Dr. Garcia is Executive Director of The Kinsey Institute and Ruth Halls Professor of Gender Studies at Indiana University, and Scientific Adviser to Match. His next book is titled “The Intimate Animal”.
Over the past 30 years, the rise of online dating has opened hundreds of millions of people to the possibility of romantic connection, by making dating a more informed and easier experience, particularly for sexual minorities. Of course, apps and websites don’t solve the inherent challenges of courtship that humans have dealt with for millions of years, but new data released this week is demonstrating how dating apps are helping us find the connections we want and need, not just in the United States, but worldwide.
Despite what some pundits might have us believe about modern romance, the technological revolution hasn’t invented the worst of dating behaviors, even if they may feel exacerbated because of the greater magnitude of singles – today there are well over one-hundred million single adults in the United States alone – and endless opportunities for personal choice within digital reach. While courtship comes with predictable challenges and unpleasantries of competition, research suggests that people around the world are using technology to overcome dating hurdles, expanding their pool of potential partners, and finding a safe space to be themselves and connect with others.
For the first-ever “Relationship Report,” Ipsos, in partnership with Match Group, surveyed more than 17,000 people about online dating perceptions and behaviors, across five national regions – Germany, India, Japan, Turkey, and the U.S. – that have very different attitudes and norms around dating, sexuality, gender, intimate relationships, and marital arrangements.
As an evolutionary biologist and sex researcher, I spend a lot of time thinking about the various ways in which humans form intimate connections. My research exists at the intersection of the complex rules of modern society and the fundamental truths of nature – in every society that scientists have looked, people share in the inescapable desire for love.
Our own research on U.S. singles has demonstrated that singles today connect with dates more through dating websites and apps than through any other venue, including school, work, church, or nightclubs. And other research on married people has suggested that those who met on dating websites and apps turn out to have higher marital satisfaction and more stable relationships. Dating apps, when used thoughtfully, are our modern tool for an ancient task.
The findings of Match’s new report demonstrate that the ways people use technology to navigate the dating experience are remarkably consistent across the globe, while also highlighting a peculiar behavioral pattern: negative perceptions about trust and safety hide the predominantly positive experiences that online dating users report. People who have used online dating are more likely to have positive safety perceptions than those who have never used online dating. In other words, many people worry about the likelihood of forming a genuine connection, even while a majority of those who have actually tried have positive lived experiences that are contrary to this perception
Monumental shifts in social technology over the past few decades have provided today’s daters with an evolutionarily unprecedented opportunity. Online dating has made it possible for people to reach potential partners beyond their traditional networks, on their own terms, and removed barriers for people with marginalized identities to find each other. The majority of adults agree that dating apps and websites allow them to meet people of different races and religions (62%), with different views (61%), and from different backgrounds (59%). People today are more able than ever to date whomever they please, and they do: of those adults surveyed who have ‘ever used’ dating apps or websites, three out of five (60%) have subsequently gone on dates or developed a relationship.
In the U.S., Japan, and Germany, LGBTQ+ people are significantly more likely to have used dating apps and websites than the general population (46% vs 31%). Similarly, women living in countries with relatively less gender equity (Turkey and India) rely more heavily on online dating and feel safer on dating apps and websites than women across all countries. Both women and sexual minorities face greater risks approaching romantic interests in person, and dating apps generally provide them with an opportunity to have a more informed, controlled experience.
For those in the LGBTQ+ community, dating apps have the additional benefit of narrowing the search for people with compatible sexual orientations, which in some regions is safer than, say, walking into a bar to try and find a match. This translates to 59% of LGBTQ+ adults in the study reporting positive experiences with finding potential matches, and 57% reporting positive experiences going on dates, which is in line with the experiences of the overall adult sample.
The influence and potential of dating app technology is indisputable, but as our species responds to these new tools of courtship there is certainly still room for improvement (and perhaps adaptation). When we look at the top reported concerns of online daters, the majority center around trust, specifically the authenticity of others and fears of being judged for being oneself. We all try to avoid heartbreak.
Success in dating – online and otherwise – means harnessing our instincts for genuine connection and embracing the vulnerability we’re wired to protect. Websites and apps can’t change our deep evolutionary principles of courtship and connection, but they can help us find and get to know people who can make our lives better today and into tomorrow.