If there’s any nationality that you think wouldn’t need much help in the dating department, it’s the French.
That's because when we think of the most romantic people in the world, we almost certainly think of the French.
French films like Amelie and French perfume commercials have programmed us to believe that natural, exciting, electrifying, romance inevitably materializes simply by setting foot in the country.
We imagine love comes easy to the Gallic people with their poetic, seductive language and their no-fuss approach to romance. It’s easy to picture beautiful French couples effortlessly falling in love over a cigarette and a glass of red wine on a bistro terrace, the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the background.
But are the French really so traditionally romantic, or are they in fact bucking tradition in favor of modern romance, aka the internet or smartphone Apps? Are dating websites changing the dating game in France?
The Local has taken a look at a study on French online dating habits, released in by Ined, an Institute for National Demographics Studies.
Here’s what we learned:
Online dating in France is more popular than ever
Over the past several years, the practice of online dating in France has steadily risen.
According to a 2014 poll, one in three French adults is on a dating site.
In 2006, when only 42% of households in the country had internet access, already 10% of French people were on such websites.
Over the next seven years, this number rose to 14% among 26-65 year olds. This is an impressive number compared to some other countries such as the United States, where only 9% of adults visited a dating site in 2013.
Lucie Mariotti, a dating coach in Paris, thinks that many people turn to online dating in France because the French are often too proud or too afraid of failure to ask people out in person.
“These days dating in France is much more complicated than in other countries because there’s a lot of pride and fear that make it so the French don’t meet people easily,” Mariotti told the Local. “It’s not an easy thing to approach a Parisian in the street, in a café, or in line at the cinema, because the French are always afraid to start a conversation. They have too much pride.”
Millennials dominate dating websites
Dating websites are most popular with French who are under 30. Not too surprising considering this age group uses the internet a lot and is full of singles.
In the 26-30 range, there are more men than women on these sites, perhaps because men tend to get into serious relationships later than women. But this disparity balances out with age and then eventually reverses.
The French are shy about their internet dating habits
Despite its prolificness, online dating is still a bit of a taboo topic in France.
Marie Bergstrom, commissioner of the Ined study, says that it’s not totally accepted, too often seen as a way to meet people “by default”. Only about half of internet daters will easily discuss their online escapades to friends and family. And the rest say they’ll admit it only to a select few.
Perhaps that’s why it’s a bit of a running joke in France to have a Tinder profile saying something like: “We’ll tell people we met at a museum.”
More diversity but also more exclusivity
As dating websites become more and more popular in France, they’re evolving, becoming more socially diverse but also more targeted.
Whereas in 2006 French online daters were mainly urban (Parisian) high-level professionals, users have become more diverse in the past ten years. But this doesn’t exactly mean that more people are dating across social boundaries. In fact, dating websites are becoming more divided along social lines.
“We’re seeing a strong segmentation of sites that target specific populations: people of a certain age, location, social groups, or religion,” said Bergstrom. “The democratization of dating websites is becoming a ‘segregated democratization’.”
Some websites, like Attractive World, require the current members to vote on new members, ensuring a certain exclusivity and uniformity of users.
So, do French couples actually meet online?
Yes… but real life still wins out.
More specifically and perhaps surprisingly, the workplace is where most lovers meet in France.
Online dating comes in fifth place after nights out with friends or nights in at friends homes.
“Among people who met their current partner between 2005 and 2013, less than 9% met each other on this type of site,” said Bergstrom.
Most people in the survey said online dating gets them “occasional dates” or flings, but not serious relationships.
This lines up with how the French view dating websites. 70% of online daters said they think of them as a place to find casual relationships and fun, not love.
Dating sites become more important, however, for certain populations such as divorcés. During a period of life when there’s a smaller dating pool and a person’s social circle is mainly made up of couples, websites become a particularly appealing way to meet people.
And for same-sex couples in France, dating sites are actually the number one way to find relationships.
But in general, it turns out the top place to meet your soul mate is still good old-fashioned real life.