Internet dating isn’t quite as widespread and accepted in Australia as it is in, say, the U.S. but as with all trends, it is only a matter of time before what is mainstream in Manhattan is mainstream in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
Part of the reason behind our reticence is perhaps the tone of indulgence – or pearl-clutching dismay – in most mainstream accounts of online dating, coupled with the seemingly endless repetition of the stories of ‘fake’ profiles which result in films like Catfish and the much publicised scam case of American college footballer Manti Te’o.
Manti Te’o, a linebacker at Notre Dame College, made headlines after leading his team to glory just days after the death of his girlfriend Lennay Kekua of leukaemia. Then, it all unravelled. It turned out Lennay Kekua was a fake internet girlfriend, that Te’o had never met her in person (despite a relationship lasting over a year) and that her Facebook profile was adorned with pictures of another girl blissfully unaware of Te’o’s existence. Subsequently, it was revealed that a male acquaintance of Te’o’s, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo had been the one to create and maintain the illusion of Lennay Kekua because he was “deeply romantically in love” with the footballer.
This story coincided with the release of Dan Slater’s new book Love In The Time of Algorithms, which examines the world of online dating from a business perspective. The book sees online dating as having ushered in a disorienting state of sexual abundance and heralds it as the biggest threat to monogamy we’ve yet seen in the 21st century. It echoes the thoughts of sociologist Eva Illouz when she says that “Internet dating has introduced to the realm of romantic encounters the principles of mass consumption based on an economy of abundance, endless choice, efficiency, rationalization, selective targeting, and standardization.”
The problem with the kind of speculation, according to an article from Salon, is that it doesn’t hold up with marriage and divorce statistics, which have remained stable despite online dating, and it also encourages a kind of moral superiority from those on the outside by encouraging the idea that dating online had turned looking for love into “a sort of Costco for the libido.”
People actually involved in online dating, however, rarely get a word in these stories unless it’s a horror story – like Manti Te’o’s – or a story which can be used to demonstrate the death of love. An article from Flavorwire quotes an OKCupid used in his 20s as saying that the representation of online dating depicts it “as the refuge of desperate neckbeards and sexual predators masquerading as someone else.” Yet this experience is far from the reality of many users of online dating, as is made clear from this collection of stories published by The Guardian.
Perhaps it is time to be more open-minded about finding love on the internet.