While “hook-up culture” is getting a lot of attention, there are deeper problems with online dating. But it isn’t hopeless.
There has been a lot written recently about the challenges of online dating and the switch to much more of a “hook-up” culture. While it definitely exists and this topic gets most of the attention, that has not been my experience. So one of two things must be true … I’m doing it wrong … or there is still reason to be optimistic about meeting people online.
The problem with online dating isn’t that it created a hookup culture. The problem is it has made us all unicorn hunters.
I’m as guilty of this as the next person, and I’ve also watched it happen to many friends. You meet an amazing person. Their resume checks all the boxes for what you say you are looking for in a relationship, but you still move on. Why? They don’t have the right job. They aren’t quite as attractive as you want them to be. They don’t live in the most convenient area of town. You don’t like their shoe choice … whatever, doesn’t matter, none of those are the actual reason. The actual reason is that in your hands you hold the potential of meeting someone else that might be perfect! So do you buy now on the person in front of you? or roll the dice for what may be the next swipe on Tinder?
In 2006, the Editor of Wired wrote a book called The Long Tail, about the expanded economy due to the impact of the Internet on business. Anderson talks about the “economics of abundance” where everything in the world becomes available to everyone. This, essentially, is what dating sites and apps have done to the dating world. We approach it with a list of specific things we are looking for, and assume if we just keep looking we will find that exact person … oh, and they will absolutely love us, obviously!
As a divorced father of two, I know my experience being married contributes significantly to how I approach dating now. Sometimes for the good and many times for the bad. I’ve tried all the sites and apps and definitely have had some interesting experiences. Several factors contribute to this need to keep swiping until we find the non-existent, but perfect person … the unicorn.
The numbers game
The online dating world is substantially different for women than men. I’ve had friends tell me they created a match.com profile and within a day had 75-100 emails from guys trying to get their attention. That is definitely not this guy’s experience. But think about that for a second, we are trying to get a woman’s attention in one email out of a hundred, and she is getting that much every few days. How can that much communication be sifted through to find the best fit.
On the flip side, I log in to my Match account and can search through hundreds of profiles. It can be overwhelming with many people that seem interesting and trying to begin communication with them in a compelling, thoughtful and personal way. Many times it feels like a numbers game to throw out as many intros as possible, just to see what sticks. You can filter by everything imaginable! I’m looking for a woman with brown hair, born in September, left handed and works in the medical field … can’t be that hard to find …
People don’t know what they want
This isn’t unique to online dating, but people really have no idea what they really want. I know way too many women, for example, that say they want a guy that is: easy going, driven, smart, kind and easy to be around … then only date unemployed assholes …
I’m actually terrible in this area myself. It is probably the biggest challenge for me in dating. I think I know what I need … but often what I want, or what could be, distracts me from the right choice or commitment. I saw a post recently that sums it up perfectly, “the problem with red flags is that I’m attracted to them.”
People come and go quickly
Not that long ago, people could make plans for the next week or maybe even two and know that those plans would stick. Because they had a date! And dates were somewhat rare and certainly special. Dates haven’t always been as easy to come by as they are now. But with Tinder, you can connect to many new people every single day, so keeping a conversation engaging long enough to meet up with someone next week is nearly impossible.
Recently, I connected to someone on Tinder, we chatted back and forth, exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up the next week for lunch. Over the next few days, communication stalled and we never met. This has happened at least a dozen times to me and my friends all share similar experiences. With the number of people matching and popping up every day, it’s nearly impossible to make plans more than a day or two out.
Attention span is short … or non-existent
We have no attention span at all. This isn’t news. But as it impacts dating, it’s amazing anyone gets into a committed relationship at all anymore. If we aren’t laughing, happy and intensely attracted to someone from the moment we meet, it’s on to the next.
Everyone takes pride in how busy we are. Sometimes I want to punch myself in the face when someone says, “how’s it going?” and my response is “busy” before I can even stop myself. It’s ridiculous. Everyone is busy, that’s life … but now it’s also used as status. Whoever is busier is the most important.
None of us has time to respond to all the email or return a phone call, so we sure don’t have time to text that potential dating partner back. No time in our lives to squeeze in another person, yet we expect to meet our soul mate. We don’t take the time to sit still and actually get to know a person, to understand what makes them tick and give them a real shot to see if we want them in our lives.
Expectations have been raised
We are so entitled.
Who the hell do we think we are? I mean, have some self-confidence, that’s great, but damn. The things I have heard or even more likely, said myself, as reasons to stop seeing someone would just make you scratch your head. Where did we get the idea that perfect exists? Somewhere along the way we decided to hold out until we meet someone who meets every one of our ridiculous expectations … and we cover it up by saying we have “high standards”… which is really just protecting ourselves from digging in to the hard work of a relationship.
I have been lucky to meet some truly remarkable women I would never have had the opportunity to connect to without online dating sites and apps. I’ve done my best to maintain friendships with people, even if it didn’t turn into a romantic relationship. I also still believe there is potential in people looking for their partner to connect through these sites to something great. With a willingness to engage people in meaningful conversation, give them our attention and balance our expectations, we might be amazed how well we connect.