The haphazardness of today’s matchmaking scene is one reason for a growing trend: online dating geared toward specific interests of singles searching for love.
In an evolution of cyber dating, sites have popped up for just about any niche, from the obvious to the obscure.
Want to find someone within your religious affiliation? Internet dating services for Christian and Amish singles – as well as atheists and agnostics – abound.
Other sites focus on certain age groups, such as Millennials or senior citizens.
Sites for overweight singles, “beautiful” people, dwarves, marijuana users, four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, farmers, Trekkies, Goths, prisoners, vegetarians, environmentalists, mustache lovers and whatever suits your fancy can be found. There are even dating sites that cater to fetishes, such as adult diapering.
It just makes sense to want to share a common interest or passion with a potential partner from the get-go, says Lynda Dickson, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
“The more specific you are about what’s important to you means you can immediately cut out many people from your search and not waste your time,” she says. “It gets you the biggest bang for your buck.”
Societal changes also have fueled the popularity of niche online dating, says Dickson, who specializes in mate selection practices and family dynamics. As the custom of pre-arranged marriages faded, men and women primarily found prospective spouses in high school, then college. Now, it’s the work place. But today’s office environment often discourages fraternizing among employees, Dickson says, and because people are busier than in the past, they don’t have time to invest in meeting others in person.
“We have a need for instant gratification today,” she says, which singles may not find with traditional ways of meeting people, such as at church, parties, nightclubs, fitness centers and through mutual friends.
In her research, Dickson says she’s found that younger singles aren’t as interested in online dating services as older singles, who “aren’t seeing that pool of people in their everyday lives and would rather not waste their time.”
The fact that society is relying more and more on the Internet for banking, shopping, entertainment, communications and other social interaction also makes online dating a logical step, she adds.
Even generic online dating sites have become more specialized, Dickson points out, requiring applicants to fill out lengthy questionnaires relating to every aspect of life.
“The whole purpose is the premise that shared values and beliefs are the cement that holds relationships together,” she says.
Given that about one-third of married couples today say they met online, the approach seems to be working, Dickson says, and she predicts it’s not just a fad.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s going to go away,” she says. “As technology evolves, people will increasingly use technology to fulfill their needs and desires.”
Some online dating services are free, but most charge a subscription fee ranging from $5 to $25 a month, so it’s best to shop around.
It’s also a good idea to keep personal safety in mind, says Amy Fitch, senior deputy district attorney with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s office.
Just because someone is listed on a Christian singles site doesn’t automatically mean he or she is a good person, for example, or is telling the truth in his or her online profile, she says. But that applies across the board, no matter the site.
“Most sites don’t have any background checks,” says Fitch, who supervises the DA’s Special Victims Unit. “Exercise the same caution as if you met that person at a bar or a party.”
And if you do choose to connect with someone you’ve encountered online, meet in a public place and get to know each other before giving out personal information, including your phone number and address, Fitch recommends. Also, avoid alcohol or being in a position of being incapacitated or vulnerable, to minimize potential harm.
“Treat people you meet online as complete strangers and exercise caution,” Fitch says.
Bottom line: “Happy dating, but be careful.”