The web search for love

Illustration by Caleb West – cwest@shawmedia.com
Illustration by Caleb West – cwest@shawmedia.com

As digital and Internet products become more and more a part of everyday life, the way people meet, flirt, date and look for love has become more diversified, such as the growth in online dating.

According to the Pew Research Center, 11 percent of American adults – 38 percent of those who are single and looking for a partner – have used online dating sites or mobile apps.

Online dating is most common among Americans in their mid-20s through their mid-40s. It also is popular among college-educated people, as well as among urban and suburban residents, according to Pew.

Although most of Third Vision Background Searches and Consulting's customers are businesses doing pre-employment background checks, about 10 percent of the clients are dating related.

Clients are asking the service to check out people they are about to start dating after meeting online, said Christine Mahoney, the owner and president of the Wonder Lake business.

Although dating websites do have teams to make sure people are telling the truth on their website profiles, Mahoney recommended always looking up people on social media sites and doing web searches to verify if a person is telling the truth.

"We totally encourage to check into it," Mahoney said. "You don't know who they're going to meet."

Social media itself gives people another avenue to meet and flirt.

Traditionally, people met others through work, school or activities, said David Henningsen, a communication professor at Northern Illinois University.

A person might become friends with people on the same floor of his college dorm, but not necessarily on the other floors, Henningsen said.

People who use social media sites have the ability to meet online, even if it's with a person who may not be in the person's usual social circle.

"What the electronic age does is open the door and give you more access," Henningsen said. "You can stay in touch with someone you might not see every day."

Responding to a person's Tweet, or liking or commenting on a post on Facebook, helps create proximity and allows people to get to know each other more gradually, rather than asking for a phone number and calling them up, Henningsen said.

Henningsen did caution people when using social media or online chats to flirt because there are some drawbacks.

"Now you have a record of everything," Henningsen said. "There's a digital footprint. You want to be careful of what you put out there."

Social media makes it harder to be subtle, Henningsen said.

"If you put it in writing, people might take it seriously," Henningsen said. "Tone is harder to communicate in writing than in person."

Allison Braley is the vice president of Communications for Zoosk, a dating app for mobile phones and website.

Braley said how online dating is works also has changed.

It used to be people would fill out quizzes when they first signed up about what they were looking for in a potential partner.

In addition to some questionnaires about interests and hobbies, Zoosk has customized its website to make it more personalized based on preferences of which profiles a user views. It is similar to how Amazon.com will suggest products based on previous purchases, Braley said.

"Preferences are key," Braley said.

There are some pitfalls to online dating, said Jeannie Assimos, director of Content for eHarmony.

Sometimes people talk to someone online for several months and have "this illusion you're in a relationship when you haven't met them," Assimos said. "You're not in a relationship unless you've met them."

She said however more and more people are using online dating sites or mobile apps, and becoming comfortable with them as a step toward meeting someone special in person.

"The stigma of online dating is dead and buried," Assimos said.

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