Plenty of Fish Outside the Bubble

The Quaker Matchbox, The Swat Marriage, The Sharples Run-In With Last Night’s Drunken Paces Hook-Up: for some, these relationships are an enduring facet of campus life, an inevitable consequence of the Swarthmore social scene. What other options are there? We’re hopeless intellectuals stuck somewhere on the upper end of the “nerd” spectrum, and we simply don’t have the time and resources to devote to long-term wooing. We date our dorm mates and Screw dates, screw our club mates and classmates, befriend our hall mates and teammates and often view the shortcomings of these various arrangements as unavoidable byproducts of attending a small liberal arts school.

But this sad state of affairs needn’t be the norm. With a bustling metropolis of college singles just six dollars and a half-hour SEPTA ride away, the only question is how to connect with that fellow Franzen-reading, Arabic-speaking piccolo player with a penchant for ’60s films.

More and more Swatties are reaching the same solution, as match lists on the popular dating site OKCupid suggest. Online dating at the college level is rapidly growing, and Swarthmore’s notoriously small pond is driving students to seek relationships beyond its overfished waters. However, with an unspoken taboo on web-based romance, much of this alternate dating scene takes place under the radar, leaving would-be disciples to happen upon online communities by chance.

Emily Richardson ’13, who met her current love interest on OKCupid, believes online dating shaming may come from stereotypes surrounding internet communities as a whole. “People may think online dating websites are where the socially awkward go to chat with their ‘online friends’  — on some levels, that might be fair, but there definitely is an online community that has everything  a real-life community has,” she said.

“There’s also this assumption that you go to online dating sites out of desperation,” she added. “People think you try it because you’re incapable of meeting someone in real life.”

To the contrary, many students — Richardson included — are driven online by a wide variety of reasons, with “shits and giggles” typically topping the list. Richardson sought improvement in the art of first dates, a real-world skill that goes unpracticed in the bubble. Lisa Sendrow ’13, a current Plenty of Fish account-holder, created her first profile on OKCupid during finals week of her junior year to gain some confidence.

“Guys at Swarthmore never tell you that you’re pretty,” Sendrow said with a giggle. “It really makes you feel good when people tell you you’re cute or you’re beautiful.”

While romance didn’t drive her to the site, Sendrow still believes there’s hope for cyber sweethearts. Her mom and stepdad met on Yahoo Personals, and “are very happy together,” according to Sendrow. A five-week relationship that blossomed in DC this summer, as well as a miscellany of pleasant first dinner dates and bar outings, kept her entertained and feeling connected while working in the capitol.

OKCupid user Jonah Schwartz ’15 sees interactions on dating sites modeling other forms of internet bonding. Much like the “Class of 20–” Facebook pages, the perceived blanket of anonymity on dating sites creates a space for personal expression and forthright interactions.

“You can think of it as a metaphor,” Schwartz said. “There’s a room filled with all these kids from the class of 2015. Some would be really comfortable in that setting, and others wouldn’t. Online, it doesn’t matter. You post… and people can either read it or pass over it. It feels a little safer, which is interesting, because you actually are more vulnerable, putting yourself out there in a way you wouldn’t do in person.”

How do these virtual connections map onto the real world? Sometimes, quite successfully. Richardson and her partner are currently navigating a long-distance relationship — a frustrating experience, but one they’re used to, after six months of texting before meeting in person. Schwartz maintained a casual relationship with a girl he met online this summer in Los Angeles and Sendrow’s beau is a relic of her Cupid days.

All three students started messaging prospective meeting candidates online, afterwards moving to texts and calls. Meetings took place after periods ranging from two to four weeks, in most cases. While not all outings ended in love, Sendrow’s worst meet-up — ending with her walking out on an “asshole” of a dinner date — was a unique exception to what were generally described as pleasant, if slightly awkward, experiences.

With online dating increasing in popularity for college-aged singles, a crop of new sites are targeting students as their main demographic. Although projects like Date My School, Coed Singles and University Love Connection are hogging headlines, Swatties seem to prefer OKCupid’s format. The site prompts users to answer questions on topics ranging from political views to literary preferences and assigns matches based on responses.

“It’s nice to know that people I’m matched with are going to share some of the same values … and not hate abortion, for example, or gay rights,” Sendrow said.

Schwartz’s faith in the site’s matching system stems from a compatibility rating of 98% with a former high school sweetheart — proof that the potential for romance exists in the numbers.

Whether looking for romance or an excuse for free dinner, Richardson advises OKCupid user not to feel alone. “If you do decide to create [an online account], you’re definitely not the only one on campus,” she said. “I’ve had Swatties come up as matches — they’re definitely out there.”

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