These days, the idea of meeting a perfect stranger doesn’t quite hold the romantic allure it once did (if it ever really did at all). Especially when it comes to online dating. Before apps such as Tinder, it was common for people to meet potential mates in their neighborhood, or through school, work or religious institutions. The internet, however, provides a much larger dating pool, which can reduce the chances of two people having mutual friends.
With 30% of U.S. adults using dating platforms, according to a survey by Pew Research Center, how can people verify if someone is datable? In a time where scams run amok on the internet, some single people are taking matters of verification into their own hands.
Most dating platforms require users to import photos and basic information about themselves. The platforms also allow users to link to their social media profiles, but it’s impossible to know everything about person based on those cues alone.
Last year, Lissie Pinckney, who lives in Los Angeles, joined a Facebook group called Vouched Dating-Los Angeles, where mostly straight women tout their platonic male friends. Different versions of the group exist in cities across the country, including Jersey City, New Jersey, and Minneapolis.
On the vouched-dating groups, women post a few pictures of their guy friends, adding details about who the guy is and who he’s looking for, Pinckney, said. “And then women can comment if they’re interested,” she said.
The friend then shares the potential matches with her guy friend and makes the connection if it’s a fit. These groups provide the women with a sense of security. The posts act as endorsements — they’re like Yelp reviews for potential mates.
Approaching the issue of verification from the opposite side of the coin, popular Facebook groups known as Are We Dating the Same Guy? serve as forums for women to see if the men they are dating are trustworthy. Members in those groups will share an image and brief details about a guy they are seeing along with one single inquiry: Is he taken? Others will post photos of their bad exes in an effort to warn other women. (Similar groups exist for men, called Are We Dating the Same Girl?)
These forums originated with the intention of helping women look out for other women. But Are We Dating The Same Guy groups — there are more than 150 in different cities around the world — have become increasingly criticized for divisiveness, toxicity, defamation and privacy issues. Lawyers have warned that these pages could put posters at risk of legal action, and there is at least one petition on change.org demanding that the groups be shut down.
Dating apps have long grappled with verification features. Some, including Hinge and Raya, use various strategies to make potential matches feel less like strangers.
Hinge once used a “romance graph” to pair you with friends of friends that fit your style. Raya, a membership-based app for dating and professional networking, requires users to link their Instagram profiles to their pages. Aspiring members must apply to join (a referral from a current member can boost the chances of being accepted).
According to Madeleine Fugère, a social psychologist and psychological science professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, these attempts to verify dates via groups or mutual friends or family members could signal “a backlash” to internet dating and the problems associated with it.
“Because of the anonymity that the internet offers, there’s a lot of people who behave badly.” said Fugère, who specializes in human attraction and romantic relationships.
“It’s much harder to behave in that way if you’re not only accountable to your potential date, but also to a friend or family member,” she added.
Pinckney attended a Vouched Dating party in August that was hosted by the Los Angeles group of which she is a member. She followed the rules of the party and brought a couple of her guy friends she could vouch for.
“The ladies all seemed spectacular,” she said. “There were a couple of very eligible men that all the women wanted to talk to.” But she added that most of the men were “lackluster.”
However, one of the men she brought, Chazztin Pascual, a 36-year-old software engineer, hit it off with a woman named Trinity Gruenberg, 32.
“Once we met, we talked literally the whole day,” Pascual said. “We went from one side of the venue to the other, and then we ended up outside.”
They had their first official date less than a week later, and he soon asked her to be his girlfriend. They now live in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently got engaged in Hawaii and are planning to get married next year.
“I liked that it was more of a traditional approach,” Gruenberg said. “Like the whole goal was that it was a dating event. I really liked that.
Fugère said that another reason it’s important to meet in person, regardless of how you connect, is because when we’re in a digital environment, we have a tendency to project characteristics onto a potential partner and assume they’re going to be good rather than bad. Instead, she said, we should determine if they really have positive characteristics or if we’re “inventing those in the absence of real information.”
Pascual said the experience emphasized why going through friends to find a romantic partner, especially if it’s a female friend, may make women feel safer because it can lessen the fear that he’s a misogynist.
“I know at least a handful of guys, like I’ve worked with, that I would not trust anywhere near my sisters,” said Pascual, who has six sisters. “Just the fact that a guy would have a female friend that can vouch for him is a plus in itself.”
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