Dating in the 21st Century

How technology is leading people’s search for love

Posted May 23, 2013

We all, or at least many of us, remember the classic Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, “You’ve Got Mail.”[1] For those of you who do not, it was one of the first movies to integrate online dating into the story line. In this 1998 classic, Ryan and Hanks send emails back and forth with the iconic AOL, “You’ve Got Mail” notification pinging away. With each new email, the two are able to talk about their problems, share pieces of themselves, and form a strong emotional bond. [1] Far from being ‘creepy’ or antisocial, the movie shows how technology can facilitate healthy romantic relationships.

Fast forward to now - some 15 years later - and technology-facilitated dating has evolved dramatically. And it continues to do so. In just the past 5 years, we have transitioned from a website industry (e.g., eHarmony, Jdate) to a landscape that now includes specialized mobile dating applications (apps). Consider: In 2010, users spent more than twice as much time on dating websites as they did on dating apps.[2] Just one year later, in 2011, users spent slightly more time on dating apps than they did on websites. [2] According to a recent study from Flurry Analytics, there are 17 million active users on the 20 most popular dating apps worldwide. [3] In January 2013 alone, there were 2.1 billion active sessions on these apps. [4] Although it is safe to say that dating apps are not used by everyone looking for romance, their use is quickly growing.

It is no surprise that technology-facilitated dating has taken off: it provides people with a socially acceptable way of increasing their social support system and potential dating pool. In fact, a recent survey revealed that slightly over half of single respondents were more likely to turn to the internet than to friends for dating advice. [3] We know that social well being is essential for balanced health. Apps are not only helping people find love, but also connection and support to like people. For instance, 64% of gay men use apps to find friends. The mental health benefits are essential as well, psychologist and co-founder of Stagg, Brad Brenner, states, “Mobile dating apps are a powerful expression of our desire to find community, friendship, chemistry, and love.” [5] It can sometimes be hard to find new people to form relationships with, perhaps because we are working too much, live in a community that lacks social connectivity, or some other reason. Technology-facilitated dating thus provides avenues for love and for social support that we might not otherwise have access to.

As early adopters of most technology, we might be tempted to assume that young adults and teens are forging the technology-facilitated dating path, but that’s not the case: Making up about 43% of all users, the largest user group of dating apps is adults ages 25 to 34.[4] About one in five adults ages 35 to 54 and one out of three young adults 18 to 24 are using dating apps also.[4] Meanwhile, while one-third of all baby-boomers are unmarried , only 3% of those over 55 are using dating apps. [4,6] Usage data for under-18’s are harder to come by, partly because apps often require that users be over the age of 18.

Some may be concerned about possible dangers of technology-facilitated dating. For example, maybe people are more likely to lie and pretend to be someone they’re not. Perhaps this behavior is more often ‘optimistic dating’ though (who doesn’t wish they looked 10 years younger?) rather than predatory, dangerous behavior. Certainly, too, people lie in face-to-face dating situations also. Another potential risk with technology-facilitated dating is the possible ease for casual hook ups. The research is somewhat mixed with respect to finding partners online; less is known about phone apps. In general though, we find that people who engage in risky sexual behavior with partners they find online are also engaging in risky sexual behavior with partners they find face-to-face.[7,8,9] So, we can’t blame technology for unhealthy sexual decision making.

Thinking about getting into the fray? Here is a sampling of mobile dating apps that are helping people find romantic or sexual connections – often in inventive ways:

How About We:

This app allows individuals to post to another’s profile with date suggestions. It’s perhaps the ultimate, “What is your ideal date” question. If you like to eat tacos and rollerblade, you might find your ideal mate here. [10]

Meet Moi:

This app uses your phone’s geographic location service to find others in the area who want to meet up, helping you find a potential date at the drop of a dime. [11]


Also location-based, this app is specifically for guys who are interested in guys. It shows you profiles of people which are “0 feet away” as their slogan says. [12]


It is time to update your Facebook profile, since this app matches based on interest, networks, and locations associated with your Facebook profile. This app takes the awkwardness out of technology-based dating. You can ‘like’ another person’s profile, but they will not know you liked theirs until they ‘like’ yours too. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the app may take a long time to suggest your profile to them. So, it is a win-win situation: no blunt rejection. [10]

 Bang with Friends:

This racy app also uses your Facebook friends, or friends of friends, to find out who is interested in ‘banging’ (i.e., having sex). Be careful when using it though, since it includes in your potential pool of mates everyone on your Facebook friends list, including your parents and cousins. [10]


This is the “Sex in the City” of dating apps. Created for use with Facebook, the app allows females to see the pictures of male Facebook friends and to rank and comment on their qualities based on their experiences with the guy. For instance, an ex-girlfriend can comment on the guy’s qualities. Comments are reviewed by Lulu’s staff to ensure they are positive. Since it only allows women to post on it, it is like friends talking about their crush. [10,13]

Although there is a growing literature base related to online dating, the research world has yet to catch up when it comes to mobile dating apps. Findings from the former may not be applicable to the latter because the users vary widely by demographic characteristics. We really don’t know how mobile dating apps may affect your psychological health or well-being. Nonetheless, it is clear that technology-facilitated dating is here to stay. As with other aspects of technology, there are likely both good and bad things that can come out of technology-facilitated romance. It behooves us to at least be aware of these sites and apps so that we can better relate to people who use them (including our friends, children), and even possibly use them ourselves. To find out more about the internet as a social support system, CiPHR: Teen Health and Technology


Thank you to Jennifer Renzas for her contributions to this blog.


[1] “History of Online Dating” brainz. 2011 Accessed:

[2] “Mobile Dating Apps.” Flurry Analytics. June 2011 Accessed:

[3] “Oxygen Media Dating Poll Reveals that Race and Religion Are No Longer an Issue for Most Daters” Oxygen Media. 2013 Accessed:

[4] Gordon, Mary Ellen “Valentines’ Day 2013: Looking for Love with Apps” Flurry Analytics. 2013 Accessed:

[5]Brenner, Brad “’Tis the Season for (Online) Dating: National Survey of Gay Men Finds Dating Apps Replace Bars as Best Place to Find Guys” Huffington Post. 2012 Accessed:

[6]Jayson, Sharon “Mobile apps tap the changing face of online dating” USA Today. 2013 Accessed:

[7] Chiasson M, Hirshfield S, Remien R, Humberstone M, Wong T, Wolitski R. A comparison of

on-line and off-line sexual risk in men who have sex with men: an event-based on-line survey. J

Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2007;44(2):235-243.

[8]Mustanski B, Newcomb ME, Clerkin EM. Relationship characteristics and sexual risk-taking

in young men who have sex with men. Health Psychol. 2011;30(5):597-605.

[9]Bolding G, Davis M, Hart G, Sherr L, Elford J. Heterosexual men and women who seek sex through the Internet. Int J STD AIDS. 2006;17(8):530-534.

[10] Padykula, Jessica “Find Love With Your Smartphone” She Knows’ Love. 2013 Accessed:

[11] “How it Works” Meet Moi. 20133 Accessed:

[12] “Learn More” Grindr LLC. 2013 Accessed:

[13] “About Us” Lulu. 2012 Accessed:

About the Author

Michele Ybarra, MPH, Ph.D., is the President and Research Director of a non-profit research organization called the Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR).

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