The two chatted online a few times and then met up for dinner, then bantered for six hours straight. Martinez learned that — thank God! — her date had more going for him than the fact that he hadn’t sexually harassed her online. They’ve been a couple for 10 months since.
Martinez and her boyfriend are an online-dating success story. But the problem is: With online dating, there isn’t much of a story to tell. The really good stories are usually about the dates that go horribly wrong. As Aziz Ansari says in one of his Netflix stand-up specials, couples’ origin stories are now as complex as searching “Jewish” and your Zip code on Match.com. Not exactly the stuff rom-coms are made of.
At the same time, interesting origin stories are having a moment everywhere else. It’s not enough for a restaurant to have primo prime rib; it’s got to have a killer backstory that explains the struggles its owners faced and the exact farms from which they sourced their products. You’d be hard-pressed to hear a start-up pitch without an aching or humorous backstory about why the founder’s firing or sudden skin infection became the basis for a one-in-a-million venture idea.
Good origin stories still happen, they’re just rarer. Brooklyn Sherman started the popular Instagram account, @thewaywemet, to draw attention to a couple’s beginnings. The posts are mostly of people who’ve met in real life — a college internship at Disney, a pair who introduced themselves while stopped at a red light.
Sometimes the obstacle in today’s origin story is: How do you take an online connection to real-life meetup? In a rare @thewaywemet story involving digital means, a man and woman talk about being matched on Tinder. He didn’t message her for five days, so she unmatched him. The guy found his crush on Instagram and sent a picture holding a hand-written sign apologizing for not asking her out.
The against-all-odds storyline can also become: How is it that we didn’t meet sooner?
That’s especially relevant when singles meet through dating apps that highlight mutual friends, such as Hinge, Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel. Karen Fein, the vice president of marketing for Hinge, says that couples might realize they grew up on the same street. “The story is: ‘I can’t believe we didn’t meet already,’ ” she says. So they focus on “all these potentially serendipitous connections that could have allowed them to meet.”
Couples might say: “We met through Catherine and Chase on Hinge.” It’s the equivalent of “We met through Catherine and Chase at a dinner party.”
But not everyone’s so open about it. Even though online dating’s stigma has faded, a recent study found that 21 percent of Americans still consider online daters to be desperate. Sharon Sassler, a Cornell University professor who’s studied cohabiting couples, says plenty of online couples still have cover stories about how they met. Or one member of the pair lies about meeting digitally, and the other person fesses up. Her research has also shown that, when couples meet online, they get less support and approval from friends and family.
Could part of online dating’s lingering stigma be that there’s no cute story to tell?
For me, online feels all right for casual dating and trying out guys. For finding lasting love, though, I want more than a sentence to explain how we met and became a couple.
Then I ask myself: Who cares?
If I end up with a great mate, does it matter how we came into each others’ lives? If I can find someone better online than off, wouldn’t I want the better dude?
Of course, a hot, kind, witty gentleman who rocks my world is still all of those things whether we mixed up our bags after kickboxing class or I just swiped right when I saw a picture of him with a Jack Russell terrier accompanied by a Big Lebowski quote.
That said, I still want my adorable or awful or charming backstory. It’s partly selfish and partly vain, so I have a stirring story to tell at parties. But I also want an origin story that’s unlike anybody else’s. I like the notion of a relationship starting off just as special as it becomes.
It may not happen that way when I meet the love of my life. I just hope it does.