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Lecturer rejects stigma of online dating

Meg Handelman | Friday, November 15, 2013


In the 21st century, technology revolutionized nearly every aspect of learning and educating, but it also changed the face of a much more personal aspect of our lives: dating. 

Dr. Elizbeth Ribarsky, assistant professor of communications at the University of Illinois, Springfield hosted a talk on “Dating in the Digital Age,” in the Hospitality Room of South Dining Hall on Thursday. 

The lecture functioned as a how-to guide introducing audience members to online dating and warned about common mistakes they can make in setting up a profile and interacting with individuals online.

Ribarsky said her goal in the lecture was to remove the stigma from online dating.

“The stigma is that only creepy people go online,” Ribarsky said. “Or that they’re desperate. Or that they may not be anybody of who they say they actually are. Even though we see a huge influx in the number of individuals engaging in online dating and the number of individuals getting married from online relationships, there is still a level of stigmatization.” 

Online dating is very functional because it allows an individual to cast a wide net and sort through people who they may or may not be interested much more quickly than face-to-face interaction, Ribarsky said.

She said a drawback comes when people misrepresent themselves online.

“Men, on average, exaggerate their height by one inch,” Ribarsky said. “Women, on average, tend to underreport their weight by about 15 pounds.”

Ribarsky said the typical pool of online daters could be broken up into four categories: romantics, junkies, disappearing acts and realists.

She said romantics often, “think falling in love online is awesome and wonderful and begin to feel these notions of love before they even meet somebody.” 

A realist, Ribarsky said, “recognizes that online dating, or any form of technology, and how it influences our relationships is simply another tool that allows us to meet people. They realize they are not going to immediately fall in love with the people they meet online.”

She said she would encourage all of the audience members to take this approach to dating in the digital age. 

Ribarsky said there are a plethora of different dating sites from which an individual can choose to sign up, ranging from interest based sites to matching sites to sites that charge a fee to sign up.

“Pay for self-selecting sites require that you pay to sign up,” Ribarsky said. “Typically, when individuals are willing to pay for a site they are, perhaps, a little bit more serious about wanting to find somebody.”

When it comes to choosing a site, Ribarsky said it could be helpful to put a filter on one’s contacts in order to pinpoint responses from a specific age group or geographical area. 

“Interestingly, each site develops their own reputation,” Ribarsky said. “Match [of Match.com] is one of the largest companies. They have famously started having ‘stir events,’ which are like mixers. … These stir events give people the comfort that everyone showing up is there with the same purpose.”

E Harmony, Match, Christian Mingle and Ourtime are among the most widely used sites, Ribarsky said.

She said it is important to create a username that lets a viewer see your interests and to spend time thinking of a headline that is inviting and interesting. Ribarsky said a common mistake made by online daters is to be boring or basic when it is best to be positive and interesting, that way a viewer will be intrigued to learn more information.

Lastly, Ribarsky said the profile picture that a person selects could make a major difference in his or her online dating persona. 

“Think about anything that you’re showing in your picture is also creating an impression for you,” Ribarsky said. “If your photo is taken outside in the mountains it can give off the impression that I’m outdoorsy. Think about those activities but be conscious of the impression you are putting out there.”

She said finding similarities through chatting is key. 

“Be specific, tell them about your average Saturday or average Sunday so they know what you’re like.”

Ribarsky closed by saying that dating can attract people who misrepresent themselves and deception does happen. She said there is also, at time, a heightened sense of comfort when interacting with people online that encourages people to share more than they might in a face-to-face interaction. 

“The one thing that I always stress to people is to just remember that online dating is just another tool to try to find people, the same as going out to a bar or to a church group to meet people,” she said.

Ribarsky said maintaining a balanced, honest portrayal online is an individuals’ best bet for success. 

“Remember, this is essentially an advertisement for you,” she said. “In any advertisement you will sell the best features of it. But at the same time, don’t boast. This is a time to pick out your best characteristics and highlight those. However, people often undersell themselves too.” 

Contact Meg Handelman at [email protected]