ABSTRACT Online dating has become an increasingly acceptable way for “singles” to meet appropriate partners. The author uses discourse analysis to explore the use of language in the construction of gendered identities in 20 online profiles, comparing the norms of gender presentation and communication with the ways in which language is used to signal various kinds of gendered “selves.” Dating sites require users to develop a new literacy of self-presentation, one that reinforces and re-inscribes the tendency toward promotionalism that permeates contemporary social life. In this context, how are Internet and social media users tapping into existing social and cultural resources and putting gender norms to work in their representations of self? How do online dating sites provide insight into an ongoing, reflexive process of self-promotion and self-construction?
Most free dating websites depend on advertising revenue, using tools such as Google AdSense and affiliate marketing. Since advertising revenues are modest compared to membership fees, this model requires a large number of page views to achieve profitability. However, Sam Yagan describes dating sites as ideal advertising platforms because of the wealth of demographic data made available by users.
Nerve’s profile form encouraged its users to refer to objects, through prompts such as “In my bedroom you will find,” “In my refrigerator you will find,” and “The last great book I read.” A good example was that of M2-34, who listed as “Five items I can’t live without”: “My Mac / The next bottle of wine / Business cards / My passport / A dinner companion (hate eating alone!).” Within a single line, he makes references that indicate an affiliation with and reliance on particular forms of technology (a trendy laptop—others referred to their iPods); an appreciation for wine (as opposed to beer, which may be viewed as less “classy” and also more “male”); the importance of work and international travel; and a “place” for a partner within a particular vision of urban living. Compare this with the items listed by F10-36, who in the same category included “Crockpot / Guitar / Microphone / A Man (unfortunate but true …) / Spices.” This demonstrates a concurrence with traditional gender norms for women—not only is “a man” listed as an object among others; he is also indispensable (Paasonen, 2007).
While one norm of femininity is that women tend to be more concerned than men with advertising their bodies (and that men are receptive to this), “idealizations of youth, beauty, slenderness and fitness are now promoted as universal consumer images of desirability” (Jagger, 1998, p. 799). Not just a slim body but a “healthy” one (fit, active, bolstered by good diet) is the ideal for everyone, men included (Featherstone, 1982). The concern for body image has been universalized such that “now we both [men and women] have magazines dedicated to what’s wrong with our bodies” (Vitzthum, 2007, p. 105). There could be a connection here to the number of references to activities such as hiking, camping, bike riding, and so on, which are not necessarily considered sports but which do signal characteristics of an active body and lifestyle.
Think more women should make the first move? Then you may enjoy Bumble, a dating app where women have to initiate. The functionality is similar to Tinder: you swipe, and if you both swipe right, a match is created. Where Bumble differs is that the woman then has to send the first message - if she doesn't do so within 24 hours, the match expires (in same-sex matches either person can initiate).5
Does swiping on a tonne of profiles sound like too much work for you? It can get laborious, particularly if you get lots of matches who never both to send a message. Coffee Meets Bagel is all about time-saving and providing matches who are serious about getting in touch. Every day at noon guys and LGBTQ members receive a few matches that are tailored to them based on considerations like social network and interests. Women interested in men are sent profiles of guys who've already expressed an interest – the idea being you don't have to get excited about some guy who never messages.
Instead of endlessly scrolling through a bunch of people that don't bring you joy, the app will send you a select six profiles (all people who have already indicated they’re into you) every day at noon. For those you decide to message, the app will even hold your hand during conversations by suggesting icebreakers to get things started until you’re ready to take things off the app and grab coffee (or bagels) for real.
She’s just one of many dating app users who’ve grown dissatisfied with the mechanical exercise of swiping for love – an act that now feels as dispassionate as scrolling through Netflix. For these disillusioned daters, it feels as though the golden age of online dating has ended – even though the sector appears to be booming. The US$3-billion American dating industry has seen a 140-per-cent increase in revenue since 2009, according to IBISWorld. The market research firm counts approximately 55 million mobile dating app users in North America alone, and estimates that number will grow by 25 per cent next year.
In 2014, the US Federal Trade Commission fined UK-based JDI Dating (a group of 18 websites, including Cupidswand.com and FlirtCrowd.com) over US$600000, finding that "the defendants offered a free plan that allowed users to set up a profile with personal information and photos. As soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest or a desire to meet. However, users were unable to respond to these messages without upgrading to a paid membership ... [t]he messages were almost always from fake, computer-generated profiles — 'Virtual Cupids' — created by the defendants, with photos and information designed to closely mimic the profiles of real people." The FTC also found that paid memberships were being renewed without client authorisation.
Ochs (1993) argues that “referential indexes are far fewer than non-referential indexes of social meaning, including gender” (p. 146). This means that “the relationship between language and gender is almost always indirect, mediated by something else” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003, p. 57). For example, lifestyle indicators (work, leisure activities, and so on) are used as ways of generating inferences about gender, class, and other aspects of selfhood through assumptions made about the preferences expressed. This shows how “social meaning may be reconstituted through other social meanings” (Ochs, 1993, p. 152) and that consequently, people can “mobilize the [gendered] inferences” involved in referencing various lifestyle and consumer choices (Kitzinger, 2006, p. 176).
Just like with most dating sites, in order to communicate and send someone you’re interested in a message, you must pay for a membership. However, if you don’t have a membership and are lucky enough to catch the eye of a premium user, they can message you and allow you to message back. They also have chatrooms where you can go in and talk about a variety of topics, particularly about church and faith, and meet other guys and girls. Not a lot of people take part in the chat rooms simply because most people just want to look at profiles of other users and go fishing, but it’s still a pretty cool feature.
Over the past 15 to 20 years, Internet-based dating has become a tool utilized by increasing numbers of “singles” in their search for romantic partners. Unlike the print personals of the past, which were restricted in form due to the space constraints of paper publications such as newspapers, online dating advertisements—or indeed, profiles, as they have become—are enabled by the more flexible medium of the Internet. As such, they have the capacity to support large amounts of text through which users can construct more nuanced versions of their “presenting selves” (Goffman, 1959). Online dating sites, like many other Internet-based social media tools, operate through a mode of communication that requires users to develop a new and complex literacy. This literacy of self-presentation reinforces and re-inscribes the tendency toward promotionalism that permeates contemporary economic, cultural, and social life.
Match offers a free trial period. Without paying for a membership, you can create a profile, receive match suggestions, search for potential matches and send "winks" to people. Unfortunately, without a full membership you can't respond to or block other users, use the chat function or see who has viewed your profile. If you upgrade to a paid account, Match.com guarantees you'll find someone special within six months of membership. Although, they aren't exactly specific about what "special" means.
Mutual is a free dating app for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You set up a profile, and then the app works similarly to Tinder. If two people express an interest in each other while swiping through user profiles, they're matched and able to start chatting. There's even a "double take" feature where you can get a second chance to swipe right on a profile if you accidentally skip it while scrolling. Facebook is required in order for you to use the app. This is to help eliminate the presence of fake profiles or bots.
What happens to the form and features of dating discourse when the signifiers of the body that are employed in the “short ads”—like “slim,” “blonde,” and so on, are already “covered” by the use of a photograph and a series of checked boxes that refer to height, weight, and hair colour? Paap and Raybeck (2005, p. 23) argue that “while looks certainly play a role (and are also embedded in other qualities, such as ‘fitness’ or ‘healthy lifestyle’), they play a different role because they are described as a demographic aside and don’t need to be included in one’s own personal narrative.” Possibly because of this, there were few explicit references to bodies (or to sex) in the profiles I used in this analysis. This seems interesting in a context where photos may be used as an initial means of eliminating candidates from a larger pool of possible dates, but text often does the rest of the rhetorical work.
So given the evidence, and the fact that it’s totally okay to think dating online sucks and still do it anyway, I wanted to know: Which apps come most recommended by people who fuckin’ hate to date? Which tech have daters made peace with, and why? Some of their answers won’t surprise you—even if their reasoning does—while other options are refreshingly new.
If you’ve ever used a Cupid-family dating site before, you may be familiar with the CupidTag system. This system lets you apply tags to your profile, and see tags on other profiles. You can also narrow your searching with tags, so it’s easier to find who you’re looking for. Tags might range from tidbits about your job (“pilot”) to hobbies you enjoy (“kayaking).
Although the user base isn’t as large as that of Match.com or eHarmony, it is growing – and unlike eHarmony, Chemistry.com also allows same-sex matching. Free users can take the personality test, see photos, and get matches; however, you must subscribe to contact other members. The cost to join is $39.99 for one month, $26.99 per month for a three-month subscription, and $20.99 per month for a six-month subscription.