Dating app Tinder says 15 per cent of Australia’s population – almost 3.5 million people - use their services, propelled by lust or the quest for love.
Matchmaking website RSVP boasts that 1,200 new singles join the site every day, while competitor eHarmony claims they are responsible for 11,000 Australian marriages since 2007. The latter says it can raise its revenues in Australia by 50 per cent over 2017/18, such is the potential in our market.
The increasing number of people wedding themselves to the world of online dating has coincided with another increase: the number of singles in Australia.
Rates of single-person households – the majority of which, researchers believe, are occupied by a person not in a relationship – have risen sharply since the 1970s. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number will continue to increase by around 63 per cent over the next 20 years or so, from 2.1 million households in 2011 to almost 3.4 million in 2036.
Leaving aside ageing population factors, could the two trends be linked?
It’s a subject tackled by guests on this week’s Insight, which brought together people single by choice and circumstance to determine why increasing numbers of Australians are living their lives without a significant other.
With the proliferation of online dating services, do we just have too much choice?
“I think because [decision making in dating apps] is so fast paced we've conditioned people to just wonder, ‘what's next?’” speculated an audience member on the show. “I think a lot of people my age are concerned that the person that they're on a date with is thinking, ‘is there something better?’ Like, ‘who can I go on a date with next?’”
“So true,” agreed Allison Norris, a 28 year-old single woman living in Melbourne. “I've seen people swipe [on Tinder] on my dates. They were pretty open about it.”
In the face of so much choice, users aren’t afraid to be picky and quick in their decisions – perhaps, somewhat paradoxically, contributing to singledom numbers.
For Thomas Materia, 28, the transparency of dating apps allows him to swiftly sort through a plethora of choices, where values, taste and looks are already on the table. From there, an efficient set of questions in the first few dates keeps the process of finding a prospective partner equally quick.
“I see myself being single until the right person comes along,” he tells Insight’s Jenny Brockie. “I'm sort of almost clinical in the sense that, you know, the first date I'm trying to ask them some set questions I've almost got in my head.”
I've seen people swipe on my dates.
- Allison Norris
He admits his friends have queried his fussiness, but counters that a lack of pickiness could result in a relationship with “somebody who definitely wasn't right, and then I see that as, I've just wasted all that time, that was annoying.”
“I'd rather sort of shake the tree and see what falls out in the first couple of dates because then, you know, you get further down the track and then you find out that they're a vegan or something,” he admits. “Or you know … they're really left winged or something.”
Allison believes pickiness isn’t true for all online dating users.
“I find from the investigations that I've done with Tinder and the guys that I've asked, they will swipe yes to everybody until they find someone that matches,” she says. “Whereas women I find are a lot pickier and most of the men that I've spoken to about it are pretty open about saying that they will just say yes until they get a yes.”
Warren Giffin, a 53 year-old school teacher laments the mystery of older forms of dating, where a potential match wasn’t ruled out so quickly.
“When we used to date when we were in our 20s like it was all just a mystery and that was sort of the excitement of it,” he says. “Whereas now with the dating apps, it's sort of like the check list scenario: people are being crossed off, and I know sort of a lot of it's probably fairly valid stuff, but before you even get the chance to see them in person.”
An audience member agreed that for all online dating’s possibilities, it could be limiting in finding the right partner.
“I think having all these check lists … and being able to narrow it down from the start really denies yourself the opportunity to grow through the relationship and to have a meaningful relationship,” he said.
Hugh Mackay, a social researcher specialising in this area, speculates these trends might be part of a bigger social shift valorising individualism.
“There's been a lot of references to freedom and independence and loss of stigma about being a solo person and the multiplicity of choice,” he explains to Jenny Brockie. “All of this is part of the culture shift away from our herd instincts towards a much more individualistic approach where people are saying, ‘it's about me, I want to keep my options open, it's my choice, it's all about my happiness’.”
Perhaps the simple answer is that many are just happy being single.
According to Nielsen Research, 74 per cent of singles in Australia are content with their relationship status.
Nevertheless, 63 per cent were still hedging their bets on online matchmaking, saying they have used or would consider dating sites or apps.
In our first new episode of 2017, Insight looks the rise of singledom in Australia - is it choice or circumstance? | Tuesday 14 February, 8.30pm SBS