"I Met My Spouse on Tinder"
A new study dives deep into people’s online dating success stories.
Posted August 3, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Online dating has changed relationships and is becoming the primary source of the dating experience for some young people.
- The development of an online dating relationship can reveal important insight into the qualities that matter most in a long-term partner.
- Even as online dating grows more common, many are still reluctant to share how they met their spouses.
“I actually met my husband from Tinder, believe it or not.” The participant I was interviewing paused, waiting for my reaction to hearing that she used Tinder for something other than a hookup. However, she wasn’t the first person to tell me she’d found love on a dating app.
A few years before, one of my longtime friends married someone she met on Tinder. They were living only a few miles away from each other at the time, but their paths probably never would have crossed without a dating app bringing them together. They’re still happily married and even recently welcomed their second “Tinder baby.”
I’ve written about a 2013 study that found that one-third of marriages in the U.S. get their start online–mainly via online dating. More recent data from the Pew Research Center puts the number of Americans who have formed a serious relationship through online dating closer to 12 percent. Until now, though, research on online dating success stories was sparse.
For a forthcoming study, I interviewed people from across the U.S. about their long-term relationships through online dating. I asked them to tell me the story of their courtship and what effect (if any) online dating has on their relationship today. The sample was 72 percent women and averaged 33.42 years of age (range = 21 to 62).
The people I spoke with were married or engaged to someone they met via Tinder, OkCupid, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, Match, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, Jdate, or Shaadi. On average, their relationships were 4.18 years in length and counting.
The results revealed a series of stages people passed through as their online dating relationship developed toward marriage. Something striking about these relationships' progression was how much technology has changed dating for younger generations. For Millennials and Gen Zers, the Internet was one of their primary sources of dating experience. Some even went as far as to say that all of their serious relationships in adulthood started online. One person told me:
Since my last relationship, which was in high school, [Redacted’s] the only other person I’ve ever been with, and I met her online. So I really don’t have much experience of meeting people outside of Tinder.
When I asked if he’d be comfortable starting a conversation with a romantic interest in person, he replied:
I really don’t know, because I haven’t talked to anybody in person.
Something else that stood out was how people knew their partner was “the one.” Compatibility wasn’t about how someone looked, how tall they were, or how much money they made–all characteristics people sometimes screen for in online dating. Instead, the successful people building a relationship on these platforms chose a long-term partner based on qualities like kindness, loyalty, and supportiveness. One person put it this way:
I needed to see his interaction with me, and how he treated other people, and just have consistent experiences with him over time.
Also noteworthy were the responses from people who were still not completely open about how they met. Some spoke about “Tinder stigma” and the judgment they received for being on a so-called hookup app. Others said they were embarrassed or that they didn’t want to have to defend their relationship as being just as real as any other. In response, people often devised cover stories for how they met–particularly when interacting with older family members who might be more skeptical of online dating. According to one person:
It still doesn’t get the same respect or oohs and awws as people who will be like, ‘I met my husband when I was in college, and we’ve been together ever since.’ It just seems like a lesser relationship.
Many people also described ways online dating continues to benefit their relationships, even now. Online dating provided a strong foundation for marriage by encouraging people to communicate with each other before getting physical. It also allowed them to make better choices by not having to compromise their standards in a partner. Someone else said:
We probably asked a few questions that we generally don’t ask until six months in. If you’re smart, you ask them long before you ever get married.
Yet online dating can still pose long-term challenges. Online dating is designed to expand the dating pool by introducing people to strangers they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. This meant that people typically had no shared network or background to draw from when building a relationship with their partner. One person discussed the effect this had on her relationship with her spouse:
My family did not take to accepting him and probably doesn’t really accept him still to this day. I just don’t know if maybe I hadn’t gone the online dating route, if it would have been easier.
It’s important to note that many participants in this study were recently married or engaged. Even though online dating is decades old, it is still very new in the long history of human courtship. Only time will tell how these relationships will fare in the long run. However, these stories provide optimism that despite their flaws, people really can find love on dating apps.
Anderson, M., Vogels, E. A., & Turner, E. (2020, February 6). The virtues and downsides of online dating. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/02/06/the-virtues-and-downsid…
Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., Gonzaga, G. C., Ogburn, E. L., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2013). Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(25), 10135-10140. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1222447110
Sharabi, L. (2021, July). The enduring effect of Internet dating: What meeting online means for marriage [Conference presentation]. 2021 Conference of the International Association for Relationship Research.