Although Covid-19 has made dating more difficult, people are still finding ways to make connections and initiate more intimate relationships. Like a lot of life right now, people are using the internet to meet and date potential partners. But, unlike zoom birthday parties or virtual weddings, online dating is nothing new. Even before the pandemic, 3 in 10 Americans reported having ever used a dating website or app. Sociological research shows us both the promises of online dating and its potential to entrench existing inequalities.

The internet has expanded the dating pool, potentially displacing “traditional” ways of meeting partners in school or through family connections. This is particularly impactful for people who might have “thin” dating markets where they live and in their community including LGBTQ people and middle-aged heterosexual people. Online dating provides a way for people to seek connection, love, or monogamy with a broader social network, one that is connected to geography and place in both new and familiar ways.
The “online” in online dating introduces concerns about authenticity that are not necessarily present in face-to-face interactions. Users worry that their online dates are not who they say they are, and carefully analyze date’s online profiles to try to determine “the truth.” Individuals with stigmatized identities, such as disabled people, worry about how to “disclose” this identity in cyberspace, a concern that is not necessarily present in the embodied offline world.
Although it is tempting to view online dating as transformative, it can also entrench existing inequalities. “Assortive mating” in which people seek partners similar to them in terms of race, educational experience, and class happens online, too. For instance, users set their preferences and search profiles in ways that reinforce racial segregation and hierarchy. The inequalities of the “real world” are also present online, with the added barrier that only those who can access computers and the internet can participate.