By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010; E08
In the marketplace for romance, megapixels are now officially more effective than bar-side flirtations.
More than twice as many couples who married last year met through online dating services than at a club or social event, according to a new survey commissioned by Match.com.
The survey found that 17 percent of those who married in the past three years met online, making it the third-most-frequent method of introduction, behind meeting through a mutual acquaintance or at work or school.
"Online dating is by now a preferred way for singles to find dates," says Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine. "I think the stigma that has been attached to online dating -- and there's still some of that today -- has greatly decreased. Everybody knows someone who has done online dating, so people are less fearful to talk about it."
The study, conducted by the research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, shows how quickly online dating -- in existence for less than two decades -- has revolutionized the way people find and pursue potential mates.
"It does seem to have displaced all other forms of dating," says Susan Frohlick, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Manitoba who has studied online dating. "I would say that it's been in the last five years that it's become hyper-mainstream."
The survey also found that one out of five singles has dated someone they met through an online dating site and that one out of every five new relationships owes its origins to the Internet. It also claims that among recently married couples who met online, 30 percent initially made contact through Match.com. The site has about 3 million active users at any given time, according to the company.
Online dating statistics have always been hazy and are frequently contradictory. The Match.com-sponsored survey, for instance, found that 17 percent of couples who married in 2007 met through online dating sites, but a Harris Interactive poll sponsored by eHarmony found that only 9 percent of couples married that year were introduced through such services. (The Harris study claims that 2 percent of recently married American couples met through eHarmony.)
Regardless of discrepancies, the findings point to the increasingly prominent role the Web is playing in helping singles find someone with whom they want to walk down the aisle. Online Dating Magazine estimates that 120,000 U.S. couples who marry each year met online.
"It's pretty seismic, if you think about it," says Greg Blatt, chief executive of Dallas-based Match.com. "You've got this new thing out of nowhere that has really jumped in and taken on a significant piece of this basic human interaction, which is meeting people."
Blatt attributes the industry's growth to the rise of technology and changes in society that have made it more difficult to meet people through traditional methods. People marry later, work longer hours and live farther from family members who might introduce them to a neighbor's handsome, eligible nephew. Laptops and modems stepped in to fill the void.
"This is just meeting," Blatt says. "It's no different meeting on Match than it is meeting at a party, or at a restaurant or on a subway. . . . Once you've met, it's real life; you either fall for each other or you don't. You either have a great romance or you don't.
"It's not like computers are taking the place of romance," he says. "It's just another way to put yourself in a position to meet somebody that then gives you a chance for romance."