On the Stigmatization of Online Dating and Why It Should Stop

Online dating should not just be for those lacking validation, those not considered attractive by society -- it can and should be for everyone.
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Young woman at home working on laptop
Young woman at home working on laptop

A few months ago, I was at a bar getting drinks with some new friends, and I divulged to them that since the previous summer, I'd been on 10+ OkCupid dates.

They were floored -- they hadn't heard of anyone doing online dating that intensely, and none of them had any interest in doing it themselves.

A few people vocalized their approval and asked some follow-up questions; most people stayed silent, avoiding making eye contact with me and looking uncomfortable. But I'll never forget one girl's comment. As I'm reflecting on it now, it still feels unsettling to me. I can still feel the knot in my stomach every time I stop and think about it. She said, "It's not that I'm against online dating -- I don't have a problem with you doing it. I just feel like you should meet someone organically!"

In a few sentences, she had knocked me down. There I was, feeling so proud of my boldness and initiative, and her comment had left me momentarily speechless.

I'll spare you the messy dialogue that followed in which, holding back tears, I unsuccessfully defended myself. Instead, I'll share my reflections on the particular situation and on the greater issues it exposed for me.

I'm not going to lie -- I hold a LOT of privileges. I'm white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and come from an upper middle-class family.

However, I'm not thin. I'm not thin, I'm not tall, I don't have straight hair, I'm not blonde, I have had recurrent acne since middle school, I'm not submissive, I'm not docile. And I am BOLD as hell.

While I hold immense privilege, the characteristics I listed above are not privileged characteristics, especially if possessed by a woman. For me, the one characteristic about myself that I wish I could change is my body's size. I have been overweight for as long as I can remember. I work out usually 4-5 times a week and try to eat properly, but I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which means a lot of things. Right now it means that even if I try extremely hard to lose weight, I can hardly lose any.

What does it mean, especially as a woman, to walk through your life each day essentially never feeling validated by those you are attracted to?

When I vocalize this feeling to my friends, most say, "But that's not true! You are beautiful and amazing. Some day you will find potential partners who are attracted to you."

I appreciate my peers' support, but the majority of those individuals who say this are not the individuals that do online dating. They are approached by potential partners regularly in their daily lives. I'm not blaming them, but I want to call out that love usually finds them.

The few that say, "I know, it sucks so much," are often the ones who experience something similar to what I experience.

I write about online dating primarily to reach out to those women -- those women who are not always deemed societally attractive but are kickass, bold, incredible women.

I've hypothesized that because I am not thin and because I am bold, loud, and potentially intimidating, men almost never approach me. The girl who told me that she wants to meet someone "organically" does not have this problem. She is thin, has clear skin, and straight hair. (I actually love my curly hair by the way.)

She'll probably get the "organic" man of her dreams.

But I might not. However, I am not just sitting around waiting. This summer, I realized how tired I had become of feeling sorry for myself.

Joining the crazy world of OkCupid has been scary, uncomfortable, and sometimes unpleasant at times, but it has allowed me to take control of my romantic life. I've talked to so many women who say that online dating has revolutionized their romantic experiences.

For women who are interested in men, gender norms dictate that men should be asking us out, that they should be in control of our romantic destiny.

I think that regardless of gender, asking someone out is something that takes courage. I know that every time I sent an email to ask someone out prior to my online dating life, I was overwhelmed with nervousness. And I have never explicitly asked someone out in person. That takes guts, and even I have not dared to be that bold.

Yet with online dating, the stakes are lower. For me, it feels very low risk to send bold and daring messages out to men in the OkCupid universe. But even though it's low risk, I'd argue that it is a way that I am challenging societal gender norms that say that as a woman, I should be waiting around for some man to sweep me off my feet.

In this small way, online dating can be radical. Through what other medium is it so easy for a woman to ask a man out without often being perceived as too assertive, as too bold? I can't think of any.

OkCupid has allowed me to post photos of myself where I think I look good -- where I don't look overweight. If you meet me in person, you may think, who is that short stocky girl with poofy hair? But if you look at my pictures on my online dating profile, you're probably not going to think that. I'm not saying that we should all go obscuring how we really look (or that being overweight means you are not attractive -- this is how I experience it personally), which the online dating world has termed "catfishing," but I think there is something to online dating's ability to create unexpectedly successful relationships based on this crazy thing called the internet.

Of course, looks are some of the first characteristics that people judge each other's profiles for. There are certain things you can't hide. But OkCupid has this funny way of bringing people together who may not have found each other attractive if they saw each other out on the street.

Online dating should not just be for those lacking validation, those not considered attractive by society -- it can and should be for everyone.

And how cool is it that I get to meet so many people that I would have probably never known existed if not for meeting them on the Internet? OkCupid is simply a vessel for which to connect people -- it isn't very different from meeting someone at a bar, for example. Just because you meet someone in person doesn't mean it is going to be successful, no matter how "organically" it happens.

And what does organic mean anyway? A man made of fresh vegetables? I know I don't want that.

My friend always jokes that if an OkCupid date doesn't work out, I'll just order another one online. She's right, and that is pretty awesome.

So many people are doing online dating these days. Everyone is talking about how funny it is, but not as many people are talking about how it has revolutionized the way humans find romantic connection.

The fact is, whether we admit it or not, society at large still privileges meeting someone in person over meeting someone online. I've internalized this idea myself. The stigma still exists, no matter how less it is now than when online dating first emerged. So many of us do online dating, but so many of us are still embarrassed by it, even when there are so many dating apps out there. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Think I'm wrong? Think there is no stigma? I have a friend who I privately know met her boyfriend on Jdate -- but she doesn't tell most people that. I know several other couples who have met on online who keep that fact a secret.

Think about it -- if you get engaged to someone you met on OkCupid, how likely it is that you are going to tell a random stranger the true story of how you met? Probably not super likely. Though I wish it didn't, it even sounds embarrassing to me!

If I can first convince myself to further stop the stigma, maybe can I convince others to do the same.

May we all find romance (if we want it) through whatever medium we desire, free of society's judgement.

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