We live-tweet our lives. We Instagram every little morsel we put in our mouths. We update our Facebooks to indicate what school we get into, what classes we take, and what internship we score for the summer. Even so, there’s one digital step we can’t bring ourselves to take: pursuing romance on the web.
For some reason, trying to find our match in the ether of cyberspace feels sketchy, unsafe, even uncool. But should it?
On Columbia’s campus, we’ve begun to take baby steps toward making the Internet a socially acceptable place to search for love. For example, the recent founding of the CU Admirers Facebook page allows students to anonymously profess their ardor for others in ways that vary from sweet to creepy.
While CU Admirers is a forum for simply expressing anonymous desires rather than realizing them, some students are taking their online dating more seriously. In fact, college students are increasingly turning to dating websites such as DateMySchool. Founded in 2010 by two Columbia alumni, DateMySchool is unique in that it is available exclusively to college students, offering them a sense of security they might not be able to attain from traditional dating sites.
According to Melanie Wallner, the director of public relations at DateMySchool, the site has nearly 200,000 members nationwide and is particularly popular at Columbia.
“We’re most popular at Columbia and NYU: Over 30 percent of each campus uses DateMySchool, more than 50 percent of the dates that happen at these schools are set up on DateMySchool, and most of our success stories have come from students from those schools,” Wallner says.
But despite these figures, many students are still reluctant to admit that they’ve tried their hand at online dating.
A student from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., who met her boyfriend on the popular site OkCupid, acknowledges the stigma associated with online dating.
“It’s often seen as a last resort—something to do when you’re all out of options and desperate to meet someone, or you’re too lazy to go out and meet people in social situations,” she says. “I personally am okay with telling people I met my boyfriend online, because I am happy with the way our relationship has progressed and the fact that we met online does not make our relationship any less authentic.”
Rega Jha, a Columbia College senior, has several friends who use DateMySchool. While Jha acknowledges that a stigma against online dating exists, she believes this sort of thinking is outdated.
“I think a slight stigma might exist, yeah, but only as much as it does in the rest of the world. I have several friends who use DateMySchool, and they’ve all found plenty of dates on there, some successful, some not so much, some Columbians, some NYU-ers, but in any case—it’s just another place to meet people, no more or less valid than 1020 or Butler,” she says.
However, some students complain that DateMySchool isn’t really all that useful.
“My roommate and I both signed up for DateMySchool at the same time, and within 10 minutes of creating a profile, we both received the same message from the same guy asking if we wanted to hook up,” says Mary Cosgrove, a junior at Barnard College. “We both promptly deleted our accounts. I did not think this site was useful at all for finding actual love, just more hookups.”
But for students who are looking for just a hookup, online dating sites may be a good option. A Columbia College student who wishes to remain anonymous uses Grindr, an all-male location-based social network that allows gay and bisexual men to find others interested in a hookup.
“For a top-tier school like Columbia where so many of us are striving to have really important roles in public and private sectors, it’s kind of understood that romance isn’t a huge part of that,” he says. “If I know I don’t want to find a lifelong love, why should I deal with romantic attachments that will drain my energy, especially when I can just use an app to find anonymous sex?”
While he acknowledges that people may feel embarrassed about using the app, he thinks it should be more socially acceptable. “I have no shame about having consensual casual sex ... There shouldn’t be a reason that this isn’t just a normal, positive interchange between persons facilitated by technology.”
This should be especially true at a school like Columbia, where students have access to the larger community of New York City. For schools located in smaller towns, like Princeton, online dating and trying to reach out into the community make less sense.
Tiger Admirers, Princeton’s version of Columbia Admirers, wrote in an email, “We’re in an area where the only other people to meet our age are basically other Princeton students, so it seems silly to join an online dating website when you should just be meeting people in person. Perhaps if we were located in a city where there were lots of 20-somethings (like Columbia is, or even somewhere in Boston), it would make more sense, and thus be considered more socially acceptable and normal.”
While online dating may not be fully socially acceptable yet, the gradual romantic shift toward the digital—demonstrated by the popularity of CU Admirers—is at least helping us grow more open with one another. And with the recent Manti Te’o fiasco, perhaps that’s all we can ask for.