Swipe left or right for love at first site? While dating apps make money playing cupid in cyberspace, some users have burned their fingers flirting with danger.
A serendipitous meeting at the gas station, a chance encounter at a bar on a rainy Saturday night or divine intervention during church service on Sunday…
This is certainly not how the millennial generation finds love these days.
American artist Julie Dillon says: “Our universe grants every soul a twin, a reflection of themselves. The kindred spirit, and no matter where they are or how far away they are from each other, even if they are in different dimensions, they will always find one another. This is destiny; this is love.”
But that was before dating apps played cupid in cyberspace. Today, the smartphone-obsessed generation would rather enter the world of dating online.
Love too has officially been disrupted. The once-taboo subject is an online trend and businesses are cashing in.
According to Statista, revenues in the online dating segment are expected to show an annual rate of 3.9%, resulting in a market volume of $1.6 billion. And for those confident enough to enter this world, it has its own lingo that you need to master first.
Ghosting, for example, is the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone suddenly and without warning or explanation, withdrawing from all communication.
Breadcrumbing refers to the act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal text messages (i.e., ‘breadcrumbs’) in order to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort. Zombie-ing is when someone you thought had ‘ghosted’ you shows up unexpectedly again in your life (usually through texts or social media).
Benching is when you start dating someone you think is nice and who has potential, but you’re not crazy about him or her.
Orbiting is the term attributed to a form of behavior where you’ve been ‘ghosted’, but the person who ‘ghosted’ you still engages with you on social media. The latest new word is fishing, a practice where you send messages out to a whole lot of your matches on a dating app, wait and see which ones bite and then you select the one you want to pursue.
The online dating vocabulary is just as varied as the number of platforms to go ‘fishing’ on.
Tinder is perhaps one of the most popular dating apps, with enough takers across Africa. The app has a simple user interface that allows users to share real-time photos as they chat with their matches and swipe left or right to select who they are interested in.
Other apps include Bumble, Grindr, Speedate, Benaughty, Are You Interested (AYI), Tagged, Ok Cupid and many more providing singletons a never-ending stream of possible suitors.
“Do you swipe left or right? That is all it takes to find that perfect someone on Tinder. There are billions of people in the world and quite frankly, it is very unrealistic to think that you might magically bump into the one you are destined to be with without taking matters into your own hands,” says Ola (who did not give his full name for privacy reasons).
He has been an avid user of dating apps for the past five years. During this time, Ola has been on about 20 dates and had two relationships that lasted six months and eight months.
“I turned around to leave and he pushed me back into the room and locked the door behind me.”
“It all started out as something fun to do with my friends. At the time, we were looking for nice girls to hook up with and the idea of having a selection of girls who are also looking for boys at the touch of a button was perfect,” he says.
A couple of years ago, you would be scammed for dating online. But according to Ola, times have changed. This is now one of the best ways to meet singles in your area in part thanks to Tinder. These websites and apps widen the choice and provide a convenient way to match people with their ideal mates.
“If you were to meet a girl in a bar today, you will have to spend a fortune on drinks for her and her friends and she will probably still not give you her phone number. Why waste your time meeting someone who is not even interested in you. With online dating, they get to see your picture, read a little something about you and get in touch if they find you interesting. By the time you meet, you are no longer meeting a stranger but someone you have been talking to for sometime,” says Ola.
The business is flourishing. According to eharmony.com: “There are 40 million Americans using online dating websites and users range from young to old. Young adults account for about 27% of users, up 10% from 2013 due mainly to the influx of dating apps on smartphones.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the overwhelming majority of Americans suggest that online dating is a good way to meet people. Subsequently, more than 15% of adults say that they have used either mobile dating apps or an online dating site at least once in the past.
“There is no stigma attached to online dating anymore. Everyone is doing it: some people are lonely, some have hectic schedules so do not have time to meet suitable partners and many are just curious to see what they might find out there,” says Ola.
Online dating services are now the second most popular way to meet a partner. Another factor for the popularity of online dating is time. Online dating presents an effective solution by providing users the ability to browse profiles, which is not as time-consuming or scary as mixing with people in real life. According to Psychology Today, about one in five relationships begin online nowadays, and by 2040, 70% of us will have met our significant other online.
However, with the growing popularity of online dating, comes a darker side most people do not hear about.
It is 46 degrees in the residential neighborhood of Lekki in Lagos. The oppressive August heat hasn’t stopped my rendezvous with Miriam (real name withheld) this afternoon outside Harvest restaurant here.
“I first used Tinder three years ago. At the time, I had been single for about five years and after countless failed matching sessions from my friends, a friend introduced me to Tinder. I was initially hesitant but I decided to give it a try anyway. That is when I saw his profile,” says Miriam.
Her profile matched her to her ideal mate; a six-foot tall, dark and muscular man who had a well-paying job, loved kids and was ready to settle down within the next two years.
“He also lived on [Victoria] Island so it was perfect. We spoke online for about a month and moved the conversation onto WhatsApp and started video-calling each other. We finally decided to meet and he invited me to his place to meet his family for dinner. I was initially hesitant but he assured me his sister and her kids were also in the house so I had nothing to worry about. So I agreed,” says Miriam.
On arrival, she was warmly greeted by her date who escorted her into the house. Immediately, Miriam sensed danger.
“There were two other guys in the house and no sign of his sister or kids. I immediately felt like this was a mistake. I turned around to leave and he pushed me back into the room and locked the door behind me. One of the men held me down and they took turns to rape me,” she recalls.
The tragic ordeal has forever scarred Miriam. Her cries for help were heard by a neighbor who brought other security men to the house. Unfortunately, for Miriam, it was too late. The harm had already been done. The men were arrested and charged with rape and are currently serving 10 years for the crime.
“This is a serious problem that affects most of these women who look for love online. Even Uber drivers sometimes attack their passengers so you are really risking your life by meeting a stranger online. Most of these men lie about their profiles. They know what type of language will attract their prey and unfortunately, those who fall victim to this are sometimes very young inexperienced girls,” says Victor Oppong, a freelance investigative journalist in Lagos.
According to statistics from datingadvice.com, there are about 16,000 abductions, 100 murders and thousands of rapes committed by online predators. Also, in 2011 alone, online con artists duped their victims out of more than $50 million in money and property.
“I did a story last year on a man who was duped into sending over $20,000 to a girl in London who claimed she was using the money to pay her debts and return to Nigeria to marry the man. He sent the money and never heard from the girl again. I always tell anybody who is using online dating sites to be very careful and only use trusted sites,” says Oppong.
According to research by Michigan State University, relationships that start online are 28% more likely to break down in their first year, than relationships where the couples first met face-to-face. And to make matters worse, couples who met online are nearly three times as likely to get divorced as couples that met face-to-face.
But no matter the perils of online dating, its popularity cannot be ignored. It offers something important for the millions of registered followers and that is the possibility of finding your soul mate in a crowd of 7.6 billion people.