What Makes Us Click: How Online Dating Shapes Our Relationships As Americans try new ways to connect, the norms of dating are evolving. So how has online dating changed the connections we make?
NPR logo

What Makes Us Click: How Online Dating Shapes Our Relationships

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/572259115/575028145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What Makes Us Click: How Online Dating Shapes Our Relationships

What Makes Us Click: How Online Dating Shapes Our Relationships

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/572259115/575028145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. I don't know if you know this, but peak online dating season is here. Match.com says now through Valentine's Day is the busiest time of the year for dating apps and sites. So we're taking this month to find out how technology affects the way we find and think about love. Here's our co-host David Greene.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. So we are calling our online dating series What Makes Us Click. Get it? We kicked it off in San Francisco. We just asked people a simple question, do you like online dating?

(SOUNDBITE OF TROLLEY BELL CLANGING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No. I don't like it. (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I guess nobody really likes using dating apps. It's kind of like, don't look at my phone. You know? (Laughter) Like...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I just prefer, like, meeting people face to face. You know what I mean? It's more real that way.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's something that's fun, and it's kind of a social experiment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It's way different to - say, if you see a girl at a bar and you go up and introduce yourself, whereas Tinder's much more - shallow's the word I'm looking for.

GREENE: So a lot of mixed feelings there, as you heard. But, actually, most Americans, 60 percent, say online dating is a good way to meet people. And that's actually a 15 percent increase from a decade earlier, according to the most recent numbers from the Pew Research Center. So what does all of this swiping left and right mean for our psyches, for society, for the culture of romance? Well, we sat down with two people who spend plenty of time thinking about this. Skyler Wang is a Ph.D. candidate who studies the sociology of online dating at the University of California, Berkeley. And Megan Murray works for the dating app Zoosk. And I started out by asking them, what's different about dating today?

MEGAN MURRAY: I feel like dating's always been hard and it's going to continue to be hard, but the way people meet is different, and that has to affect the relationships we form. I've found people don't approach each other as much in person when you go out to bars.

SKYLER WANG: Yeah. And I think it's so fascinating that, like, you know, friends and I would go out, and before hitting the clubs, you know, they would go on Tinder, right? And I was with friends who, you know, inside these gay bars, they would turn on Grindr and find someone to dance with.

GREENE: This has turned everything on its head because it used to be it was sort of, like, taboo and strange to go online and find someone, and now it's a little strange to meet someone in person unless you've connected with them online. I mean, is that OK?

MURRAY: I don't think it's, like, good or bad. It's just different. But I think a lot of times you see people go on these interspace dating sites, or, dating sites that focus more on interest. So I think a lot of the apps are kind of moving towards that.

GREENE: You're almost Googling, like, I want a person interested in "Star Wars" and guacamole.

MURRAY: Yeah.

WANG: So there's a really nice metaphor. It's called relationshopping. So basically people are treating dating like it's shopping. So, like, as if you're trying to look for the next dress or the next handbag or whatever, and you're browsing.

GREENE: Do you ever feel like you're a commodity when you're doing online dating, or feel objectified?

MURRAY: Yeah, kind of. And I think because I have, like, data about my own profile sometimes (laughter) so I can tell if I, like - I have a picture of myself with glasses and books in the background, but the picture of me holding a beer does better. And also, like, you're doing it too. Like, there is literally a giant red X on someone. And there is something, like, a little gross about saying, like, no, I do not want this person in my life.

GREENE: Well, I'm just so fascinated because both of you share this thing in common that you're both using online dating but also writing about it, thinking about it, which has to shape the experience personally. Didn't you have Excel spreadsheets of dates and people and...

WANG: Yeah. (Laughter).

GREENE: Not that that's a bad thing.

WANG: Yeah. So people use lists nowadays to basically get a better sense of who they're attracted to and to really put a very quantitative twist to something that did not used to be like that. I think it's just, it's, you know, why do we wear Fitbits? Like, why are we tracking how many calories that we're eating? It's really new cultural phenomenon, and I think it has basically encroached onto our dating lives, as well.

GREENE: And, Megan, just listening to that, like, if someone is thinking, wow, technology offers a lot of good things - like, a lot of opportunities to keep track of myself and, you know, find people, but I also don't want to lose the magic of romance and meeting people. Like, what is your advice on the balance?

MURRAY: Yeah, I do think the romance and the magic sneaks in there no matter what. Like, if you really care about someone and you meet them, there's going to be these indefinable moments or something that you realize, or maybe you find out you're both keeping spreadsheets. You know? Like, there's always going to be some sweet, little thing that comes through.

GREENE: It feels like there's something about dating that it's like it's become something crazy and new and data-driven and you can use all of these new toys, but that there's something central to romance and the magic that everyone wants to make sure to hold onto.

WANG: Yeah. And I think that's what a lot of companies are saying - we're not an online dating service, we're more of an introductory service. The dating doesn't happen online. The dating happens in person. So in a way, they're trying to preserve that magic, right? So they're really framing their services as more of a way to just bridge connections, and then you go out into the world and do the real dating.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLY RAE JEPSEN'S "CALL ME MAYBE")

GREENE: That was Megan Murray, who works at the dating app Zoosk, and also Skyler Wang, who studies sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. And we should tell you Skyler gave us the title of this series, What Makes Us Click. You can find more of our stories online and on the radio all this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLY RAE JEPSEN'S "CALL ME MAYBE")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.