Dec 31 9:00 AM

How online dating became the ‘Human Shopping Network’

Correspondent Adam May, second from right, speaks with a group of experienced online daters in Los Angeles about the dos and don'ts of creating dating profiles.
Correspondent Adam May, second from right, speaks with a group of experienced online daters in Los Angeles about the dos and don’ts of creating dating profiles.
America Tonight

Kevin and April are experienced Internet daters. When they’re shown an online dating profile of a man with a car in his profile picture, they begin to pick apart the most glaring issues — and ask the obvious questions.

“It ain’t even his car!” Kevin said.

“Why do I care?” April asked. “I don’t care.”

A decade and a half after online dating hit the mainstream, veteran online daters such as Kevin and April have been there and done that. But in an era when the term “catfish” has become commonplace, all their experience means they have learned a thing or two.

“Don’t meet them quick, though. This is Dating 101,” Kevin said. And there’s more.

“And I’ve learned another thing — that women are professionals with angles,” he said. “They can get like this. They look all skinny and boobies sticking out, the booty’s sticking out, and when you see them, they look like Bubba Smith.” 

“America Tonight” correspondent Adam May went to Los Angeles to talk to a round table of singles about their online dating stories. They are just a few of the estimated 30 million single Americans to have used an online dating site. All of them said they’re looking for love. But among traffic, work obligations and other demands, love gets lost somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. So they look for it online.

‘Women are professionals with angles. They can get like this. They look all skinny and boobies sticking out, the booty’s sticking out, and when you see them, they look like Bubba Smith.’

Kevin

Online dating user

For women like Kenya, men have simply become lazy, using online dating as a crutch.

“They stop courting,” she told “America Tonight.” “They stop having the initial leadership in a relationship, so I think they depend on us to be the one to send messages, to follow up, to chase — and I find that different in online dating.”

Her assessment isn’t far off, Kevin said.

“Men don’t know what to do,” he said.

A lucrative industry

Almost two decades after the beginning of online dating, the business has turned into a $2 billion-a-year industry in the U.S. Today there are thousands of online dating sites — and counting. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 38 percent of American singles who are looking for a partner are looking online. The survey found that 23 percent met their spouse or long-term partner through these sites.

While sites such as Match.com, eHarmony and OkCupid have been mainstays in the oversaturated market, niche outlets like Grindr, aimed at gay men looking to hook up, and PositiveSingles, directed at people with sexually transmitted infections, have also established themselves.

“I call it the ‘Human Shopping Network,’” said Kevin. “You get addicted to it.”

Still, for all the choices, dating online — or offline — can be tough. Evan Marc Katz, a dating coach in Los Angeles, has heard it all. Specializing in women and online love, Katz thinks that most women get it wrong.

“It’s mistaking chemistry for compatibility,” he said.

Katz says the way a person presents himself or herself in an online profile goes a long way in standing out from the bunch.

“It’s your profile, but what’s the person who’s reading it thinking?” he said. “So you quit your job to protest human-rights violations and moved to Tibet. How does that benefit me as a boyfriend? What am I going to get out of it?

“And so I think once we can learn to tell stories and illustrate what our partner gets out of dating us, we make ourselves stand out from the crowd simply because nobody does this.”

The main issue Katz sees for successful career women who start online dating is that they are looking for a man who is “just like them, only better.” But successful career men might not want “their clone” in return, he argued, and are looking for a partner who is more of a complement than a competitor. 

Making a career of it

Match.com is among the more popular online dating sites.
Match.com is among the more popular online dating sites.
AP Photo/match.com

The dating coach has taken common sense and turned it into a career. Katz hosts a monthly conference call with 1,000 women on the line. The women pay $50 each to ask his advice on handling dating and men. Katz also takes on a number of private clients at any given time. For $8,000, Katz offers a private 12-week program that has him writing their online profiles, hiring a professional photographer to take better pictures and becoming a sounding board and adviser.

Linna Xiong is halfway through Katz’s program. Xiong, who works in family therapy and, ironically, in couples counseling, began reading Katz’s blog and was soon hooked.

His work has already paid dividends for her. She said that after he went to her online profile, he noticed that Xiong, who is 5 foot 7, put down her preferential height for a man as 5 foot 8 to 6 foot 1.

“‘What’s the difference between 5 foot 7 and 5 foot 8?’ I said, ‘I don’t know,’” she recalled. “He said, ‘I‘m gonna change it to 5 foot 7.’ After he changed it, I went on a date … and it was the first guy I liked.”

Xiong added, “If I think it’s priceless to be happy, to be in love, $8,000 wouldn’t be a big number.”

Perhaps Katz’s most surprising advice is going for quantity over quality and lowering your standards in order to meet more possible mates. It’s advice that was echoed by some veterans of the online dating scene, calling it a numbers game or simply practice.

“People want to find Mr. Right or Mrs. Right, whatever, right away, and it just doesn’t happen,” April said. “You have to meet as many people as you can in as little time as you can so the probability goes up.”

As for Katz, he followed his own advice when he finally found a match in Bridget, who is now his wife. And he didn’t meet her online but at a party. She was a year older than his maximum online-dating age, and he was a different religion from what she specified.

“The thing that I discovered with my wife,” Katz said, “is that she is nothing like what I was ever looking for but I have the best time with her and I could be my best self around her and I wasn’t constantly criticized or insecure and it was just easy. And so I think my whole worldview is, relationships should be easy. If they’re not easy, they’re not right.”

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