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More Vermonters Are Dating Online, But Stigma Persists

Flickr/ Rik Panganiban
A notification for a location-based dating app.

Online dating websites report a spike in registrations right after the holidays. And more and more Vermonters are looking online for a potential match. Some are finding online dating to be challenging… and even embarrassing.

When Andrea Olson moved to Vermont from Memphis, Tenn., she tried the dating site OK Cupid for the first time. She’s 31, and says the OK Cupid scene in Burlington can be tough. She cites an age gap as one reason.

“The age of men seems to be in the post-college age, and then all of a sudden it jumps to 35 and up,” said Olson. “It hasn’t been the easiest.”

She’s not the only one who feels that way. From to OkCupid, more and more Vermonters are turning to online dating to meet new people, but with varying success. Olson says it can be discouraging.

“I don’t know if it’s the way I’m presenting myself on the site, but I’ll send messages to guys that I think… I just want to get to know them better,” Olson said. “But they don’t message me back.”

And that’s the way most dating sites work. A dating profile includes photos, favorite books and movies, and even questions that are meant to gauge values on issues like politics and religion.

With some services, the photo is what’s most important. The app Tinder gets its data from Facebook, and sorts potential matches by location.

Compared to most dating sites, the information is limited. All the app provides are photos, plus some basic information like age, and whether or not two users have mutual Facebook friends.

Justin Mateen founded the app last year. He sees it as no different from meeting someone organically.

"It's like meeting at a coffee shop, but your relationship is on steroids." - Tinder founder Justin Mateen.

“Tinder really emulates human interaction. So when you walk into a coffee shop the first thing you notice about someone is their physical appearance,” said Mateen. “You’re either drawn to someone or you’re not.”

Mateen says at a time when everything is searchable, having the data from Facebook helps too.

“It’s like meeting in a coffee shop but your relationship is on steroids,” Mateen said. “Because you already know so much about each other.”

Tinder is popular with Burlington’s college students.  Alex Johnson is a 19-year-old sophomore at UVM. He says that last spring it seemed like everyone was on Tinder:

“People use it for varying purposes, but I think most people used it for more casual situations,” said Johnson.

At UVM, that might mean using the app to invite a fellow student to a party.

But in a rural state like Vermont, Tinder has its limits. Johnson says when he used Tinder outside of Washington D.C. he found a number of users of all ages.

But back in Vermont, Johnson says it was mostly students, and all in Burlington. Users trying to find a match in other parts of the state might be out of luck.

And at the end of the day, there is still disagreement about the stigma of online dating. Johnson says it felt like giving up.

“After a certain point it just became kind of like sad to me, the prospect of online dating. Even though I know millions and millions of people use it to meet people- it just seemed kind of like giving up,” said Johnson.

And Andrea Olson says she has friends who’ve successfully met long-term partners online… but still lie about it.

“They met their husbands and wives online but they’ll say they met them at a bar,” said Olson.

There are successes. A number of Vermonters reported meeting their partners online for this story. But none wanted their full names used.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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