For most college students, opportunities to meet potential significant others are presented on Friday nights at the bars, in the classroom or through the suggestion of a mutual friend.
But for students like Engineering senior Rick, who wishes to remain anonymous, it takes just a few clicks of his mouse from the comfort of his room to access thousands of profiles on Datemyschool.com, an online dating website for college students launched by two Columbia University students last year.
Living in a generation defined by dependence on the Internet and an obsession with Facebook and Twitter, it seems natural that more and more people log on to Match.com, OkCupid.com and eHarmony.com to search for their soul mates.
Online dating, despite its unconventional methods, can be appealing for busy students like LSA senior Lauren Andrzejewski, the pressures of classes and extracurricular activities leave little time for a romantic life.
“I don’t even have time to go out, and when I do go out, I’m usually just with my friends and not really interested in meeting anyone new,” Andrzejewski said.
She noted the college scene isn’t exactly conducive to finding a significant other.
“Everyone is just so busy and has their own interests and so concerned about their future,” Andrzejewski said. “I think that a lot of people just aren’t even looking for relationships.”
Rick found out about Date My School when he happened to pick up a flyer in the basement of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. He is one of the 800 University students with profiles on the website. After his roommate created a profile for Rick as a joke, he has been an active user for about a month and enjoys going on the site despite the stigma associated with Internet dating.
Rick added that Date My School differs from other sites like Match.com and eHarmony, which are geared more toward adults.
“I guess there’s kind of this camaraderie,” Rick said. “Everybody on the site knows that there’s this stigma with online dating. Yeah, there are girls on there that are trying to find their future husband, but at the same time, there’s an understanding of what’s really going on.”
Though he hasn’t gone on any dates through the site, Rick has talked to plenty of girls with the help of Date My School. Having a profile, he said, helps to facilitate conversation and is a handy tool that isn’t available when meeting someone in real life.
“It’s definitely different,” he said. “It’s difficult to pick up what you want to say to a person, but it’s easier at the same time because you can view their profile and see what they like.”
Humberto, a senior at the University who wishes to remain anonymous, has had a profile on Date My School for more than a year and also frequents OkCupid, a dating website that suggests matches for the members based on their answers to quizzes.
For Humberto, online dating allows him to engage in the dating scene while juggling his busy schedule. He said he feels this method is more efficient since everyone on the site is presumably looking for the same thing — a relationship.
“If you’re looking for somebody to date and you go to a bar, you don’t know if the other person is there for that (or) if they’re there just to have fun, and you might offend somebody if you ask,” Humberto said. “At least in this environment, everyone’s there because they want a relationship or some sort of thing.”
With online dating, there’s an inevitable fear that the person on the other side of the computer screen might not be the same person described in his or her profile. In addition, online daters are often classified as people who have failed romantically in the real world.
For this reason, Humberto and Rick preferred not to reveal their real names. Humberto requested that his school be unidentified.
For Rick, watching his grandfather bring home questionable women with the help of Match.com made him apprehensive about joining the online dating community.
“He has tons of fun. He brings home girls all the time at any time of the year. By and large, they’re nice enough, but they’re all weird in some shape or form,” Rick said. “So it’s kind of shaped my experience, kind of not to expect so much.”
To some extent, the fears many people have are valid.
Nicole Ellison, an associate professor in the department of telecommunication, information studies and media at Michigan State University, studied the distinction between online and offline personas by interviewing participants and examining their profiles.
Ellison found that people generally don’t consider the online dating profile as a true representation of their offline identity and are more creative with their profiles.
“In some cases, the profile was actually a manifestation of the kind of person they wanted to be, or they expected to be in the future or they had been in the past,” Ellison said.
Despite this, gross misrepresentations on profiles — which fuel the fear that a 20-year-old person will actually turn out to be a 50-year-old criminal — are not as common. Though worries like this have become one of the reasons why online dating has attracted such a social stigma, findings from another study conducted by Ellison revealed that extreme exaggerations on profiles are rare.
In a study that compared the participants’ accurate height, weight and age to how they described themselves in their profiles, Ellison found many online daters embellished on one of the three characteristics. However, the inconsistencies were so small that they would not be noticeable in real life.
“On average, the discrepancies were quite small and probably not that different from the kind of impression management we do offline,” Ellison said. “So anytime you wake up and put on a little makeup or wear high heels — these are all ways we show our offline impressions as well.”
Ellison has found that society’s disapproval of online dating has diminished since she first started studying the phenomenon.
“I think so many of us are so used to doing everything online — buying plane tickets and booking a flight, getting information,” Ellison said. “It’s a very natural extension of that to look at the way in which the process of dating people can be made more efficient by doing it online.”
Humberto also felt that online dating has become less stigmatized simply due to advances in technology and expansive use of the Internet. He compared the use of the Internet for meeting potential matches as the same as the invention of the telephone, which allowed people to communicate without having to see each other face-to-face.
“While it’s a great thing to actually go see people, there’s a lot of times where you’ll never meet somebody and you could on the Internet,” Humberto explained.
Despite the diminishing stigma, many University students still aren’t comfortable with taking their romantic pursuits online.
According to LSA freshman Daniel Schindler, a marketing intern for Date My School, there are about 800 students from the University who have profiles on the site and about 42,000 students with profiles across the country. Of the 50,000 students who attend the University, 800 profiles is a miniscule number. Both Rick and Humberto observed that not many people on campus use online dating websites.
“There are a lot of profiles on here, but none of my friends are on it, and while I’ve been perusing profiles, I haven’t seen any profiles of any person I’ve ever met in person,” Rick said.
Rick added that while he plans to keep his profile active, he would never arrange to meet up with someone he met on the Internet.
“Especially in today’s day and age, you can never be too safe with who you meet on the Internet,” Rick said. “The kind of girls that would go out with a guy that she just met online — not knowing what he’s all about and without really digging in and doing some deeper research — that would scare me if I was a girl.”
Columbia University Balazs Alexa co-founded Date My School with classmate Jean Meyer in November 2010 when a female friend in the Nursing School at Columbia complained that she didn’t meet many men in her primarily female field of education.
Alexa and Meyer observed that there wasn’t much interaction between the different schools on Columbia’s campus and wanted to find a way to encourage inter-school dating.
Alexa said the website quickly took off at Columbia and nearby universities and is now accountable for more than 50 percent of the dates at both Columbia and New York University.
Alexa said he believes the website has seen success in its first year because Date My School offers more security options for the user.
“If you go on (other) social networking sites or dating sites, it’s not safe at all … Date My School is unmatched in the privacy and safety that we have. And that creates, basically, a space of vibrant community … that people are free to let loose and let their safeguards down,” he said.
Andrzejewski had a brief fling with online dating during spring term, when she and her roommate decided to make a profile for fun on eHarmony after seeing a commercial on TV. The website suggested some compatible matches for her, and she considered meeting up with some of the guys who seemed decent, including a promising 26-year-old match who worked for Google.
But she didn’t pursue any of her matches.
“I was afraid that it would be awkward and that just because I hadn’t known the person, I’d end up going there and they’d be really weird and I’d have no way to get out of it,” Andrzejewski said.
Andrzejewski also had only a free account on eHarmony and therefore couldn’t see any pictures of her matches, which prevented her from going on actual dates due to the fear that they could be lying about their age.
Ellison reasoned that online dating hasn’t become as widespread on college campuses because of the myriad of opportunities that college life presents for students.
“My sense is that there may be more of a stigma for college students, just because college students have so many opportunities to interact with and meet new people that they’re not really going to benefit as much because they have all these other avenues,” Ellison said.
Ellison added that the participants she and her colleagues spoke with in her study were people who did not have access to the same social life that students do. For instance, a woman who worked in the fashion industry and consequently met only gay men or a rural resident with few nightlife opportunities might find online dating more beneficial due to their lifestyles.
Andrzejewski no longer uses the dating website and said she feels that real-life interactions provide more indication of whether or not there is an attraction between two people.
“Usually, when you meet someone out at the bar or something, you can tell right away whether or not you hit it off with them,” Andrzejewski said. “For me, it’s usually within the first five minutes I can tell whether or not I want to give the guy my number.”
— Deputy Statement Editor Devon Thorsby contributed to this report