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Love Online

Harvard Students Take Dating to the Internet

Mandi Nyambi

“Here at Harvard I have had no experience offline dating,” says Linda Trujano ’15. Despite the wind and chill of a brutal winter day, Trujano radiates an easygoing warmth, with her wavy, highlighted hair perfectly coiffed, cheeks bright pink from the cold. “Harvard’s dating scene is almost nonexistent, so I was sad about it and that’s why I decided to join [DateMySchool],” she explains. Since joining the online dating site, Trujano has gone on multiple dates with students from MIT and Harvard’s graduate schools, much to the envy of her friends and, it would appear, Harvard at large.

Trujano is one of an increasing number of college students who use online dating tools to enhance their sexual and romantic relationships. From 1999 to 2009, the percentage of couples who met online surged from 10.9 percent to 23.2 percent nationally, according to a study from the University of Rochester. And the phenomenon is no longer limited to older adults: Over the past few years, websites such as DateMySchool and IvyDate emerged as online dating sites specifically for college students.

“DateMySchool is responsible for over 50 percent of the dates that happen at Columbia and NYU. We get success stories every single day,” says DateMySchool public relations director Melanie J. Wallner, who has surveyed hundreds of students from both universities. Although the students who participate in online dating on campus maintain a low profile, according to Wallner, one in five students across Harvard University uses DateMySchool.

The rise of college-oriented online dating sites, some students say, is symptomatic of a student population that is frustrated with the social options on campus. Currently, many Harvard students are disappointed with the existing dating scene on campus, which they often categorize as a polarized landscape of committed relationships and casual one-night hookups. “It seems to me that you either have two extremes,” says Jacob D. Roberts ’13-’14, an inactive Crimson News editor and former OkCupid user. “People are in long-term relationships or people hook up a few times and then it’s over, and there’s really no in-between.”

Whether in response to a limited dating scene or simply as a means of meeting people outside the Harvard bubble, Harvard students are increasingly turning to online dating as an alternative—a way to supplement their sexual and romantic lives. Online dating provides students with the opportunity to look beyond the physical Harvard campus for everything from a one-night stand to a long, dreamy courtship. Whether dating across campuses or meeting young professionals, students find that these tools have proved invaluable in enlarging their social networks. Love online is still far from perfect, but there seems to be a trend towards a social lifestyle that involves both online and offline dating.

A Stigmatized Practice

Although the use of online dating tools is on the rise, there is still a significant social stigma attached to its use that prevents a meaningful dialogue on campus. The stereotype of online daters as social recluses eating fast food as they hunch over a computer monitor and talk to strangers thousands of miles away still lingers in the public eye.

The history of online dating plays a large role in the development of this negative perception of the practice. “Online dating was basically dominated by geeks,” says Sam A. Yagan ’99, recalling its early days.

Yagan, founder and CEO of OkCupid, and now the CEO of Match.com, was an applied math concentrator at Harvard. He continues, “Think about it: The only people on the Internet in 1993 were geeks....If you were single in the 90s, you were cool, and you probably didn’t use the Internet or online date.”

Additionally, there exists an expectation that finding a significant other should be relatively easy in a college environment, where one is constantly surrounded by one’s peers. “Online dating here has become a sign of desperation. You’re still young, you’re still in college,” says Michael Hughes ’15, who is in a long-term relationship with a student he did not meet online.

And yet, meeting new people can often become more difficult as one progresses through college.

“People usually forget that once you’ve joined various clubs and activities, there’s going to be a bit of stasis in your lives,” says Paul W. Eastwick, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the psychology of romantic relationships and online dating.

On Campus: Dating, Hook-Ups, and Frustrations

In addition to this stasis that Eastwick mentions, some posit that Harvard students especially tend not to prioritize dating. “It’s hard to actually meet people, especially in a community like Harvard, where everyone is so busy and no one stops to get to know each other,” says Jake, a gay freshman from California who has used OkCupid. Jake was granted anonymity by The Crimson because he wanted to keep his sexual orientation private.

“We just seem to not have time to go out to the North End, or go to a nice restaurant, or take a walk through the park,” says Hughes, echoing Jake’s sentiment. According to The Crimson’s senior survey of the Class of 2012, 48.6 percent of women and 49.4 percent of men reported having dated zero to one person at Harvard.

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