Love in a modern world

Article by David Mills /
The Advertiser /
October 4, 2020 /
Click here to view original /

DIANNE Gardiner and Toby Pieters might just be Australia’s most enduring online dating success story.

The two, pictured, met in 2001 via a now little-known social media site called friends.com, and recently celebrated their 19th anniversary as a couple.

“It was well before RSVP or any of those sites existed,” Ms Gardiner said. “A work colleague was submitting their profile to friends.com and encouraged me to do the same.

“Within a few days I was chatting with Toby and we agreed to meet for dinner and the rest is history. It was the first and only date I ever had via that service.” Back then, meeting someone via computer carried a bit of stigma, and Ms Gardiner said she used to feel a little embarrassed.

“We used to tell people we met through ‘friends’. We weren’t lying, we just omitted the .com part,” she said.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said that stigma was now gone, as there was “a generation who have not dated any other way than online”.

Ms Gardiner is now the CEO of research firm Bastion Insights, which recently surveyed ab­out 1000 Australians about their experiences of online dating sites.

The company found almost one in three Australians (32 per cent) had used an online dating service/app to meet someone and that 18 per cent of respondents met their current partner this way.

Ms Gardiner said the research show­ed about 13 per cent of Australians had used online dating services and formed a long-lasting relationship as a result, and there was little difference across age groups.

The latest revolution for the “love apps” has been the rise of video dating, which users say is likely stay popular after lockdowns end, and could even permanently transform the dating game.

Bumble and Grindr introduced the video chat function in June 2019, while Tinder followed suit for Australian users this year.

Bumble spokeswoman Lucille McCart said the demand for video dates was evident as Australia went into lockdown.

There was a 76 per cent increase in video calls between March and May. “The average time for a video call in Australia is 28 minutes, which shows that our users are truly building meaningful connections on these calls,” Ms McCart said.

Dr Rosewarne said video contact had “given people a social outlet” during lockdowns and the trend would likely stick.

“Post-COVID, there will be a lot of people who just see an online first date as a really efficient way to weed out people who are unsuitable for a flesh-and-blood meeting,” she said.

But online dating had also led to “an element of disposability” in casual relationships. “If we don’t get what we want we’re not going to spend too many resources on that relationship, we’re just going to move on and find someone else,” Dr Rosewarne said.

University of Melbourne senior lecturer in social sciences Dr Lauren Rosewarne says that, with more socialising taking place online, it’s important to take control of managing it.

“If your friendship is just connected to your football club, politics probably never comes into it and it may say something to you about that person but if what you see on social media is bothering you, work out a way to limit it by unfollowing or muting,” Dr Rosewarne says.

“You can get a pleasurable social media feed rather than an irritant whenever you decide to do that.”

Heideman believes the greater variety of friendship groups will return to normal post-pandemic as work and social demands broaden, but there may be some initial caution, tension and vulnerability.

“I do believe some of our shared experiences over this difficult time and that sense of ‘doing it together ‘ may strengthen some of those heart friendships but may also lead to a sense of re-evaluation of friendships where we may have … felt let down,” she says.

Heideman suggests some patience with certain friendships now will be of benefit later.

“Our good friends help us manage stress because they care about our emotions and experiences,” she says.

“It’s important now to invest in friendships by putting effort into reaching out to those you know are vulnerable.”