There’s a cynical edge to Slater’s book, along with considerable information: about the distinctions between free and paid sites, and searching (more like the old personal ads) vs. matching (an imperfect science at best, and probably a phony one). Slater covers niche sites (targeting demographics such as discreet, married cheaters and people with diseases and disabilities), aggregators looking to become the Kayak of Internet dating, and mobile technology’s contributions to dating on the fly. We learn about international romance scams, as well as how dating sites use inactive profiles, and even fake messaging, to attract subscribers.
Predicting the broader impacts of online dating is tougher. Slater argues that the availability of more choices via the Internet may undercut the urge to commit. By way of illustration, he gives us the case of Jacob, an average guy of no particular appeal, who is seeing five women and sleeping with three of them. It’s a strategy that, online or off, usually depends on deceit. When, in a fit of conscience, Jacob belatedly tells one woman he’s not ready for exclusivity, she angrily texts back: “Lose my number.”
Old gender divides persist. Although Alexis tends to hook up fairly quickly with men she meets online, she is still hurt when they bail, often with little explanation. An offline boyfriend criticizes Alexis for her past promiscuity even though, she notes, her numbers are no higher than his.
Back, once again, to math: Slater reports that fully one-third of America’s 90 million singles have created an online profile, and as many as one in five committed relationships may originate online.
On the other hand, data from OkCupid, a popular free site, reveal that a woman’s popularity peaks at 21, and that, at 48, men are nearly twice as sought after as women the same age. In that respect, the online romantic market resembles the offline one — an increasingly forbidding place for women in midlife seeking something beyond novelty and a few dates.
Sure, the panoply of options online can sound tempting — until you look more closely. So, sorry, Minna: For now, I’m still sitting this online dance out.
Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review.