Sex is on our minds all the time. We can be happily single, desperately looking for love, part of a serious relationship, or trying to piece together the blur of our most recent hook up, but our intimate relationships with each other dictate a large part of our lives here on campus. Though sometimes it feels like the Tufts campus is brimming with happy couples, most students still find themselves entrenched within Tufts’ particular brand of hook-up culture. However, growing sick of the hook-up scene, more and more college students are turning to online dating as a legitimate alternative to the 123 basement.
Though online dating is not the most prevalent dating tactic on college campuses, the stigma of meeting a significant other online is fading into the antiquated recess of the pre-digital age. There are some websites that are growing more and more popular, particularly with the college-aged set. Users of OkCupid, a free dating site, tend to fall in the younger age brackets, according to Jenna Wortham of the New York Times.
The concept of actual dating, let alone online dating, may be a little intimidating, but for those looking for something more than a random hookup, online dating may be a practical and interesting solution.
“I think it is great that students at Tufts (or at other colleges) turn to online dating because it is really hard to date in college,” blogger DeeDee of Tufts Dateless Diva, a blog dedicated to helping girls navigate the waters of Tufts’ dating and hookup scene, said. “Hookups can always mean nothing, whereas dates have a connotation of a promise to something more. If someone doesn’t want a relationship, they are not going to take you on a date. And most people in college don’t want a relationship. I know that some people are very careful about what they do so that the person they are hooking up with never thinks they want more. A date is no exception.”
Some students, like Kevin McDonald, a senior who found someone he actually liked on OkCupid, begin online dating as a means of meeting people they can’t meet otherwise.
“I was in the closet in high school,” McDonald said. “So, it was sort of very impossible for me to meet guys. I went on the Internet, and found this one community directed to high school guys.”
Though McDonald took a break from online dating when he came to college, a conversation with a friend over spring break about the lack of men of quality in their lives inspired a return to the online dating pool.
OkCupid strives to be less a dating site and more a social network. The homepage features no cheesy pictures of happy couples, no proclamations of the site’s success rate and no cherubs singing or otherwise. This is no Match or eHarmony; the site isn’t geared towards marrage and instead aims to get its users to meet in person as soon as possible. Overall, it feels a bit like Facebook, down to the blue and white page design. The questions OkCupid uses to make matches are all user-generated, and you can look through other profiles and send messages to people you find interesting. There are also pages of personality quizzes ranging from “What’s Your Dating Style?” to “Who Would You Be in 1400 AD?”
“It’s easy to get sucked in,” McDonald said. “It’s like a personality test, except instead of results, you get people you might want to date. It’s very cool. I like that it’s very casual.”
As far as dating sites go, OkCupid is unique not only in its attempt to be more inviting to younger users, but also in their methods of matchmaking. The site was founded in 2004 by four Harvard mathematicians, making OkCupid’s formula just that – a mathematic formula.
When a user answers a question on the site’s “Improve Matches” page, the information the user gives includes his or her answer, how that user would like someone else to answer that question, and how important the user rates the question. A user’s answers are then compared with another user’s answers to get a “Match Percentage.” Then, it’s up to the user to message who they find appealing.
The website’s blog, OkTrends, is dedicated to publishing dating research based on the ways their 7 million users present themselves and interact with one another. Posts include “10 Charts About Sex,” “The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like,’” and “The Big Lies People Tell in Online Dating.”
While the blog has garnered OkCupid a lot of media attention, as well as a surge in users, according to the New York Times, some find the site’s findings little more than ridiculous.
For example, of the charts in that particular post, one compares college tuition with the number of times the students would like to have sex per week.
“Generally speaking, the more your parents are paying for your education, the more horny you are,” writes OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder. “If only Freud were still around to help us understand; instead we have psychology majors, those Adidas shower sandals and darkness.” At almost $42K, Tufts falls neatly on the 5.25 times per week line.
Other findings on OkTrends show that a girl’s most appealing profile picture features a smile and doing something interesting, such as playing guitar or hiking in the Alps. Guys, on the other hand, should not smile and instead show off their abs. Another finding, applying a bit of game theory, shows that the more men disagree about a woman’s attractiveness, the more messages she will receive, while a universal “cute” is more or less a death sentence.
Another alarming fact: OkCupid hides “good looking” people from “less attractive” users. While using OkCupid, you are ranked by OkCupid click data and algorithms. Those who rank in the top 50% will theoretically see more good-looking people in their searches than those who aren’t. “We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid’s more attractive users,” says an email the website sends to those in the top 50%, “Your new elite status comes with one important privilege, you will now see more attractive people in your match results.” This seems mildly unfair on both the winning and losing sides. Afterall, Zooey Deschanel married Ben Gibbard, didn’t she?
What it boils down to is that because we are publicly outing our private lives out there online, we are making them public in a certain sense. By letting those things that are so hard to categorize and put into words (that feeling when you know you like someone, falling for someone new, playing the field, falling in love, etc) online, we are allowing someone else to categorize the uncategorizable. Break them down, piece them apart, graph and chart them, using logic to decode the illogical.
Sam Yagan, co-founder and CEO of OkCupid, said in a New York Times article that part of the company’s open approach included shedding light on what their data revealed, flattering or no.
“We’re not saying what we’ve found is good or bad,” Yagan said. “But it’s a dating phenomenon, and we’re just trying to capture it.”
DeeDee, among others, fears that the methods OkTrends is using to get their data may be doing more harm than good.
“Throwing a bunch of stats about peoples’ demographics, sex interests and their sexual experience together does not equal a good study on the human sexual experience,” DeeDee said. “I really don’t think that the sexual experience can be distilled down to responses that you put on a questionnaire that you entered into a dating website.”
In college, most students aren’t looking for a soulmate, but in a social scene as small as Tufts’, perhaps there is merit in looking outside the hill, even if it is just for dinner and a movie.
“[Online dating] is a way of escaping the bubble,” McDonald said. “We are very hard working and many of us probably don’t have the time to invest in a relationship. I know people who’ve used OkCupid for hooking up and for dating and for everything in between. I think it’s a matter of finding the right person, and it’s not always easy to do that.”