Swinging News Love
LOVE in the Time of No Time
the city is full of people we can't reach. We pass them on sidewalks, sit across from them in the subway and in restaurants; we glimpse their lighted windows from our own lighted windows late at night. That's in New York. In most of America, people float alongside one another on freeways as they drive between the city and the places where they live. To lock eyes with a stranger is to feel the gulf between proximity and familiarity and to wish -- at least sometimes, briefly, most of us -- that we could jump the hedges of our own narrow lives and find those people again when they drift out of sight.
In a sense, the explosion of online personals speaks to the fervency of that wish. In the first half of 2003, Americans spent $214.3 million on personals and dating sites -- almost triple what they spent in all of 2001. Online dating is the most lucrative form of legal paid online content. According to comScore Networks, which monitors consumer behavior on the Internet, 40 million Americans visited at least one online dating site in August -- 27 percent of all Internet users for that month. The sites they visited range from behemoths like Yahoo! Personals and Match.com, which boasts 12 million users worldwide, to smaller niche sites catering to ethnic and religious groups and to devotees of such things as pets, horoscopes and fitness. In between are midsize companies like Spring Street Networks, which pools the personals ads for some 200 publications nationwide, including Salon.com, the Onion and Boston Magazine, and sites like Emode and eHarmony, which specialize in personality tests and algorithms for matching people. A recent entrant, Friendster, conceived of as a site for dating and meeting new people through mutual friends, has become a raging fad among the younger set and now claims more than three million members.
The societal reasons for this fury of activity are so profound that it's almost surprising that online dating didn't take off sooner: Americans are marrying later and so are less likely to meet their spouses in high school or college. They spend much of their lives at work, but the rise in sexual harassment suits has made workplace relationships tricky at best. Among a more secular and mobile population, social institutions like churches and clubs have faded in importance. That often leaves little more than the ''bar scene'' as a source of potential mates. (Many single people I spoke to saw this as their only option, aside from online dating.)
Improved technology -- namely, the proliferation of broadband and the abrupt ubiquity of digital cameras -- partly explains online dating's surge in popularity. More critical still is the fact that the first generation of kids to come of age on the Internet are now young adults, still mostly single, and for them, using the Web to find what they need is as natural as using a lung to suck in air. They get jobs and apartments and plane tickets online -- why not dates?
Still, a fair number of people continue to feel a stigma about dating online, ranging from the waning belief that it's a dangerous refuge for the desperate and unsavory to the milder but still unappealing notion that it's a public bazaar for the sort of people who thrive on selling themselves. The shopping metaphor is apt; online dating involves browsing and choosing among a seemingly infinite array of possible mates. But those who see a transactional approach to coupling as something new and unseemly would do well to pick up a novel by Jane Austen, where characters are introduced alongside their incomes. There is nothing new about the idea of marriage as a business transaction. Serendipitous love is what's new, love borne of chance, love like what engulfed my grandparents after my grandfather, then a resident physician at a Chicago hospital emergency room, happened to remove my grandmother's appendix. Serendipitous love as a romantic ideal is a paean to cities and their dislocations, the unlikely collisions that result from thousands of strangers with discrete histories overlapping briefly in time and space. And online dating is not the opposite of this approach to love, but its radical extension; if cities erase people's histories and cram them together in space, online dating sites erase both cities and space, gathering people instead under the virtual rubric of a brand.
Full credit for this Wife Swapping news article goes to: New York Times
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