As a stepmother to a beautiful and talented 26-year-old woman newly dating again, and a veteran of the dating industry for over a decade, I have to ask the question… what went wrong with modern online dating? Why doesn’t it live up to the promise of what it was supposed to be?
When I started writing this for my stepdaughter, I thought about a simple title like “The 5 Steps to Modern Dating” or the “Modern Girl’s Guide to Online Dating.” But, none of that really conveyed my frustration with the way things are going… So, I thought about “The F@#ked Up World of Modern Dating.”
But that title makes it seem like it’s out of our control, that we can’t change the course and get back on the right track. So, I decided to break it down to the core elements for her: “The Good, The Bad, and The Slutty.”
I’ve been working in the online dating industry for a little over 15 years, and I’ve got the battle scars to prove it. I’ve helped thousands and thousands of men and women to become successful daters through my companies. In that time, I’ve seen not just the industry change drastically but the core values of the people change too.
About 99.5% of the time, I’m glad I’m married and don’t need to go through the ordeal that dating has become… (the .5% is when my husband pisses me off, like when he walks mud through the house no matter how many times I ask him to change his shoes!)
Also, while I tend to be a bit more traditional in my relationships, I don’t care who you’re attracted to: men, women, both…It’s none of my business. When clients come to me looking for help, it’s all about someone looking for the right person to share their life with. Hence, these observations derived from years in the industry pertain to both sexes, except for one that I’ll point out later.
The Promise of the Online Dating Industry
The promise of online dating was that it was going to make it possible for you to find your one/next true love in a fraction of the time, build a beautiful relationship and live happily ever after.
Before online dating was so prevalent, I met my boyfriends at work, at church, or yes, even at bars. Back then, the men I dated actually put forth effort to meet me and certainly to date me. Conversely, when I was going out or interested in meeting new people, I would put forth the effort to look my best, not only because I wanted to impress others but also because I wanted to feel good about how I look in order to boost my confidence. After all, meeting new people with the potential to become more than just friends is stressful, as we all know.
I look at many of my clients today, young women about my stepdaughter’s age, and talk to them about their experience with online dating and dating in general. Maybe I’ve gotten old, I don’t think so, but I am appalled at what young women have to go through today in order to find dates/date successfully.
When you look at something like the Pew Research Center study about online dating, you find that most people believe that online dating is the best way to meet people. For the most part, I think that they are right. If it’s done right, online dating is ruthlessly efficient. I mean that in a good way. But, there are some inherent problems with online dating that are exclusive to online dating as opposed to offline dating.
As Psychology Today points out, there are 5 issues with online dating. Some are systemic, like the fact that people tend to exaggerate on their profiles (read bold-faced lie) and there are scammers working the sites. However, there were relationship scams well before the internet. Plenty of people faked it to try and get someone’s attention. Hence, you have to take people’s online profiles with a grain of salt and be a bit wary of fake profiles; you can read more about that by clicking the link.
However, they make a good point that one of the impacts of online dating is that it can make you picky and judgmental. You’re presented with so many options and you get to flip through a menu of choices, one little thumbnail profile photo at a time. Sometimes, my clients need help figuring out exactly what they want, pulling the trigger and connecting with someone.
Yet, there is an aspect of online dating that was not covered in the Psychology Today report. It’s primarily impacting women interested in meeting men, in my personal opinion. So, when I started writing to her, I decided it all came down to the good, the bad, and the slutty.
1. The Good!
Online dating has made dating in general extremely efficient and effective. In the past, you could only realistically meet maybe a couple hundred different people at work, church, parties or bars. Online dating allows you to be presented with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people within a hundred-mile radius that ostensibly share your interests and claim to have some characteristics that you are interested in.
You can browse a virtual catalog of potential dates looking for ones that interest you. Everything from free sites (remember, you get what you pay for) to more expensive premium services with perhaps more serious people. But really, with the average monthly subscription price on online dating companies hovering around $8/month, I’m not sure why anyone would keep putting up with free sites and all that they entail. Using free sites says something about you too.
It’s relatively easy to set up a profile, define what you’re looking for and write something expressive in under an hour without leaving your couch. Statistically, see the Pew Research study again, it just plain works when done right. I know that I’m skeptical of the things that sites like Match.com and eHarmony say about how many relationships they’ve created (full disclosure: Grant Langston, the CEO of eHarmony, is one of our Board of Directors …Love you, Grant!), but I know so many people who started their relationship online and are still married today. If that’s what you’re interested in, then know that it does work out for many people.
So, to sum up the good points of modern dating: It’s fast, efficient, easy to set up and get started, and cheap, even if you want to use a premium service.
2. The Bad
The first problem is the “tyranny of choice.” With all of this efficiency, for most people, came an overwhelming number of choices. Filtering through all of the profiles and responding to the ones that interest you can feel like a second job.
In addition, this massive number of choices spawned a new attitude. Some people are never happy with the people they meet. They are always looking for the “next best thing” rather than trusting their gut that they’ve found someone special. For some, it pretty much ends any interest in long-term commitment until, finally, after years of dating, they settle on the one they’re currently with just because of sheer exhaustion.
The next problem can be categorized by what I call people’s personal brands. It seems that most people aren’t very happy with themselves or don’t know how to present themselves in the best light. Come on, people. There is a certain amount of “marketing yourself” that’s required to get someone’s attention. Preening is a natural human instinct, after all.
Yet, there is some sort of disconnect between online dating and the effort that you would put in to meet someone new at, say, a local bar. If you know you’re going to go out and possibly meet someone new, you usually put a little bit more effort into how you look. But, in online dating, people seem to throw the latest selfie they have of themselves lying around, even ones that include other people, and expect you to guess how “good” they could look if they actually put any effort into their appearance at all.
The flip side of this is that, when surveyed, for instance, in this Yourtango.com survey, users instinctively turn down profiles with poor pictures, haphazard selfies or images that contain multiple people. However, when the researchers directly point out that the subject’s profile photo is crap, a bad selfie or contains other people, users don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with it.
Your personal brand is incredibly important, not just for online dating but also for creating a good first impression. People’s first impression of you will come from one of your online profiles. Whether you like it or not, they are judging you. A crappy profile, especially a crappy profile photo, creates a bad first impression. You’re not being laid back, cool or ironic when you put little or no effort into your profile. It has an effect and it’s always bad.
Next, you need to build up some thick skin because, with this smorgasbord of choices, you’re going to experience a fair amount of rejection and ghosting. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just part of the game. You need to brush it off and keep moving forward.
Finally, the speed at which people can meet and get dates has spawned a new mentality I like to call “sex now, date later.” The rise of apps like Tinder only made things worse.
3. The Slutty
In my experience and in talking to my clients, it seems that the expectations of men have changed to the point where women who do not engage in sexual activity in the first one or two “meetups” are deemed too difficult, frigid or simply not interested.
WTF! So, a woman that wants to develop a relationship, or at least explore one, is pressured to engage in some sexual activity just to keep their dates around long enough to see if the possibility of a relationship exists?
I’m no prude by a long shot, but come on… I flirt a bit online or through email, and the next thing I get is a DTF text or a dick pic?? Gimme a break. I’m worth a little more effort than that, and you are too or I wouldn’t be talking to you in the first place.
There is nothing wrong with sex, and finding another consenting adult that agrees to have sex is awesome. Sex is not the problem. The expectation of sex, almost a prerequisite of dating, before we even test the waters on any sort of relationship is a problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I get the whole conundrum for these predominately younger women. If you’re the only one not getting busy right away after meeting someone, there’s another girl waiting in the wings who will. You have to get on the field to play the game. There must be a lot of hookers who are starving now that “regular” girls are putting out within 20 minutes of meeting someone–and for free!
While there’s little that we can do about technology making online dating more efficient and effective, women need to evaluate the power shift caused by cultural changes and the expectation of sex very early in the relationship.
How Do We Keep the Good, Minimize the Bad and Get Rid of the Slutty?
So, what’s a regular girl got to do to take advantage of the benefits of modern dating without having to compromise her morals and her self-esteem …nothing! Because it’s not about you, it’s about US. Collectively, we need to work together to take our power back and hold our potential dates and ourselves accountable. First off, “the Medium is the message.” If you have a profile on Tinder or other hookup sites, you get what you deserve: DTF messages and dick pics. You can do better. Let’s face it, Tinder was built by men for men, and somewhere along the way, they convinced women they should be using the platform.
My mother was named Jenny, but I always called her “Pink.” She always impressed me with her commonsense wisdom which she earned the hard way. I’ve codified a few of these and I call them “Pink-isms.” I share them when appropriate. Here are a few that fit the situation:
- If you take shit from somebody, you’ll get nothing but shit from them forever. They are not going to miraculously develop respect for you.
- Low expectations yield poor results. (Here’s the observation I told you about earlier… that mostly pertains to men…)
How many times do I see a couple out on a date and the woman looks like she put some real effort into her appearance, showered, put on makeup, and dressed to the Nines for a dinner or drinks at a nice restaurant… aaaaand the guy with her looks like he couldn’t be bothered to fix his hair or put on a clean shirt? Derelique is not a real fashion style, despite what Zoolander would have you believe. Don’t date someone who doesn’t know how to dress for you or doesn’t bother to. You deserve better.
Remember, Mr. Derelique still expects you to have sex with him even if he hasn’t showered in days and days and days. He may not have even washed off the sex he had with the girl just before you. Let that “stink in” (pun intended) for a minute. Now, I’ll admit I have not been everywhere, but I do travel a fair amount. I also lived in NYC for a decade and Los Angeles for the better part of 5 years. I’m not claiming that this is common everywhere. Maybe in your city, it’s different and the guys actually respect you and put at least a little bit of effort into taking you on a date.
- You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat small animals. Power without compassion is a recipe for disaster. Because a small animal, like a puppy or a kitten, is absolutely powerless against a human. If someone finds humor or pleasure in tormenting a small animal, it might be an indicator of something more.
- Men value age; women value security. As much as we try and deny it, until the human race evolves, these are the cards we were dealt.
The Solution: A 6-Part Plan
So, what’s a girl to do? Lock herself in a room and never date? Stop having sex altogether, adopt a lot of cats, volunteer for that one-way trip to Mars? Nothing quite so dramatic. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but here are a few suggestions that I tell my stepdaughter:
- Respect yourself first so others will too
- Be comfortable being alone with yourself. Needy and desperate is never a good look. People can smell desperation. You’d be surprised how slowing down and getting comfortable with yourself instantly makes you more attractive to others. “Deep breath …and exhale, deep breath …and exhale, deep breath …and exhale” …you’ve got time to get things right.
- Discuss this with your girlfriends and get a conversation started about it. If we’re all talking about it, someone smarter than I am will come up with the solution.
- Take the initiative and, if you’re on a hookup app like Tinder, maybe delete your account or lower your expectations.
- Next time your date picks you up looking like a mess, call them out on it. It’s not “hip and ironic” to be dirty and unwashed. You just spent how many hours getting ready? Maybe they can take a shower and dress themselves to show you that they appreciate you and your effort.
- Don’t give up. Treat modern dating like a second job. The right person is out there, and you deserve to find them. You don’t have to settle for someone who doesn’t appreciate you.
It’s more difficult than ever to be a young woman trying to navigate the modern dating world. Technology and the speed of communication has brought rapid fire changes that impact peoples interrelationships at an ever changing pace… and not all of it in a good way. The promise of online dating was supposed to bring about a more efficient way to meet far more people that you might be interested in than ever before. It is undoubtedly, far more efficient that the work place, church, friends and family and certainly a bar.
However, the rapid pace and the relative ease of connection have created an unwanted level of competition between women because expectations have changed dramatically. While I focused more on relationships between men and women the same issues exist no matter what type of relationship you are looking for.
Therefore the best way, in my opinion, is for woman to take their power back and push back on the overt expectations. While I’m not naive enough to suggest that women stop competing against each other, we can find common ground to universally push back and demand a level of respect that is clearly lacking in the day-to-day world of online dating.
So, what do you think of my words of wisdom to my stepdaughter? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments below!
About the Author:
Claire Bahn has over 15 years working as a personal branding expert helping clients build authority and influence through their online profiles and social media accounts.
Her background includes branding, public relations, Social Media and marketing, as well as, entrepreneurship. She has a passion to help executives, entrepreneurs and influencers strategize and create their best personal brand.
She is currently the CEO and Co-founder of Online Profile Pros and Stratus Branding. Ms. Bahn recognizes that first impressions are made online and the fastest way to achieving your goals is by taking command of your personal brand through your online profiles and social media. She started Online Profile Pros and Stratus Branding to help individuals create, maintain and protect their personal brands so that they achieve the authority, influence and trust the need to succeed at online dating or their job search.
She’s been featured in numerous publications and news outlets including Forbes and Entrepreneur magazines.
Ms. Bahn is a former model and actress, appearing in national ad campaigns for major retailers. An avid fashion / lifestyle blogger she’s a recognized influencer. Ms. Bahn holds a BA from University of Texas at Austin, and currently lives in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, CA with her 2 red miniature pinchers, Beau and Trixie.