According to a pair of researchers investigating online dating, the way we're looking for love and lust is connecting communities in completely novel ways, breaking down boundaries and possibly even making for stronger long-term relationships.
It wasn't all that long ago that most relationships would begin with a smile and a handshake, rather than a click or a swipe. That began to change in the mids, when websites like Match. Today there's a wide variety of sites and apps to suit your tastes, lifestyle, sexuality, and budget, from Tinder and Bumble for a quick swipe to like, to OKCupid and eHarmony for those who want their wit to show with their words.
Any stigma over online dating has slowly evaporated over the years. Not only has digital technology made dating easier for romantic hopefuls, the data collected by such sites has been a boon for researchers curious about human mating habits.
But it's clear that the digital revolution hasn't only been shaped by the human appetite for sex and companionship; it's changed the way we form relationships. Economists Josue Ortega from the University of Essex and Philipp Hergovich from the University of Vienna wanted to know just how the rise of digital match-making has affected the nature of society. Society can be modelled as a web of interlinked nodes, where individuals are the node and the link describes how well they know one another.
Most people are tightly connected with about a hundred nodes , including close friends and family, and loosely connected with others. We can trace pathways through relationships to all come to Kevin Bacon — or nearly any other figure on the planet — in surprisingly few steps. Even just a few decades ago most new connections were just a jump or two away inside an existing network.
A bar, a sporting team, church, or college would typically provide the perfect environment for those first hot sparks. For heterosexual couples, online dating has risen to second place — just below 'met through friends' — as the context for that first introduction.
Among homosexual couples, digital match-making has skyrocketed. As far as networks go, this is like building new highways between towns, rather than taking the local backroads. Just a few random new paths between different node villages can completely change how a network functions. Take interracial relationships, for example, long held to be a measure of the general social distances within a population.
Once illegal in many states, and long taboo, marriage between different ethnic groups in the US has slowly been on the rise since the midth century. The increase steepened at the turn of the 21st century in line with the rise in online dating, and then even further as swipe-to-match apps like Tinder went mainstream around it launched in late While there are almost certainly a variety of influences, the network changes resulting from online dating fits the observations perfectly.
Marriages online were also predicted by the model to be more robust and less likely to end in divorce, a hypothesis which is supported by a study conducted in The study is currently available online on the pre-publish website arxiv. It can often seem as if the online world reinforces our echo chambers and leads us to become more insular, especially when it comes to social media.
It's nice to have some evidence that the relationships we make online are also breaking down boundaries and making for stronger connections.