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In today’s digital world, many singles turn to online dating apps to streamline the process of finding love.

Online dating has been around almost since the dawn of the internet—Kiss.com was the first modern dating website launched in 1994, followed by Match.com in 1995. However, a lot has changed in the realm of digital romance since Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan met in an “over-30s” chatroom in “You’ve Got Mail.”

First, the number of people who use or have tried online dating services has skyrocketed. Back in 2008, Pew Research Center cited this figure as just 3% of U.S. adults. A decade later, Statista reported that nearly half (46%) of U.S. adults had used a dating website or app, with 19% actively using one at the time of the survey.  

Attitudes toward online dating have changed dramatically, too: Another Pew survey found that the number of Americans who believe online dating is a good way to meet people jumped from 44% in 2005 to nearly 60% in 2015.   

Online dating vs. traditional dating

For the busy individual with multiple personal and professional obligations, online dating is an ideal way to maximize the number of potential romantic partners they meet, with less time and effort than “traditional” dating usually requires.

“My time is very valuable to me, and I often dreaded going on dates because it felt like I had to sacrifice other things I wanted to do,” said Jessica, age 31. She occasionally used online dating sites and apps from the time she graduated college until she met her current partner on Bumble in 2016.

With online dating, it’s a lot easier to vet people before you make the time commitment to meet in person. You can view profiles and chat with someone via the app’s messaging platform after you match. Within minutes, you’ll probably get a good idea of whether you want to continue getting to know someone.

Communicating through an app before scheduling a date can also give you a bit more peace of mind about the person you intend to meet.

“I don’t expect to message forever before meeting, but I do need to message a little bit in order to feel safe meeting someone in person,” said Sarah, age 30, who has occasionally used online dating apps for the past three years.

Popular dating apps

While Tinder has become synonymous with dating apps, it’s far from the only option available. Some newer, popular apps besides Tinder include Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel and Hinge.

More established online dating options include Match.com, eHarmony, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish. Other apps, such as Her and Scruff, are geared specifically toward the LGBTQ community.

Pros of online dating

Online dating is a preferred matchmaking method for singles who don’t have many opportunities to meet eligible partners in their everyday lives. For Jessica, dating apps made it easier to meet people while she was juggling a full-time job, a side business, a blog and another job teaching yoga classes.

“I was always at work, working from home on my blog or at the yoga studio, which was predominantly female,” Jessica said. “I was never much for the bar scene, so I truly didn’t know where [else] to meet men.”

Dating apps are also a great way to meet people you otherwise may not have had the opportunity to connect with. When Jessica matched with her now-partner on Bumble, she was shocked to learn that the two had attended rival high schools.

“We grew up down the road from one another, yet had never met,” she said. “Thanks to Bumble, we had the opportunity to meet, connect and fall in love.”

After trying numerous other dating apps, Jessica said she liked Bumble the best because only women can send the first message after they match with someone.

“On Bumble, I was in control of how many conversations I wanted to start,” she explained. “Online dating can be a little scary, so I liked that I was in the driver’s seat.”

When she matched with her current partner, Jessica said she sent him “the most boring message of all time: ‘Hey, [name].'” It worked, though, and after just one day of talking through the app, the two began texting and making plans for their first date. Three years, many dates and one apartment lease later, Jessica and her partner are discussing marriage and looking at engagement rings.

“I’m beyond excited for what the future holds,” she added.

So why else do people love online dating? It provides a way to:

  • Access a wider variety of people.
  • Quickly gauge attraction and common interests.
  • Vet and research people before meeting in person.
  • Check profiles anywhere and at any time.
  • Easily shut down a conversation and walk away if you’re not interested.
  • Meet new friends, even if you’re not compatible as partners.

Cons of online dating

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to online dating that you might not experience if you struck up a conversation with a stranger in a bar. Sarah has had her fair share of unpleasant dating app experiences, many of which stem from bad online conversations.

“The most challenging thing about trying to meet someone through online dating apps is probably how hard it is to strike up a decent conversation online,” she said. “The nature of how these apps work means that most people are talking to so many people at one time, so people do not feel incentivized to put work into any one person or conversation.”

 A match could also send inappropriate, sexually charged messages and photos upon matching or say hurtful things. 

“People will match me just to make fun of my politics, to call me fat or ugly, or to make sexual remarks related to any of those things,” Sarah said. 

While Sarah said she has gone on some very pleasant dates with people she’s met through dating apps, there’s a lot more disappointment involved. However, she reminds other dating app users not to take it personally.

“Almost all of the horrible behavior people exhibit online—whether it is horrific messages or ghosting or lying or whatever else—it is almost always a reflection on that person and almost never a reflection on you,” Sarah said.

There are downsides to online dating, as you might encounter:

  • An overabundance of choices.
  • People who lie on their profiles or try to scam you.
  • A mismatch between online conversations and real-life chemistry.
  • People who unexpectedly ghost after great conversations and dates.
  • Online stalking and harassment.

Is online dating safe?

You’ve likely heard tragic stories that have stemmed from online dating app use— people who are scammed out of their hard-earned cash with a catfishing scheme; convinced to send nude or risqué photographs, only to be blackmailed by their dating partner (also known as “sextortion”); or people who are abducted, assaulted or even killed by a “date” they met online.

Unfortunately, these things do happen—and it’s true that online dating can facilitate connections with malicious individuals. But it’s important to remember that dating apps are just a modern way to do what humans have been doing for thousands of years: meeting and connecting with each other. Whether you meet a person in real life or online, there’s still the possibility that they have ulterior motives or ill intentions.

That being said, there are a few safety precautions you can take to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a con artist or scammer on a dating site. First and foremost, you should always do a little more research on your date before you meet up in person. Check out their social media profiles or even run a people search on them to see if you can verify some of the details they’ve shared with you.

You should also never give away sensitive personal information like your Social Security number or bank account number to someone you’ve met on a dating app. If someone asks you for this information or requests a large sum of money to “help them out of a tough spot,” it is almost certainly a romance scam. According to the most recent FBI data, nearly 15,000 complaints reported to its Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2016 were classified as romance scams, with total associated losses exceeding $230 million.

Finally, if you decide to go on a date with a person you meet through a dating app, approach it the same way you would meet up with any stranger. Always meet in a public place, and tell a trusted friend or family member when and where you’re going. If things get uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to end the date early and stop communicating with that person.

Should I try online dating?

The decision to try online dating depends entirely on your preferences and how comfortable you feel connecting with strangers on the internet. Yes, there are risks, but as long as you understand them and take precautions to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for love on a dating app. 

Sarah recommends that newcomers to the online dating scene go into it with no expectations.

“Some people end up in a relationship with their very first swipe,” she said, “but for most of us, it takes much longer.”

For most people, the worst thing that can happen when you try online dating is that you’ll waste a lot of time and energy fielding inappropriate messages, chasing down people who ghosted you and going on a few bad dates. At best, you’ll have some great conversations and meet more interesting people than you ever could just by visiting your local bars and coffee shops. You may make some friends or even meet the love of your life.

Even if you don’t find “the one” in your online dating journey, you’ll likely end up learning a lot about yourself and what you do and don’t want in a romantic relationship.

“Just try to enjoy things where you can,” said Sarah. “If you have a few fun dates with someone and it doesn’t go any further than that, just be glad you had a good time and met a nice person. Don’t feel that every situation that ends was a failure.”