it seems that nearly everyone knows someone who’s looking for an online paramour: 42 percent of American adults who use the Internet said that they personally know someone who uses a dating Web site.

The study found that college graduates, those with higher income levels and even seniors older than 65 were especially likely to know someone who began a long-term relationship after having met a partner online.

Pew last asked Americans about their attitudes toward online dating in 2005, about 10 years after the sites really started to gain popularity. Since then, the rate of people who find lasting, long-term relationships or spouses on online dating sites has jumped dramatically, from 15 percent of Americans in 2005 to 29 percent now.

Forty-six percent of online daters said that they’re using the site to find someone for a long-term relationship or marriage.

Overall, the study said, attitudes toward online dating have grown significantly more positive since 2005. The report said that 59 percent of Internet users say they believe online dating is a good way to meet people.

Still, it’s not all good news for online dating sites. One-third of Americans said that while online dating can lead to long-term commitment, they believe the option of having several potential dates at one’s fingertips could actually prevent a long-term relationship. And a full fifth of respondents — 21 percent — said that they still found online dating “desperate.” But that’s an eight-point drop from the 29 percent in 2005.

As for the quality of online dating itself, it’s clear that there are a lot more misses than hits out there.

A majority of those who use dating Web sites such as Match.com, eHarmony or OKCupid reported they’ve come across someone who they felt “seriously misrepresented” himself or herself on dating sites, while 28 percent reported they’d been contacted by someone through a dating service or app in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.

Speaking of apps, the way that online daters access these sites has yet to make the leap to mobile — but that is likely to change. Only 3 percent of American adults said that they use dating apps, but those ratios were much higher among young digital natives. One in 10 of those between the ages of 25 and 34 said they used dating apps to find that special someone.

And just as the smartphone can be used to find a sweetheart, it's also being used to tell people that, well, things just may not work out after all.

The study found that 17 percent of users have broken up with someone via text, e-mail or online message, and that 17 percent of respondents have found out about a breakup through online means.

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Follow The Post’s new tech blog, The Switch, where technology and policy connect.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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