Pressing the Right Buttons

ISOBEL PRITCHARD looks at the world of online dating.

Dating dating ads Facebook Internet online dating

'Tall, dark and handsome, loves wining and dining, but also cosy nights in. Educated professional, enjoys sport, age 23, seeks lady of similar interests’ 

‘Attractive blonde, very outgoing, enjoys watching football and cooking hearty roasts, age 20.’ 

Sound perfect? To many people, these ads would seem too good to be true. 

Yet, alarm bells ring. It's not just bells either. There’s a strong  foghorn sounding and a tannoy announcement in many heads saying ‘Avoid! Avoid!’ Why? Clearly, there is still a huge stigma about young people using these ‘unnatural’ methods to begin relationships. It inevitably makes us question what is wrong with these people? Why have they failed to attract a partner in a normal social environment? It screams of desperation. And that is never attractive.

Should we perhaps be more open to alternative methods of meeting people? 

‘No’ says a female friend when quizzed on the issue. ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you if you can’t get any in Cambridge. All you have to do is turn around in Cindies and you’ve pulled.’ Fair point. It’s certainly true that the Cambridge social scene provides plenty of opportunities to meet people. Plenty of drunken girls to prey on. Plenty of boozed boys looking for babes and banter. Our sweaty nightclubs positively ooze with lust, testosterone and a good deal of other things besides.

But this is surely not what a relationship is built on. Would online dating not offer more opportunities to actually find out about the other person and make a judgment about your compatibility? Perhaps more so than those standard drunk questions, to which the answers are too easily forgotten by the morning – ‘name?’, ‘college?’, ‘subject?’ Deep. 

The big Internet bogeyman looms over this solution however. The possibility always exists for someone to create a false identity; that that photo of the Ewan McGregor look-a-like is not actually them. There is the threat of your actual date being a fat, sad slob, sitting at home eating pizza and playing video games. It doesn’t have to be outright fraud either:  we all choose a Facebook profile picture which flatters us most or that shows us having a good time. It is easier to write about how artistic you are, or how good you are at rugby, than to actually prove it in the flesh.

Certainly lies are easier over the Internet. But, the same danger exists in the ‘real’ world of dating. Who hasn’t been lied to in a nightclub? And most of us will make an effort with what we are wearing and how we look before we go out, trying to present ourselves to the world in the best possible light.  Is that dishonesty? Surely not.

Another attack frequently made at online dating is that it is not truly possible to communicate without body language. We are told that body language accounts for about 70% of what we are trying to express. Take this out and surely there is little left. Hardly solid foundations for true love?

But, recent research by Dr. Jeff Gavin, a psychology lecturer at Bath University, says that in the modern world of online communication this is no longer such a problem. His study focuses on computer-media communication (CMC).  He argues, ‘Theorists have recently highlighted the fact that people have developed lots of different ways to overcome the limitations of CMC … we tend to ask more questions online, and give more intimate answers, than when communicating face-to-face. So we make up for the 'missing' information like facial expressions.’

Internet dating sites are certainly becoming more mainstream. We’ve all seen the adverts. Certainly for older people it has become an acceptable means to meet people and we’ve all heard success stories of those who found their soul mate on the Internet. So, will this same phenomena spread to a young student population? Will the tannoy of desperation be soothed by the claims of science and proofs of success? 

Probably not. We are young, we are free, we get drunk and pull inappropriate people. Isn’t that more fun than ‘personality compatibility’ and ‘CMC’ for now at least? I’m sure the Internet can wait until we’re 30.