A few years ago, all of Natalie Connett’s friends started using Tinder, so she figured she’d give it a go. Connett, now a 25-year-old bartender at The Westin’s rooftop bar, installed the free dating app and began to “swipe around,” hoping to connect with a decent. eligible single guy.
Tinder allows men and women to quickly “match” with others based on just a profile photo and a short bio, with a geographic tag that lets you see how close by other users are. “It’s kind of creepy, but it’s cool,” says Connett. She weathered a storm of lame pickup lines (“It’s really piggish,” she says), but she eventually began messaging with a young man she thought was a sincere prospect. When Connett showed her roommate the guy’s profile, however, they both realized they had been chatting with the same guy. That was Connett’s last time on Tinder.
Dating websites and apps have changed romance, say singles we talked to. Young men looking for a long-term relationship complain that they can’t stand out in an online marketplace ruled by visceral first reactions, while young women complain about being harassed by deceptive jerks desperate for a quick hookup. Older single women, meanwhile, say available guys in their age range are usually looking for women two decades younger. It seems as if everyone single is using technology to find love, and everyone hates doing it.
Online dating has been around since Match.com launched in 1995. The company claims it has helped create 10 million relationships in America alone, and 1 million babies have been born out of relationships that started on the site. Grindr, the proto-Tinder that is the most popular app for young gays and lesbians, launched in 2009. It pioneered the use of location tracking to help people find others nearby in real time. Tinder launched in 2012. It claims to have facilitated more than 20 billion “matches,” leading to 1 million dates a week. Overall, one in three relationships now begins online, and the internet is now the top place for singles to connect.
Complaints about online dating may be universal, but the struggles that Sarasota users report are partly due to the city’s unique demographics. For every 10 guys with a bachelor’s degree under the age of 35 in Sarasota, there are 18 women. That makes the city the worst destination in the country for educated young women looking for a college graduate partner. Overall, there are 19,000 more women 21 and older in Sarasota County than men. A small pool of potential partners means you encounter the same faces on every dating site and app, and you often have to endure awkward real-life run-ins with people with whom you’ve been matched online.
Susan Kaska, a 53-year-old who asked that we use her middle and maiden names because she doesn’t want men on dating sites to identify her, went through a divorce a couple years ago. She tried Match.com; OurTime.com, a site intended for singles who are 50-plus; and Bumble, an app that is similar to Tinder but only allows women to initiate conversations. If you ask her who she’s looking for, the answer doesn’t sound unreasonable: a man around her age who is confident but not arrogant, successful in a career and not a couch potato. Still, she’s found it impossible to meet someone who meets those standards.
She pulls up her Bumble profile and swipes through the men who have asked to match with her. She’s seen all the tricks in the book. Blurry photo? That means it’s an old picture, and you can expect that the guy has put on 20 pounds since it was taken. A stray hand in the frame of the image? He was too lazy to crop out his ex. “It’s really discouraging,” says Kaska. “It’s very deceptive.”
Still, some in Sarasota have found lasting romance online. Randy and Jennifer Simms got married in 2005 after meeting on Match.com in 2003. They bonded over their CD collections and the TV shows they liked to watch. At that time, the number of young Sarasota singles using dating sites was small, which made it easier to find each other. Still, the fear of people lying about who they were was constant, says Jennifer, now 42. “A lot of people were not honest about what they wanted.”
After deleting Tinder from her phone, Connett gave Bumble a try. After two weeks of texting with a guy, they met up for drinks at O’Leary’s. “It was awful,” she says. “His goal was to hook up.”
But her romantic life improved. In late December, Connett told us she’s been in a serious relationship for several months with a man she met the old-fashioned way: They used to work together.