Editor’s note: Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
The bar is crowded and far away from home, but Tiffany M., 32 at the time, has hope that the date she is about to endure might go well. She set up this date through the app JSwipe, an online dating platform she was using for a little while. When her date arrives and the two start talking, Tiffany realizes she isn’t feeling a connection. This feeling is only further compounded by the fact that, 30 minutes into the date, he breaks some shocking news that Tiffany knew for sure had not been in his profile—he announces that he is a divorcee ́ with two teenage children.
“I felt so misled because I would not have gone out with someone who had two kids and wasn’t forthcoming about it,” Tiffany said. “I was polite about it but I went home and was so annoyed that I left work early and schlepped all the way there.”
Online dating is a risk many people take in the hopes of finding that special someone; it’s an appealing new way for people to meet each other. Younger people are entering the online dating world more commonly than they used to——between 2013 and 2016, the number of American adults ages 18-24 on these sites tripled, according to the Pew Research Center. And despite some negative experiences like Tiffany’s, most people (80%) who have used online dating agree that it’s a good way to meet people.
Whether or not you have personally tried online dating, you probably can’t help but hear from friends and family about their experiences using one or many of the different Jewish dating apps such as JSwipe, JDate or YUConnects. There are also other apps, such as Coffee Meets Bagel, that let people filter potential matches based on religion.
Tiffany’s story has a happy ending. After about five years of trial and error and some long-distance dating, Tiffany, now 35, finally found a successful match. She and her husband, who she met via JSwipe while he was visiting New York from Panama, have been married for eight months.
JSwipe allows users to swipe right when they like the look of someone’s profile, or swipe left if they’re not interested. Most apps like these function based on location, and users can change their radius to increase or decrease the number of people that show up in their feed. Some people on the app are looking for serious relationships while others are looking for more casual dates that don’t necessarily end in marriage.
JDate, which is known as a more formal version of JSwipe, is a website (there is also an app) where people build their profiles and message potential matches. Many people who have used JDate find that most people on the site are looking to get married.
YUConnects offers a slightly different user experience. Matchmakers set up potential matches based on people’s profiles and the man has to call the woman he is matched with before the match expires, usually within three days.
Most sites are free to use, while others require payments to use basic or more advanced features.
With all of these profiles at their fingertips, some people find the online dating experience both liberating and overwhelming.
“Online dating enables us to connect in ways that are previously unprecedented,” said Michelle Drouin, a psychologist and professor at Indiana University. She conducts research surrounding the psychological effects of social media and communications technology.
There is a certain novel appeal to online dating, Drouin explained. As recently as about 30 years ago, forming a relationship with someone you hadn’t met was unheard of——unless you had a pen pal you managed to keep in touch with. Online dating gives people a chance to connect with each other on a broader scale——people they otherwise might never have gotten to know. Drouin’s research has also found that people who use online dating apps rate their experience very highly in terms of developing relationships.
But there are some paradoxical downsides to online dating that offer less chance at a connection than some people might hope.
“It could also be a stumbling block to forming real romantic connections,” Drouin said. “It brings people together but also creates this distance that doesn’t allow for real organic closeness.”
One big downside is the experience of choice that people face while using these sites. While having a few options gives people a sense of independence and control, having too many to choose from can leave people feeling doubtful and overwhelmed.
“People are inundated with choices,” Drouin said. “They have the knowledge that there are other fish in the sea and all they have to do is look on the app and see them right there.”
This might make people feel less likely to commit to one match, if they know there are other, potentially better, options. Gina, 35, dealt with this problem during her four years of online dating before she finally matched with her now-husband.
“Because there are so many options you might say, ‘Why stop here if I can just go back to my phone and swipe, swipe, swipe,’” she said. “ In the past you would meet someone at school, or through a friend and it felt more like kismet. But now you have this false sense of unlimited options.”
People also still have trouble finding successful matches either because of inherent differences between the two individuals or because one person wants something more serious than the other.
People like Gail, 22, who recently graduated college and has found a steady job, find it hard to make successful matches with young men her age. She often comes across profiles where guys put silly jokes with their photo, such as, “My mom says I’m five stars,” which gives Gail the impression that they aren’t looking for a serious relationship.
“It’s cute, but we’re at the age where we’re seriously thinking about our futures,” Gail said.” I want to know who you are, what you do for work. I don’t have time to read someone’s fake reviews about what their mom thinks of them.”
Once people find someone they match with, getting to know them online can be hard because of how easy it is to create a persona behind the screen, explained Liesel Sharabi, an assistant professor of interpersonal communications at West Virginia University. Sharabi’s research includes how communication technology influences romantic relationships. Oftentimes, people might not realize that the connection they feel with the person online isn’t there when they meet them for a date.
“While having an online profile gives you a lot more control over how you present yourself, people have to remember that it has to be an accurate representation of who they are in person,” Sharabi said. “Sometimes people idealize each other online and they’re disappointed when they meet and people don’t live up to those expectations.”
In order to avoid an awkward first date, some women, such as Tiffany and Chantelle, both 29, always speak to their matches on the phone first before agreeing to meet them in person. Some dating apps also allow people to see if they have any mutual Facebook friends with their matches, and they’ll vet the person by asking those friends about them as well.
“It was an easy way to filter out who could keep their word——I would know on the phone whether or not I could handle 60 minutes on a date with them,” Chantelle said. “If he said, ‘I’ll call you Tuesday night’ and didn’t call, it’d be over before it started.”
Her phone calls often led to some interesting conversations.
“There were some guys who were so quiet, but there was this one guy who spoke nonstop for an hour——he did not come up for air.” she said. “Once I realized he wasn’t going to stop, I put him on speaker and started cleaning my room. At one point I just had to jump in and tell him that I had to go.”
People also put themselves at risk of rejection, which is experienced differently online than in person.
Online dating makes rejection easier——all you have to do is hang up the phone or decline via text message, instead of getting stuck on an uncomfortable date where you’re just counting down the seconds until you get to go home. This helps take a lot of the pressure off for people regardless of what side of the rejection they’re on.
Charlie, 25, who is looking for a serious relationship, finds it harder to navigate around the social awkwardness that accompanies asking someone out on a date in person, where the rejection can seem more blunt and personal.
But the rejection doesn’t feel as offensive online.
“You know the people are on these apps are looking to date, so you know they’re single,” he said. “It cuts to the chase. But if you’re not interested you can just swipe left or unmatch.”
In his experience, being unmatched online is a lot less embarrassing than being rejected in person, but the impersonal communication can also poke holes in people’s vulnerabilities.
It’s easier for people to be”ghosted” online, which means they are left hanging without a response from a potential match——it’s almost the equivalent of being stood up on a date in person.
In Gail’s experience using YUConnects, she finds she’s left waiting for her match to reach out to her, and tries not to take it personally when they don’t.
Sometimes, instead of telling the matchmaker they don’t like the match, or instead of accepting the match, “they (the men) will just let the match time out (during the three-day period they have to respond),” Gail said. “I’ll try to have a conversation with the matchmaker about why the match didn’t work out.”
Experts like Sharabi are looking to do more research on how online rejection impacts people’s experiences.
“It softens the rejection,” Sharabi said, “but it also means you’re getting rejected way more often than you normally would—could be as often as 50 times a day.”
Despite the risks that come with online dating, there are people, like Gina, Chantelle and Tiffany, who come out of the process successful. They, and the research experts, have some advice to share with those who are still hopeful about finding their match.
Gina and Tiffany always spoke to their matches over the phone before meeting in person, reached out to mutual friends and tried not to judge people based on their profile photos. This way, they were prepared for their date with an open mind and a sense of safety——and if they didn’t feel safe going on a date, they wouldn’t hesitate to bring a friend along, just like when Tiffany brought her friend on her date with her now-husband.
Gina also advises that people watch out for those who are too quick to use superlative language in their messages.
“People can be too complementary and it comes off as very fake,” she said. “They’ll say things like, ‘You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve spoken to.’ They’re speaking in absolutes and it’s disingenuous.”
Despite the risks, Tiffany was happy to have jumped on the online dating wagon and recommends that others try it out, too.
“There used to be a stigma around online dating,” Tiffany said. “But I know a lot of success stories and I’ve been to a number of weddings of people who have met on JSwipe and other Jewish dating apps. It’s another avenue through which to meet people, and I think it’s a great opportunity.”
By Elizabeth Zakaim