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Jessica Massa Headshot

How to End the Online Dating Stigma

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On the heels of eHarmony's 10th anniversary - signaling a decade of having the most charming and well-styled TV commercials in the online dating sphere - CEO Greg Waldorf recently did an exclusive interview with The Huffington Post that centered around social media, same-sex matchmaking and the differing shortcomings of real-life vs. online dating. As a 27-year-old single female who has never participated in online dating, I found his statistics and appreciation for the intricacies of technological interactions to be honest and realistic.

I'm not an online dating hater. The data is certainly impressive - 542 users of the site married per day! And as I explored in my blog last week, To Friend Request, or Not to Friend Request?, engaging in ambiguous modes of Techno-Romance (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) without clear intentions and purpose is inevitable these days, but can also be frustrating and confusing, making you feel insane as you try to find meaning in every poke, retweet and check-in. When you're truly looking for love, as Waldorf notes, it shouldn't be about "reading the tea leaves of someone's status indicator." In the mind-boggling post-dating world, we could all use some clarity and confidence in our expectations and reactions to our online flirtations.

So why haven't I ever signed up for an online dating site? Because of the stigma, of course.

Oh sure, the process of meeting a partner online is becoming less stigmatized every day. On my own site, www.WTFIsUpWithMyLoveLife.com, we are smack dab in the middle of our WTF?! online dating series, where desirable, ambitious, confident, impressive men and women are opening up about their online dating experiences and sharing their tales, findings and horror stories. These people might never have admitted to online dating a year ago, or even six months ago. The shift in perception is palpable.

But it hasn't been fully eradicated yet. I still meet many a couple and listen happily to the detailed, inspiring story of how they met and wooed - just to be surprised when the guy goes to the bathroom and the girl leans over to me with a conspiratorial whisper of, "We actually met on J-Date, but don't tell anyone! Our parents don't even know!" And when my attractive and secure WTF?! co-founder wrote about her burgeoning OkCupid adventure, some readers berated her decision to look for love online. One (anonymously) posted:

I see zero reason for a smart, attractive, well-adjusted female who lives in NYC of all places to even dabble in online dating. Can't you throw a rock out of your window and hit like ten hot guys?

Online dating seems pretty effective and, apart from the easily-identified weirdos and psychos, pretty fun. So the question is...how to get rid of the stigma so that women like me will sign up?

(or admit to signing up!)

Want my registration fee? Here's my recommendation: shift the marketing and publicity campaigns for these sites to focus less on marriages and lifelong relationships and more on these sites' successes in introducing people to a whole new host of potentials to meet and date and experiment with. The overarching message that young singles like myself receive is that online dating sites are the best, and often final, option for finding love. The over-stressed emphasis on marriage and true love and commitment perpetuates the still-popular belief that online dating is a last resort for when you've been too busy working or feeling lonely or dating the wrong people to find love.

Modern, empowered women and men, myself included, do surely want love. But online dating shouldn't be sold to us only as some big, epic decision that's going to get us married in six months or less (or your money back!). It should be sold to us as an easy, exciting, fun complement to the social and romantic lives that we already have. It should be sold to us with the understanding that our everyday lives have transitioned more or more online, so of course we should be dating online as well! We should be told that anyone who's not online dating is simply behind the times. Desperation, neediness and loneliness should never be implied or alluded to. Because who wants to be that desperate online dater?

Signing up for an online dating site should feel as obvious to us as joining a co-ed sports league or taking a language class or showing up at a friend's birthday party. All ways to potentially meet guys, but also to essentially multiply our social and romantic circles and to expand our horizons and get to know ourselves and what we want and add interesting guys to our gaggle.

Not only as a way to find a husband. But as one step on the path that will get us to that point.

We live in a post-dating world, but it serves a purpose. Our love lives are unquestionably shrouded in too much ambiguity and too many mixed messages, but there's a reason that many in our generation have chosen to eschew traditional expectations and guidelines of romance. We want fuller romantic lives. We want to learn about ourselves and our desires. We want to have fun. We want to be excited about our romantic prospects and futures. And online dating can be an amazing way to pursue and achieve all this.

So, online dating CEO's. Just make me feel like signing up is only one natural part of the process, instead of a destination in itself. Make me feel like everyone's doing it, because it's really not that big of a deal. Make me feel like I won't be stigmatized for filling out that profile. Make me feel empowered for signing up, as opposed to desperate, and I have a feeling that you'll have another successful statistic on your hands.

For more on the post-dating world, head over to www.WTFIsUpWithMyLoveLife.com.

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