Every couple has a "how we met" story, usually a sweet account of the moment their eyes met across a crowded room or how a chance encounter led to love. How many of those tales now include a mention of dating apps like Tinder, messages exchanged on a dating site, or a particularly thoughtful remark on an Instagram photo that led to coffee and beyond?
That question is at the heart of a photography project called "We Met on the Internet," which explores the romantic connections that people have made online. Each entry includes a portrait of the couple and a short story about where they met.
Jena Cumbo, a Brooklyn photographer, created the project (online, of course, at jenacumbo.com/we-met-on-the-internet) in January. Gina Tron, a Brooklyn writer, joined Cumbo a bit later to help her interview the participants and document their stories. Both women said they were fascinated by the way so many of our interactions have migrated online and that the rapid change was reshaping our lives and relationships.
A recent Pew study reported that one out of every 10 Americans has used an online dating website or mobile application, and of those people who have used one of those sites or apps, the majority have gone on dates set up through a digital tool.
That might have seemed outrageous, or even dangerous, a decade or two earlier, but it has become commonplace, Tron said.
Her project is more than a detailed accounts of online dating success stories. It is also an anthropological study about how modern people seek each other out and turn digital winks and notes into a full-fledged partnership.
In the case of Valerie and Roberto, who met on a site called MakeOutClub.com in 2002, it took months of phone calls before they met in person. They eventually married.
With Taylor and Jonathan, a dive into the grimy world of the hookup app Grindr turned into a sweet domestic partnership in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. Another couple found a connection while exchanging messages about weight loss on Myspace and turned that bond into a marriage that has spanned nearly a decade.
Cumbo and Tron said that many of the people who were interviewed said online dating helped them navigate the murky world of online interactions, where intent and emotion can be hard to decipher.
"Even though online dating is more new age, it's more traditional when it comes to dating roles," Tron said. "If you start hanging out with someone casually, it's hard to get to the level where you admit you are a couple."
But, she said, "If you meet through an online dating site, it's obviously a date."
The project also reveals a new truth: All dating is now online dating, regardless of whether a website or application designed specifically for that purpose is involved. It goes beyond OK Cupid, Match, Grindr and Tinder to include Facebook, Craigslist and Instagram. Any communal space — online or otherwise — where people can connect and interact is where romance can take root.