Online dating apps and websites were for the desperate, or those looking for something cheap and easy. I was a higher-class bachelor, and if I stayed confident and optimistic, I would cross paths with a beautiful woman, and we’d get caught up in serendipitous adventure and romance.
But that fairy tale never transpired.
So about three years ago, I bit the bullet, curated a Tinder profile and started swiping. It was an arduous process, full of first dates and flings. Until about a year ago, when I met Mahala.
We had coffee together. Then, we went to dinner. Then, we went skiing. Then, we met each other’s friends.
Now, we live together. We share a dog. She’s flying home with me for Christmas to meet my extended family.
And when they ask us how we met, we’ll probably get a little embarrassed.
But maybe we shouldn’t. Because from swiping right on a guy on Tinder to sliding a lady a message on Instagram, online dating in recent years has become the most common way for couples to meet, according to research published by sociology professors at Stanford University and the University of New Mexico.
Reuben Thomas, an associate professor of sociology at UNM, knows some may giggle when they learn that to publish scholarly articles, he analyzed data about Tinder, Bumble, eharmony and even a gay-cowboy chatroom. But he points out that his findings show a recent and rare transformation in how humans make one of their most important decisions.
“Even though we think of this as a fun, wacky topic, ‘what the kids are doing now?’, this is an enormous social transformation in history,” Thomas said in an interview last month.
Humans have rarely changed how they find mates. For hundreds of years, most relationships were brokered by families, Thomas said. After World War II, there was a shift, and most couples met through their friends and other social networks. That trend held true until recently, when meeting online became the most common.
Nearly 40% of heterosexual couples now meet online. That includes partners who meet through traditional dating apps and sites like Match and Bumble, and through other online encounters, such as flirting on Facebook.
And it doesn’t just mark a change in the platform, Thomas said. It also means that, in today’s world, people are selecting their partners without as much feedback and input from friends and family.
“When civilization started and people started living in big societies, and you look at the history of how people coupled off, it was almost always through family brokerage. The shift toward people finding a partner on their own is something a lot of people trace to a couple hundred years ago in Europe. … The quest for love being the driving force. But still the quest for love usually happened through family introduction or meeting friends through friends at a dinner party or being introduced through your pastor,” Thomas said. “The shift to individuals going into this online classified system and finding other individuals without any brokerage or any introduction, and having that way be the new way people meet, is extraordinarily different than anything that came before.”
As far as the success of online dating, Thomas said there isn’t much difference in how long couples stay together based on how they meet. He did say that research indicates that couples who meet online are quicker to get married than couples who meet through other methods.
Thomas teamed up with Stanford University sociology professor Michael Rosenfeld and doctural candidate Sonia Hausen for a research paper about online dating trends. The researchers used survey data from 3,510 people, according to Stanford’s website. The survey had open-ended questions about how respondents met their partners. The data was collected in 2017.
The percentage of couples who “met through friends” has dropped to 20%; it was close to 35% in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. “Met through family” has taken a nosedive in the last 60 years. At nearly 30%, it was the most common way couples met in 1940 but is now about 7%, according to the research paper.
The paper was published last summer in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and it has earned all three scholars some national attention. The research was featured in an article in The Atlantic, and Thomas wrote an essay about the study that was published last month on NBCnews.com.
So when my cousin, Mike, who married his college sweetheart, starts giving me a hard time about my Tinder history, maybe I’ll show him a copy of Thomas’ research that shows I’m part of a social transformation.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ryan at 823-3960, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @rboetel. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.