Dating in a changing America

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Despite cell phones, dating websites and mobile apps, social networks, and more opportunities offered by modern technology, dating for many Americans has become more complicateddifficult and worse than it’s been in the recent past.

In a 2019 national survey, nearly half of U.S. adults, and a majority of women, said that dating has become harder in the last 10 years. Two-thirds of those single and looking for a relationship reported that their dating life was not going well. In addition, approximately 65 percent of women currently single and looking to date said that they had experienced harassing behavior from someone they dated. 

Whereas about one-third of men surveyed said it’s hard to find someone who meets their expectations, two-thirds of women said it’s hard to find someone who is looking for the same kind of relationship and meets their standards. Also, single men were more likely than single women to be seeking dates or a relationship.

More recently, the coronavirus pandemic with its social distancing, mask-wearing, remote schooling, closed clubs and risks of being infected with COVID-19 has further complicated dating and increased loneliness. Some recent surveys report that many singles have a fear of dating again (FODA). One survey, for example, found that close to 40 percent of singles were nervous about their social skills for dating in real life.  

Dating apps, websites and other technologies are contributing to new norms, expectations and behavior for those seeking a relationship or wanting to “hook up.” In addition, two-thirds of Americans surveyed said that the increased attention to sexual harassment has complicated dating, especially for men who say it has made it harder to know how to interact with someone on a date. 

By the end of the year, online dating services are expected to reach about 370 million active users worldwide. In the U.S., the number is estimated at more than 1,500 and the target demographic for these online dating services is approximately 87 million single Americans in 2020.    

America has the highest percentage of its population, about 15 percent, using online dating services. Although some Americans have concerns about the safety of online dating, approximately 50 million Americans say that they have or continue to use websites or mobile dating apps.   

A 2019 national survey found that about 30 percent of Americans, with higher rates among younger singles, had used a dating website or app. Most users were positive about their experience, but it left some, especially younger women, more frustrated than hopeful.  

Most dating apps tend to be male-dominated, especially given that men generally have more difficulty dating than women. Also, one survey found that about 40 percent of frequent users of dating apps are already married.  

Some research has found that the content on many online dating platforms is remarkably trustworthy, possibly more so than phone conversations or direct communication. It appears that online daters are not indiscriminately deceptive perhaps because doing so risks being publicly exposed. However, potential problems with online dating, such as “catfishing” (using a fake profile to entice a romantic interest), harassment and explicit messages, continue to exist.

Approximately one-third of married adults and those in a committed relationship report that friends and family helped them find their partner. A much smaller proportion, about 12 percent, found their partner online. 

However, that pattern appears to be changing as online dating is losing its stigma and surveys report more committed couples meeting online than through friends. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to increased virtual dating for socializing and courtship. 

Guidelines, rules and behavior for dating vary by age, sex and experience. Younger men and women, for example, have more time for dating a variety of people before deciding whether to make a commitment to a long-term relationship with someone. 

Most single Americans surveyed say they don’t feel a lot of pressure from friends, family and others to find a partner. Also, many single women report not currently looking for relationships or dates as they have other priorities in their lives. 

A recent survey found that among adults over age 18, nearly 40 percent believed that three months into dating was an acceptable time period to consider exclusivity in a relationship. Once in such a relationship, Americans consider it unacceptable to date others. 

Views regarding dating and premarital sex have also changed over the recent past. A half-century ago, about 80 percent of Americans frowned upon sex before marriage. More recent surveys find that the majority of Americans view premarital sex between consenting adults to be acceptable. In addition, men were more likely than women to view premarital sex as acceptable.  

By and large, breaking up a dating relationship if things are not working out as desired is viewed as acceptable. However, the vast majority of Americans surveyed say it should be done in person or sometimes by phone. Breaking up through technology, especially “ghosting” someone, is not considered acceptable dating behavior. 

Typically, women have tended to date and seek intimate relationships with men who are higher in socialeducational and financial status. With American women increasingly attaining higher education, careers, economic independence and increased opportunities, the potential pool of men considered attractive and dateable by women has contracted appreciably, resulting in a dating gap for both men and women.

Even with modern technologies and increased potential matches, Americans report that dating has become more difficult than in the past. Among the important consequences of dating becoming more complicated and harder, especially following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, is increasing numbers of Americans are encountering significant difficulties in arranging desired dates, developing intimate relationships, finding partners or spouses and establishing families. 

Those difficulties in turn portend far-reaching changes that are ushering in a very different American society.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”

Tags COVID-19 dating dating apps Loneliness Marriage online dating online dating apps single Americans

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