Delia Cai discusses every component of the past, present and future of algorithmic dating. My response is more cynical, but only because she articulated the optimistic side so well. I’m sure reality lies in the middle.
I remain ever-skeptical about things that are born on the internet, especially ones related to dating. (Tinder’s hookline is, “Tinder is how people meet. It’s like real life, but better.”) When I was a senior in high school, I dated a girl for about a month, and 95% of our communication leading up to and during our relationship came through text messaging. I learned very little about her apart from what could be packaged and shipped in a text-byte. As I said, we dated for about a month. Then broke up over text. While that wasn’t the only reason it broke, it did persistently feel shitty that the peaks of our romance were permitted and experienced through the vessel of texting.
Text messaging is a very clean, very orderly form of communication, and it feels planned. It’s not romantic, it’s not dangerous, it’s not sexy. It’s efficient. There’s no chaotic mystery or facial tics, only chess moves and emojis, which I understand to be somewhere between emoticons and emotions.
It’s not holy, it’s mundane
The internet is the same concept of contrived movement. The idea that Myspace questionnaires can represent us is comical. But it’s efficient. The problem with “mystery” and “romance” and “uncertainty” is that they take time. Dating sites don’t. They’re algorithms that inherently remove all the fun shit and replace it with results. Ding! You’ve got a date. It’s not much of a chase when the finish line is moved up a couple paces from the gate. I take issue with the line that “nothing will ever make love itself any less mysterious, unpredictable, or senseless than it always will be,” because while I think that’s a pretty line and a pretty thought, I don’t believe it. I think it directly contradicts what dating sites do, which is to demystify the dating process. When you’re using reason to find passion, what do you expect to find? Probably a fairly reasonable passion.
Or maybe everything. I don’t know. My speculations are limited by having never online dated. All I have the right to do is wonder: in dating, how much of the effect of feeling is born from the process? I admit that the magic attached to dating is unnecessary and partially invented, but I like it, and everyone has to decide whether it’s as important as efficiency.
Supply and demand
A related symptom of online dating is that I imagine it to create even more romantic dissatisfaction. The percolation of Facebook into every niche of life has changed the way I date, for example. And I suspect that we’re becoming less monogamous in the past couple decades because we can. Instead of the “limited but obvious” number of options in Delia’s envisioned small town, we now have nothing but them. We already use Facebook as a dating feeler service (if I Like your status, it doesn’t mean that I like you, but if I like you, I’m sure going to Like your status). My friends list is streaming with eligible bachelorettes. Why be satisfied? Online dating blows out those boundaries even further.
Okay it’s not all bad
I can’t really condemn it. On the opposite hand, I see online dating as substantially different from other forms of internet posturing. Facebook and Instagram are personal guards meant to impress. Here are all the things that I have! Your online dating persona is similar, but the difference is that online dating is one of the only venues where you’re inherently saying, “Here’s what I don’t have.” It is vulnerability.
A nod to Delia’s positivity: My older brother is dating a beautiful Korean girl he met online. He’s a 25-year-old astrophysicist studying in Boston, and although he may have room in his life for entire galaxies, he doesn’t leave much for dating. Online dating let him focus on his work and somewhat passively bring an attractive artist to his door. But back to the first hand, here are the stats he gave me. For every 4 or 5 messages he sent to girls, he’d get 1 response. For every 3 or 4 responses, he’d meet 1 girl in person. After meeting 5 girls, he finally found someone that clicked. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. It’s like pyramid-scheme dating, as opposed to the shooting-into-a-fish-barrel that I do. I don’t know that I want to date someone just because it makes sense. But one more thing, my brother told me in defense. In online dating, you also have the option of dating multiple people at once, to where someone you’re seeing could be seeing 5 or 10 other people at the same time. I’m not sure if that actually restores the thrill of the chase, or if it adds to the romantic disillusionment of the infinite friends list. I can only take his word.