Research indicates in 20 years, half of all relationships will start online, and by 2040, seven out of 10 relationships will start either from online dating or online “communication.” I believe it, because I’ve been doing this for years. For me, dating and online dating have always been one in the same, to the point where I’ve met all but one of my boyfriends online.
I’ve always loved computers and the internet — one of my earliest memories is of sitting in front of my parent’s old PC, my hand on a little children’s mouse, which looked like an actual mouse, with a pink cord for a tail and pink clickers for mouse ears. In middle school, I would sneak out of my bedroom at night to go online, hoping the dial-up sound didn’t wake my parents. My interest in boys blossomed just as social media turned up in the form of MySpace, and my best friend and I would adjust our Top 8s, update our profile songs, and labor over the messages we would leave on the pages of boys from other towns or other grades. I met my first kiss on that website, and my first boyfriend, who I would eventually date for all three years of high school. I wasn’t using MySpace as a dating site, but the way we all use the internet — to reach out, to connect. There just happened to be a lot of cute boys around.
After I graduated, MySpace was long gone, and I joined a Facebook group for incoming students of the college I was heading to in the fall. I somehow struck up a conversation with a fellow freshman from upstate New York, and as the summer progressed we went from Facebook, to AIM, to texting, to talking on the phone. When we got to school, we started dating. A few years later, I found myself in a serious dry spell and joined OkCupid, and found my next serious boyfriend there. My current boyfriend and I met once in person years ago via mutual friends, then struck up a friendship on Twitter and Tumblr, and when we were both stuck in Boston for the summer, met and started dating.
With the exception of the OkCupid boyfriend, all of my relationships that started online started as online friendship, and became something more once we met: the “online communication” that the study separates from online dating using a site for that purpose. I think that this translation of platonic online friend to real-life love interest is just as common among Millennials as trawling through OkCupid results at 3 a.m. is. We form friendships on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook in the same way we form friendships in real life, and it’s only natural that some of those develop into something more.
A common joke made when meeting an internet friend the first time is “URL to IRL,” indicating the transition of the relationship from cyberspace to “real life,” a username to a full name. Still, I don’t think there’s any difference: my “real” life and online life are so blended that I don’t consider them to be separate at all, so it’s no wonder that I treat dating the same way. To my generation, “online dating” isn’t a strange or stigmatized concept. It’s just a word we use to indicate whether you met someone on Tinder or in a bar: both of which are perfectly normal ways to meet someone. I actually think more of my friends met their SOs online than IRL. While meeting on OkCupid was scandalous a few years ago, today announcing you met your boyfriend on Twitter isn’t exceptional at all.
My father recently bemoaned to me that he and his friends can’t understand their children’s jobs working in tech, and every time I go home I explain Twitter again to my mom. But Snapchat and OkCupid are just as prosaic and everyday to my generation as land-lines and mail were to our parents, and as time goes on, more people are going to get comfortable with technology and social media: the study suggests that the biggest gain in online daters is going to be the 55- to 64-year-old cohort. God help us when all the babies that can already use iPads grow up. They’re going to be planning their own playdates on Google Calendar.