Kristin Doner said she “was getting sick and tired of waiting for something to happen.” The Mills freshwoman had tried everything from networking to metal working to meet Mr. Right, yet he was still eluding her. After several hits and misses, she turned to her computer. Doner began dating online, joining millions around the world in the cyberspace quest for companionship.
The phenomenon of online dating among Mills students is similar to posting a personal ad on the Internet. Users subscribe to a dating service, which helps them generate a profile and connect with members. Each site maintains a similar format that allows users to search for people using criteria including everything from zip code to height to favorite music or TV shows.
Doner met her husband on Match.com, the most popular matchmaking Web site. She said she tried online dating off and on for eight years because it provided her with a pool of eligible candidates. “The Web sites were really the best,” she said. “You have the opportunity to meet a lot of people…increasing the odds that you’ll meet a good fit.”
Melissa, a junior who asked that her last name be withheld, also chose to join Match.com, yet didn’t limit her search to romantic relationships. “I was stuck with the same crowd from either work or school and wasn’t meeting enough people,” she said. Online dating services provided her with a way to meet people with similar interests and have the option of remaining friends, should a romantic relationship fail. “We already knew we had common interests so why end things when you know a friendship could remain,” she said. She is currently engaged to someone she met online.
Junior Caroline Cadwell shared Melissa’s opinion, saying she uses online dating primarily to meet people with similar interests. “The diversity of people…was appealing to me,” she said. “I also really enjoyed being able to communicate by writing first. It certainly helped break the ice.”
Fellow junior Sakura Vesely also wanted to meet new people but chose an alternate approach to the mainstream services. She met her current boyfriend through Gothic Personals, a free match making site, and said she “had a preference for that type of individual.”
Some students said the primary advantage of online dating is the power it gives women over the dating process. “It gives you the choice and the power instead of having to wait around for the other person to ask you out,” Melissa said. “It’s a useful tool for allowing us to screen out the less desirable.” A junior, who preferred to remain anonymous, agreed. “Because [women] have so many responses as opposed to men…they can be more selective,” she said.
A brief survey of 30 Mills women found that half believed online dating is a trend of a young, computer savvy generation. Freshwoman Sarah Wong believes that dating services are aiming to attract computer users, a large number of which are young people. “Advertisements show up on e-mail and general Web sites so it’s obvious that they’re aiming for people who use computers,” she said. Graduate student Alyn Kelley, disagrees. “I know a few non-computer-savvy people who have tried online dating,” she said. “I think it’s a matter of convenience and safety.”
One thing is for certain: online-dating businesses are turning companionship into a cash cow. According to an MSNBC.com article, running a matchmaking site is fairly cheap because subscribers provide the content for free. People yield their information, photographs, and money to the services. All the sites have to do is “manage a searchable database” and develop better advertising and search tools.
Yet all is not well in cyberspace. According to a recent report by Jupiter Media, the U.S. online dating market is cooling with “33 percent fewer consumers…browsing online personals today than they did a year ago.” Several Mills women said they’ve stopped dating online or have switched services due to the persistent fees and poor quality of some of the sites. One junior said she stopped using Match.com because “their results are minimal and not great.” Junior Sara Jacobsen said, “I’ve never done Match.com and don’t plan to because it costs money.”
Sophomore Crystal Mitchell said the worst thing about online dating is the isolation it requires. “I feel more introverted crouching over a computer typing away,” she said. “If it weren’t for online dating, I think I would be more…appreciative of meeting people in the tangible world outside my laptop.”
Despite these drawbacks, all of the students interviewed said they would resume or continue to date online. Their primary advice to new users is to be yourself, stay open-minded, and always meet in a public place.
“Be open to the possibilities,” said Doner. “Mr. Right might not be what you imagine.”