Julie Spira has seen the online dating industry morph from the underground to the mainstream, becoming the most popular tool for singles to meet in the process.
Spira is an online dating expert, digital matchmaker and social media strategist with more than 25 years of senior level management in broadcasting, technology, telecom and the Internet. Her book "The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online" has gained her notoriety as one of the foremost authorities on online dating, appearing in more than 600 news stories for media outlets like ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, Cosmopolitan, USA Today, The New York Times, the Washington Post and a host of others.
As Internet dating continues to advance through smartphone apps, it has never been easier to meet someone new in the cyber world. There are some factors to consider, Spira said, when entering the online community.
Spira answered a few questions regarding some of these issues for the Tribune in hopes of educating the public about the advantages and potential pitfalls of online dating in the 21st century.
You’ve been following online dating since its inception. Have you seen its perception shift during that time and if so, in what ways? Are people more open to and accepting of meeting others online?
SPIRA: There’s been a huge shift in the perception of online dating since the early days. Gone are the days when you wouldn’t tell a soul that you were dating online. In the early days of Internet dating, singles wouldn’t admit that they met their significant other or spouse on a dating site due to the associated stigma. This has dissipated for several reasons.
A Pew Research Survey found that the majority of Americans (59 percent) believe online dating is now a good way to meet. In the survey, 30 percent of women actually enlisted help in creating their online dating profiles. Singles are now proudly posting photos of their dates and admitting to what site they actually met on in their social media profiles.
The other important thing to note is when online dating started, only 14 percent of adults were on the Internet. Today, 90 percent of adults are online. In the beginning, there were chat rooms and dial-up Internet. Facebook and wi-fi didn’t exist.
Have apps taken it a step further and streamlined the process of meeting prospective significant others or complicated it?
SPIRA: The numbers of users worldwide on dating apps is continuing to explode. There are over 91 million people using mobile dating apps. The convenience of finding a date from your mobile phone nearby shortens the process and helps fill up your date cards faster. I believe that online dating and mobile dating are one and the same. Singles benefit from push notifications and can respond quickly.
The tricky part is not getting caught up in the swiping frenzy of having too many choices. Online dating is successful when you take your date from online to offline and meet in person.
You’ve spoken about some of the pitfalls of texting and how that can lead to flirtation and infidelity. Has this technology ultimately created more problems than it has solved in this regard, in terms of how partners communicate in a relationship?
SPIRA: In my opinion, texting is a great way to stay in touch in between dates to say good morning, how’s your day, or sweet dreams. It’s also perfect to let your date know that you’re running late.
I’m not a fan of texting only. Some people think they’re in an exclusive relationship because they receive 10 texts a day from someone and then they disappear or “ghost.” I believe there’s still something special about hearing the sound of someone’s voice, so I believe relationships need to have a combination of the two.
If you rely solely on texting, your text may be taken out of context. Often a person might think you’re being rude if you respond with a one word answer, when in fact, you’re just busy. My rule of thumb is to return a text within an hour if you can to avoid texting games.
Others are so attached to their phones that they use texting to flirt with potential dates, even if they’re in a relationship, just for validation. I call this emotional cheating. If you’re sending something explicit to someone and you wouldn’t want your spouse or partner to see it, then you’re flirting with a digital disaster.
The concept of going out and meeting someone at the bar seems almost archaic now. Are there advantages to meeting someone in person first vs. being able to see what their interests are through dating websites?
SPIRA: Although online dating is the preferred way that people are meeting this day, I believe singles should have an online and an offline dating strategy. RSVP to as many singles and business networking events that you can and make sure that you log on three times a day to the sites/apps that you’re a member of. I also recommend going on a Skype date with someone if they happen to live out of the area, to make sure that what you see online and who you will meet online match up.
The beauty of online dating is you get a great digital snapshot of what someone’s life is like. People describe their passions, whether it’s music, hiking, yoga or writing. You can see if you have mutual interests before you decide to write to them to spark up a conversation.
Does age factor into how people approach dating? Are middle-aged and older singles more or less likely to adapt to dating apps like Tinder or websites like match.com and eharmony?
SPIRA: These days, half of the single population has tried online dating. The largest growth market for Internet dating according to Match is the 50-plus demographic. With Internet and mobile dating, there is no one-size-fits-all program. Some singles are looking to fill their date cards and date as many people as they can. Others are looking for marriage and a long-term relationship. For this reason, I recommend that singles join three sites/apps and decide in time which service they feel is the best fit of them.
Tinder does tend to attract a younger user base, but with 10 million users, singles who are in their 40s and 50s are jumping on the Tinder bandwagon.
In your experiences, what are the biggest benefits to online dating websites and apps? What about the biggest drawbacks to creating a sustainable relationship?
SPIRA: There are over 50 million singles in the U.S. who have tried online dating. Those numbers are huge. The biggest benefits of online dating and mobile dating apps are the fact that they are available 24 hours a day, you can meet people in a wide geographic area who aren’t in your regular social circle, and you have the ability to find your one in 50 million.
The downside is that some people get addicted to the process. I call it “Online Dating Anxiety Disorder” or ODAD. While this is not a clinical condition, I have witnessed people getting addicted to online dating. They feel validated by logging on to see who has swiped right on their apps or who viewed their profiles. Even if they meet someone they are interested in, the possibility of someone better is just a click away.
The best part of online dating is when a couple decides to take their profiles down together. It’s a leap of digital faith to see where the relationship will go. I call this the "unplugging ceremony.” When my dating coaching clients unplug and become “official,” I know I’ve done my job well.