Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail” gave rise to the romantic intrigue of falling in love online.
In 1998, the digital courtship of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’s characters inspired love-lorn singles to enter the then-mysterious realm of Internet dating — uncharted territory that is now navigated by tens of millions of people every day. With mixed results.
Digital daters have always run the risk of having zero in-person chemistry with someone — a risk that each new generation of love seekers has accepted as part of the process. What was once a multi-day waiting game for a new e-mail or AIM message has transformed into instant gratification with notifications and emoticon-laden messages from new suitors multiple times a day.
But it doesn’t relieve the old-fashioned anxiety of meeting someone for the first time — or the fear that a new date is not what he or she seems.
The darkness of a movie theater couldn’t extinguish the agonizing awkwardness that 22-year-old Kevin Parker felt from his OKCupid date. The two had barely spoken at all in the time leading up to the movie, and the nervous tension was almost too uncomfortable to bear.
But when they left the theater, Parker’s date said he had a great time and asked about another date. Parker was in disbelief. How could that have gone well for him?
“I didn’t think he was even interested [in me] at all,” he said. “Obviously, he was just one of those guys who was really shy in person but a great talker via text.”
For Parker and many online daters, having a seemingly endless series of awkward dates is the trade-off for being able to meet several potential suitors very quickly. A 2013 Pew Research study found that 53 percent of Internet users agree that online dating allows people to find a better match for themselves because they can get to know more people. In 2005, only 47 percent of Internet users agreed. So terrible dates (and many of them) are to be expected.
A 2014 Match.com “Singles in America” study showed that 31 percent of singles met their last first date online, more than the 25 percent who met through a friend, and the 6 percent who met their last date in a bar or club.
Also notable: 31 percent of singles have had a one-night stand turn into a committed partnership, followed closely by 28 percent of friends-with-benefits relationships turning into relationships.
The number of digital dating options just keeps growing. From Match.com to Grindr, each app or site has a self-proclaimed best method for finding love/meeting new people/hooking up with someone hot/making new friends.
Take meet-up apps Tinder and Hinge. Although both are used for hook-ups and dating, each site introduces its users to potential friends as well. What happens after the meet-up is up to the parties involved.
Hinge, which is only active in select cities, including Boston, takes users’ Facebook profiles and matches people based on social proximity, or their social media friend circle. The users can swipe right or left to determine if they would like to speak with or meet a potential friend or match.
“These are people you would maybe be introduced to by your friends in an in-person setting,” Hinge CEO and founder Justin McLeod said. “We want [users] to get off the app and go meet these people.”
‘For those people who don’t have a lot of time and are done with striking out on their own, we step in and do the work for them.’
Conversely, Tinder CEO and cofounder Sean Rad said users create a whole new social circle and develop relationship on the app as well as after they meet.
“People are on Tinder and making friends while they are out with a different group of friends,” he said. “It’s more like an accessory.”
All that online matchmaking means that time put into creating online dating profiles and chatting with potential dates almost equals the effort necessary to meet someone new in person, said Talia Goldstein, founder and CEO of Three Day Rule, a matchmaking service in Los Angeles.
“You can pretty much get a date whenever you want online and I love that. But at the same time it can get really overwhelming,” Goldstein said. “For those people who don’t have a lot of time and are done with striking out on their own, we step in and do the work for them.”
Three Day Rule is a traditional matchmaking service with an unusual twist. The matchmakers interview and get to know their clients, learning about their past partners, childhoods, and aspirations. The matchmakers also take pictures of clients’ exes and run their faces through facial recognition software, to help detect trends in facial structure to help better pinpoint a match. Matchmakers then search for a match based on what they learned about their clients.
Although Three Day Rule has an online dating component, Goldstein said the in-person approach helps her and her matchmakers get down to what clients really want, not just what they think they need.
“Online, you can see if someone doesn’t have the perfect resume,” Goldstein said. “We provide almost the best friend advice, giving enough information so they go on the date but still want to know more about them.”
Whether or not love materializes from the plethora of dating sites, digital courtship is creating opportunities that the adorable lovebirds in “You’ve Got Mail” couldn’t have imagined.Kelly Gifford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.