Has Online Dating Really Lost Its Stigma?

Yesterday a tipster alerted us to the personal ad of a dude who'd winked, nudged or otherwise demonstrated casual electronic interest. "Lovemaking is physical, and so its its language. Suck, cock, fuck, and prick, are not bad words." Quoth he.

It went on. "Used in the bedroom by lovers to describe parts of the body, and physical activities, they are very proper indeed, and they distinctly enhance sex. Overhaul a prudish attitude. Don't whistle and stick up your nose, at least, not up in the air."

And here, of course, is the rub. In a post the other day, I asserted that "online dating has long since lost its sad-sack stigma." This sparked a conversation in comments: is it really free of stigma? And even if it is, is there a reason for the stigma? Several people mentioned that they found the process unavoidably fraught and "manufactured," while others made the point that the element of "screening" involved in fact makes dating easier. Several people - like friends and relatives of mine - had met their significant others on these sites. Others had been put off by the unavoidable creeps who find their way into any community. And almost everyone had good stories. One thing came across: most everyone had tried it. And isn't this the most telling thing? Those who'd hated it, overwhelmingly, said they hated dating anyway, with its expectations and awkwardness and sense of judgment.

Katherine Sharpe's N+1 piece on her online dating experiences reinforces this: online dating, now, is tantamount to dating. Especially in cities, it's simply a useful shortcut, and for every self-aggrandizing frog, there's the great guy who, like Sharpe, you date for two years. Now, she explains, she's back online, and while there may be no stigma, she brings up other potential problems:

I worry that online dating has the potential to become an end in itself, an empty activity that soothes in its ability to offer casual, meaningless contact, and the illusion that whenever you wanted to, you could dip into the well and walk off with a partner. I wonder whether that sense of available variety makes it less likely for us to choose, to take something home today. After a while, the thumbnail images and clever sobriquets all blend together, equally desirable, equally "meh." My California roommate may have been right about this one thing: no one ever stayed together because they had a great "how we met" story, but it doesn't hurt at first, when you need some kind of glue to bind you to a complete stranger. I feel as though I could wander forever through these halls of pixel, unable to tell one well-traveled, dive-bar-loving hopeful from another.

I remember when I set up my Nerve.com profile. I posted a single picture of Mr. Met, said something terse about not looking for any man who thought Harold and Maude was a beautiful movie and, when I failed to elicit so much as a wink, took it down after a day with a crushing sense of rejection. In this way, it mirrored my real-life dating experiences of the time: agreeing to attend a party, standing around glaring in a corner for 20 minutes clutching a pineapple juice, then storming out under a cloud of furious self-reproach. The funny part was, I had always looked forward to online dating: I liked the idea of being able to write rather than talk, to have a modicum of control over the situation. Sure, you have to admit to wanting to meet someone - maybe the issue for some - but in a normal frame of mind, this seemed to me natural enough. I have also never found such "how we met" stories unromantic; I find the details of correspondence, a la Shop Around the Corner, to be infinitely fascinating. What was a revelation was that the feelings were the same as "real life" dating (even after I took down the profile, I'd spend hours looking at pictures and profiles), no safer or kinder. As more and more people dip their toe in the online world, surely it's this that will become manifest - that at the end of the day it's the same thing, but we're more willing to admit, as in previous centuries, what our intentions are. It's only recently, after all, that interaction has taken on the agonizing ambiguities that define "dating" today. If you look at the 19th Century personal ads on the estimable "Advertising for Love" blog, after all, they're as frank and unsentimental as Craig's List, albeit more family-friendly. Although it should be said no one was being ordered not to "whistle and stick up your nose, at least, not up in the air."

Scattershot, Desperate And Sleazy
[N+1]

Related: Recently-Divorced Guy Dates 50 Women To Find Ms. Right
"Show Your Moral Courage, Young Ladies, And Write"