The internet is like the best friend that you never had. It doesn't judge you when you purchase a bulk order of ice-cream online…at midnight…while watching a Zumba DVD.
Conveniently, it also doesn't judge you when in the very same instance you list your interests on an online dating site as "exercising and preparing healthy meals for friends". The internet has no qualms about lies so long as you have the Wi-Fi to broadcast them. In addition, the internet allows you to create an almost celebrity-like persona for yourself with painstakingly curated photos and statuses. Your Facebook profile can read like a fairytale loaded with holiday photos and humble brag statuses, while your Twitter feed can give the impression that you are a business dynamo on the speed-dial of every Fortune 500 CEO. It is entirely up to you what you share and most people prefer to present themselves in the best light, even if that means stretching the truth further than they can stretch their skinny jeans.
And therein lies the double-edged wonder of online dating. You can paint yourself in the best light, complete with flattering Instagram filters (i.e. lie) and you can find that ever-elusive Michael Ealy lookalike all while in your pyjamas. The problems arise when you don't think that everyone else will do exactly the same and "stretch the truth" all in the name of love. So when you do finally meet your "perfect" online man or woman you are shocked to discover that they actually look like an extra straight out of Lord of The Rings.
However, horror stories aside, recent studies have suggested that couples who meet online are more likely to end up happily married compared to those who meet in a more conventional way. The saying the "odds are good but the goods are odd" seems to ring true when it comes to online dating. Most online daters are aware of the risks, but reason "why not?" when seeking romance online. The overwhelming popularity of online dating is obvious; fill in a few details, tick a few boxes and provide your all important credit card details and you are promised to find your soul mate faster than you can update your Relationship Status to "married". You can find anything online, why not the love of your life?
Online dating seems to be a good idea for many reasons. Firstly, it is convenient and easy; the once heartbreaking and treacherous search for the love of your life is magically outsourced, usually for a fee. But what’s money without love, right? Online dating means that you no longer have to trawl trendy bars and cute cafes for your type; instead you can conveniently trawl dating sites for profiles that feature keywords such as: “CEO” and “former lingerie model”. Even better, niche-dating sites allow users to seek out their exact preferences, from religious-based sites such as the Muslim only, Muslimdating.co.za to the more quirky “cougar friendly” sites such as Sugarmummies.co.za. This means that you might be a lonely and loaded Muslim cougar in a small town, but with the help of online dating you're transformed into "HotMama56" with several suitors from across the country.
Online dating puts the user in the driving seat and this proactive approach can be empowering and enlightening. Listing your exact desires and filtering out all of the rest tells you as much about yourself as it does about who you'd like to cosy up with. It also means that you don't have to settle for Mister he's-okay or Miss my-mother-likes-her, because online dating sites present potentially millions of people looking for love just like you. However, it can also mean that in the pursuit of perfection (tall, dark, handsome and rich) you are likely to miss the person who could make you very happy despite their less-than-perfect appearance or unlikely interests. That’s the thing about love; the very things that you often believe to be off-putting or “not for you” might be the very quirks that drive you wild when chemistry and serendipity collide. Applying a checklist for the person that you want to wake up next to every morning might be fun and even useful, but ultimately there will always be a mysterious element of love, the “we just click” feeling that often cannot be found with a click of a mouse.
But then again, online dating also means that you can cut your losses without cutting your precious ego. No longer do you have to endure torturous dates with people who match the description “nice from far but far from nice”. Instead you can view a profile, perhaps engage in a bit of banter and then decide whether you’re willing to get a new hot-date-worthy outfit. And if a hot date is your only requirement, dating sites such as Beautifulpeople.com should be bookmarked on your laptop. The creators of the site don't endorse the age old fib that all that matters when it comes to finding your sweetheart is a sense of humour and a great personality... Rather, members have to earn their entry before they can even send a smiley emoticon by being voted "beautiful enough" to find love on the site. This is problematic for many reasons but truthfully it is reflective of the superficial society that we live in.
Another problematic aspect of online dating is that it works on the underlying and misleading premise that if you have the right profile and the right checklist you will find your perfect match. Yes of course, the possibility exists; however, finding love is as much about striving to be the perfect partner as finding the perfect partner. Like most things, with dating, whether it's online or in the real world, it only works if you do. It is unrealistic to expect the perfect partner when even the perfect person doesn't exist. But growing up on a steady diet of Hollywood-manufactured romance it is easy to overlook the fact that the person to make you very happy might actually have love-handles and earn a salary best described as "pocket money".
Life is short and the way to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak, is to share it with someone you love. Extramarital dating site, Ashleymadison.com agrees that life is short, so much so that its slogan is "Life is short. Have an affair". The clandestine site allows users to seek out a little something on the side all the while offering the supposed justification that basically you're going to die anyway. Their "carpe diem" logic seems to be popular as the site boasts 21 million member worldwide with South Africa being the only African country represented on the site.
So here's the bad news, you're probably not going to find the perfect partner online. In fact, you're probably not going to find them anywhere. But, perfect doesn't mean happy and online dating might make it easier to find the person that will make you very happy even though they're a bit short and hate long walks on the beach.