On Online Dating

A friend sent me this article (I guess he was trying to tell me something…) from The New Yorker (here!), which I thought was quite interesting and even insightful. Here, I have selected a few paragraphs. Have a read!

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The process of selecting and securing a partner, whether for conceiving and rearing children, or for enhancing one’s socioeconomic standing, or for attempting motel-room acrobatics, or merely for finding companionship in a cold and lonely universe, is as consequential as it can be inefficient or irresolute. Lives hang in the balance, and yet we have typically relied for our choices on happenstance—offhand referrals, late nights at the office, or the dream of meeting cute.

Online dating sites, whatever their more mercenary motives, draw on the premise that there has got to be a better way. They approach the primeval mystery of human attraction with a systematic and almost Promethean hand. They rely on algorithms, those often proprietary mathematical equations and processes which make it possible to perform computational feats beyond the reach of the naked brain. Some add an extra layer of projection and interpretation; they adhere to a certain theory of compatibility, rooted in psychology or brain chemistry or genetic coding, or they define themselves by other, more readily obvious indicators of similitude, such as race, religion, sexual predilection, sense of humor, or musical taste. There are those which basically allow you to browse through profiles as you would boxes of cereal on a shelf in the store. Others choose for you; they bring five boxes of cereal to your door, ask you to select one, and then return to the warehouse with the four others. Or else they leave you with all five.

It is tempting to think of online dating as a sophisticated way to address the ancient and fundamental problem of sorting humans into pairs, except that the problem isn’t very old. Civilization, in its various guises, had it pretty much worked out. Society—family, tribe, caste, church, village, probate court—established and enforced its connubial protocols for the presumed good of everyone, except maybe for the couples themselves. The criteria for compatibility had little to do with mutual affection or a shared enthusiasm for spicy food and Fleetwood Mac. Happiness, self-fulfillment, “me time,” a woman’s needs: these didn’t rate. As for romantic love, it was an almost mutually exclusive category of human experience. As much as it may have evolved, in the human animal, as a motivation system for mate-finding, it was rarely given great consideration in the final reckoning of conjugal choice.

The twentieth century reduced it all to smithereens. The Pill, women in the workforce, widespread deferment of marriage, rising divorce rates, gay rights—these set off a prolonged but erratic improvisation on a replacement. In a fractured and bewildered landscape of fern bars, ladies’ nights, Plato’s Retreat, “The Bachelor,” sexting, and the concept of the “cougar,” the Internet promised reconnection, profusion, and processing power.

The obvious advantage of online dating is that it provides a wider pool of possibility and choice. In some respects, for the masses of grownups seeking mates, either for a night or for life, dating is an attempt to approximate the collegiate condition—that surfeit both of supply and demand, of information and authentication. A college campus is a habitat of abundance and access, with a fluid and fairly ruthless vetting apparatus. A city also has abundance and access, especially for the young, but as people pair off, and as they corral themselves, through profession, geography, and taste, into cliques and castes, the range of available mates shrinks. We run out of friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. You can get to thinking that the single ones are single for a reason.

If your herd is larger, your top choice is likely to be better, in theory, anyway. This can cause problems. When there is something better out there, you can’t help trying to find it. You fall prey to the tyranny of choice—the idea that people, when faced with too many options, find it harder to make a selection. If you are trying to choose a boyfriend out of a herd of thousands, you may choose none of them. Or you see someone until someone better comes along. The term for this is “trading up.” It can lead you to think that your opportunities are virtually infinite, and therefore to question what you have. It can turn people into products. “Internet dating” is a bit of a misnomer. You don’t date online, you meet people online. It’s a search mechanism. The question is, is it a better one than, say, taking up hot yoga, attending a lot of book parties, or hitting happy hour at Tony Roma’s?

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~ by irwin on July 1, 2011.

3 Responses to “On Online Dating”

  1. Hi Irwin! Its so nice to visit your blog after a long long time and to see that you are doing well (as always!) and still blogging! Not sure if you remember me but I’m definitely still a very grateful reader of your blog…yes after all these years (well, since 2008 to be exact). Anyway my 2 cents worth on online dating (New York style), although I have not been successful yet, I’m glad that I’ve met various people through that and it has helped me better realise the types of guys that I do like or dislike. And that to me is priceless in bringing me closer to finding The One…I’ll know it when I meet him 🙂

  2. No I’ve not been writing in mine anymore. Nowadays I just write snippets from life on FB. Am glad that you are still blogging 🙂

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