In 1982, Chris Dunn met Pam Jensen on a CompuServe CB Simulator program that linked computer users nationwide in an early version of online dating in a chat room. They hadn’t planned on finding love online, but after a few months of virtual chatting, Chris booked a flight from New York to Chicago where he and Pam met face-to-face. One year later, to the day, they were married (1).
Their newsworthy courtship and wedding were featured on numerous television programs and newspaper articles, including a Chicago Tribune story titled “Cupid and Computers Conquer All.” But not everybody accepted their relationship with an open mind – many people said a relationship based on online dating wouldn’t last, even Chris’s father. This was the one of the first examples of the stigma of online dating, and it was met with a great deal of suspicion.
These days, of course, a couple finding love online is hardly newsworthy. But Pam and Chris were charting new territory. “At the time,” Pam recalls, “computers weren’t as pervasive in our homes and our daily life. To a lot of people, especially my parents’ generation and their friends, online dating seemed very alien, a very suspicious concept to even be communicating like that. There was definitely a stigma with online dating.”
That was about thirty years ago and Chris and Pam are still in love and happily married, and live on the North Side of Chicago. “If it weren’t for the way we met, with online dating, I think we could be any other married couple,” said Chris. “I’ve always adored her. She adores me. It’s very easy to love my wife (2).” That part may be easy, but from the start, Chris and Pam had to put up with a great deal of critique from others who hold onto a stigma about online dating. And so have a lot of other singles currently finding love online, and couples who have sometimes felt compelled to hide the fact that they met through an online dating site.
It’s Called Stigma
During a Sunday school function, a group of newlywed wives were each asked, “How did you two meet?” Going around the circle, each woman took a moment to tell her romantic story. Then it was time for Tracy to speak up: “We met over the Internet.”
A moment of silence hovered over the group. “Online Dating? Really!” the teacher said. “Why would an attractive, outgoing girl like you need to resort to such drastic measures?”
That’s called “stigma” – a socially discrediting means of classifying others as going against the norm. It’s an undesirable stereotype and it conjures up disapproval, disgrace and shame. And the stigma of online dating associated with finding love online is based on uninformed impressions.
This Sunday school teacher is a perfect example of someone perpetuating an uneducated social stigma of online dating and using the Internet for finding love. Online dating has turned a corner over the past several years, and truth be told, this was an exchange that took place more than a decade ago. Today, these misinformed impressions about online dating are few and far between.
So if you’re embarrassed by an out-of-date stigma of online dating, you’ve somehow become stuck in a fleeting notion that died out years ago. Yes, it used to be that finding love online was looked at with suspicion. So was nearly everything about the internet. Most people scoffed at the visionary idea of using our computers to buy shoes, download music, or book a hotel room. So why in the world would you be interested in finding love online?
Of course, that was then, and this is now. And today the stigma of online dating has all but vanished. Practically everyone knows someone who has found the love of their life with online dating. Even well known celebrities talk about using matching sites to find love. We do enough marriage seminars in churches around the country to know that in every congregation there are couples who proudly identify themselves as being matched online. Sure, there are still some uninformed holdouts that perpetuate the stigma of online dating and finding love online, but their numbers are dwindling quickly.
Your Grandmother’s Internet?
If you’re looking for evidence that the stigma of online dating has shaken off its remnants, you need look no farther than your grandparents’ generation. You may think that they rarely even turn on a computer, but you’d be wrong. Are you ready for this? Of course, we all know how popular finding love online is for younger generations, but the fastest growing area for online dating sites is with single seniors (3).
70-year-old Hilda Gottlieb decided to try online dating after her husband passed away in 2004 (4). “I was 64 when my husband died, and I knew I was not going to be alone for the rest of my life,” Gottlieb told the Palm Beach Post.
Gottlieb ignored the stigma of online dating, found the dating profile of then-72-year-old Marv Cohen, and decided to contact him. That email led to an in-person meeting and an eventual romantic relationship. They have been married ever since (5).
The point is that online dating these days is viewed as socially acceptable even among many of the people who were perhaps the most suspicious of finding love online a few short years ago.
Online Dating is now Hyper-Mainstream
“The stigma of online dating has definitely dropped because people are advocating for it, talking with their friends about it, and sharing stories with families,” says Lija Jarvis, director of a large survey study on Internet dating (6). Another study, conducted by the research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, shows how quickly online dating — in existence for less than two decades — has revolutionized the way people find and pursue potential mates and approach finding love online.
“It does seem to have displaced all other forms of dating,” says Susan Frohlick, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Manitoba who has studied online dating. “I would say that it’s been in the last five years that it’s become hyper-mainstream (7).”
So if you are embarrassed by a passé prejudice against finding love online with online dating, do your best to move beyond it. Swallow your irrational pride, and the outdated stigma you’re holding onto will disappear.
1. Stevens, H. “Chicago Couple blazed the trail for Internet love.” Chicago Tribune. May 18, 2008
2. Stevens, H. “Chicago Couple blazed the trail for Internet love.” Chicago Tribune. May 18, 2008
3. Farley, Meredith. “Online dating becoming more common in seniors.” RetirementHomes.com. June 16, 2010
4. Farley, Meredith. “Online dating becoming more common in seniors.” RetirementHomes.com. June 16, 2010
5. Farley, Meredith. “Online dating becoming more common in seniors.” RetirementHomes.com. June 16, 2010
6. Toy, Mary-Anne. “One in four adults finds mate online.” Sydney Morning Herald. April 17, 2010
7. Ellen Mc Carthy, “marriage-minded do better online than at bars, survey claims.” Washington Post, Sunday, April 25, 2010.
Originally published January 2011.