Love in the time of Tinder

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 8, 2017

METRO DETROIT — When Merissa Hudnall, of Ferndale, met her future husband for the first time, she already knew a lot about him. He liked Tom Hanks and the restaurant National Coney Island — and so did she. There wasn’t an awkward getting-to-know-you period. 

She met Jason Hudnall, originally of Clawson, on the online dating website OKCupid. She had been perusing the site for a few months before her beau reached out to her.

“I was on the site for only two weeks before Jason first messaged me. We messaged back and forth for about a week, and then he stopped talking to me. About a month later he messaged me again, and I thought about not responding because I was thinking, ‘Why is he all of a sudden interested again?’” Hudnall said. “(But) I decided to respond.”

After texting for about a week, the two decided to meet up at a Starbucks for coffee. That was June of 2011. In the fall of 2014, they were married at the Belle Isle Conservatory in Detroit.

“I knew the moment he walked in the door that I would spend the rest of my life with him. It was one of those cheesy movie moments where time stood still. I’m not joking. While we were waiting in line I thought, ‘Should I offer to buy the coffee? Why am I stressing so much? He’s going to buy me coffee for the rest of my life,’” she recalled. “Every June 1, we make sure to stop at that Starbucks for coffee now.”

There are thousands of online dating success stories to be told around the world. It’s changing the way love-seekers of all ages interact — but how, exactly?

That’s what Elena Francesca Corriero wants to find out. The second-year Ph.D. student is working with colleagues at Wayne State University in the Online Interaction Lab to study how online dating and communication impact romantic relationships.

“The whole project studies how dating platforms affect communication between daters in terms of the actual interactions that take place based on the specific technology used by daters,” she explained.

The investigation has been ongoing for the past three years and includes numerous individual studies to examine how different dating platforms work for different users. When all is said and done, the researchers hope to have a better idea of what makes online dating great, and what should be changed to optimize the experience for users.

But that doesn’t mean Corriero hasn’t come to a few conclusions of her own based on the research.

“There are two competing things at play here. On one side, we want to find a connection with others, and that remains a primary need we have to satisfy somehow. But on the other side, I do think (online dating) has potentially made us pickier. We may be more demanding, weeding out daters based on how well they match our preferences,” Corriero explained. “I also think online dating could potentially make us less likely to commit, especially if we perceive we have alternatives.”

Hudnall said she and her new boyfriend deleted their online profiles about a week after that successful Starbucks date, knowing they had found a great match and wanted to be with each other exclusively. 

After all, to her that was the point. She only hopped online to date because she hadn’t had much luck finding love the old-fashioned way. 

“I always said I would never do online dating and I wanted to meet someone in a more organic way. Then I started realizing that I wasn’t meeting people and going on actual dates anymore,” she said. 

And that’s one of the truly unique benefits of online dating, according to Corriero. Basically, the corner bar becomes a whole lot bigger.

“Traditionally, people were limited to finding dating prospects in their physical environment. I grew up in Italy, and for sure there was no online dating. Basically, you met people in the places you would go, like school or the gym and so forth. Now, you can virtually meet anyone that you would be very unlikely to bump into on the street,” she explained.

She added that a lot of the frustration from online daters comes from not finding the right platform to fit their personality — someone who wants to do close vetting of potential mates would likely prefer eHarmony, as opposed to someone who wants to keep some natural spontaneity in their dating life, who would be better suited for the smartphone app Tinder.

Of course, there are the potential dates who are just up to no good.

“I did have a few guys who were creepy or perverts,” Hudnall said, adding that she just brushed them off, but knows friends who get frustrated by not finding great matches quickly.

Also, don’t worry too much about how you come off in your profile. Despite best efforts, research shows there’s a good chance prospectors will perceive you in a way that’s totally different from who you are or what you intended, Corriero noted.

Hudnall said she couldn’t pin her future husband down at first — his photos all looked different, and their online conversations weren’t connecting just the way she’d like — but took the leap and met him anyway.

“We spent four hours walking around Royal Oak talking about our lives, dreams for the future, fears and the not-so-great parts of our lives. I think if we had met through mutual friends or ran into each other sometime, that never would have happened,” she said.