Love & Sex

Everything This Week’s Vows Column Got Wrong About Online Dating

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The New York Times Vowscolumn reads like a version of Lake Wobegon lined with the summer homes of the 1 percent: where all the brides attended Harvard Medical School and all the grooms are investment bankers. I read it voraciously, but try my best to take it with a grain of applewood-smoked sea salt.

But this week’s installment, more than any other I can recall, seems particularly myopic. It recounts the love story of Colin David Sutton and Jennifer Rose Hyman (the Vows column’s fondness for middle names is rivaled only by serial killers and assassins), who work in social media. Both singles had tried their luck on the likes of JDate, Match.com, and OkCupid without success.

The virtual world was providing Mr. Sutton and Ms. Hyman with a living but no love. They were both left to wonder, after a couple of years of online dating, if their hopes for romance would ever be met.

They briefly met in early 2012, when Sutton visited a friend at Hyman’s workplace. Though he was “very attracted” to her, he didn’t make any romantic advances. But later that year, an email chain would bring them together.

One freezing night, about eight months later in December 2012, both had been on an email chain involving about 15 people at their respective workplaces discussing Friday-night plans. The group decided to meet in Times Square for a tribute concert for the recently deceased Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, then end the evening downtown at the bar Marie’s Crisis. That’s where Mr. Sutton and the 5-foot-5 Ms. Hyman, who describes herself as a “nerdy cheerleader,” found themselves in the wee hours singing show tunes until they were hoarse.”

From there, it was love at second sight. The writer, Jane Gordon Julien, hails the newlyweds as “two lovers who had found each other without the Internet’s help.”

Come again?

Similarly, the description beneath the headline reads, “The couple works in social media, but after many failed attempts at online dating, they met the old-fashioned way.” The couple themselves seems taken by this mythical ideal of an analog courtship. “I love that we met in person,” Sutton says, “It was certainly not high-tech.”

Here are the facts: These people got together because of an email thread. Yes, email. Good old-fashioned email, which in no way has anything to do with the high-tech internet whatsoever.

It’s time to dispense with the stigma surrounding online dating, if only because there’s no such thing as offline dating anymore. Between email chains and tweets and pre-date Googling and late-night Facebook stalking and tipsy texts — and hell, even a cursory LinkedIn search — we fall in love as we live, partly mediated by our ubiquitous electronics. We were once limited to liquid courage, but now we can draw the strength to reach out from digital courage as well. If you need proof of the value that online connections provide, it’s right there before you, in Sutton and Hyman’s own story. They had physically met in person, but that wasn’t enough to catalyze a romance. If not for that email, they would never have met, in the truest sense of the word.

I’d add that the success or failure of online dating isn’t determined exclusively by whether it directly leads you to a mate — there’s also a more subtle utility. Online dating puts more romantic data at your fingertips, offering up a relatively vast sample size to help you refine exactly what it is you’re looking for in a partner. And as with any pursuit, practice makes perfect. With every message you send, every profile you read, every awkward drinks date you navigate with increasing deftness, you’re becoming a better dater. Who knows if Hyman and Sutton would have been ready for each other if not for their previous experiences?

There’s romcom-worthy serendipity to be found online, too. I can attest to that personally. I met my boyfriend (who’s months younger than me) on OkCupid, after I’d made a profile on the site during a lazy post-college summer. I saw it as a way to waste time before my imminent move to another country just weeks later — I expected to browse for a day, then deactivate my account. I didn’t like the idea of dating a man younger than myself, so I set the age filters on my search to a minimum of 21, my own age.

We only realized later that I’d joined OKC on my boyfriend’s 21st birthday. If I’d signed up the slightest bit earlier (or if he’d taken his time being born), we’d never have met. That may not be “old-fashioned,” but to me, it’s still plenty romantic.

Image via New York Times.