By almost any measure, Internet dating is ubiquitous. Per an op-ed piece in The New York Times, over one-third of couples who married in the last few years met online.
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Put in perspective, we each probably spent more time apartment hunting than having experiences that helped select our now-divorced spouses. If so, the pundits probably will cite “commoditizing,” and all the good flowing from the concomitant expansion of experience, learning and choice, as why.
Brooks fleshes out his critique by claiming that commoditizing is “the opposite . love.” By this, he must mean that online daters are selecting people from little photos that march down screens like aliens in the game, viz., by objective characteristics, versus the unquantifiable aspects thought to catalyze true love. Online dating also is heavily lambasted for its mishaps.
Without online dating, I’d probably still be the lonely, fearful, guy that I was before creating my profile. People misrepresenting their ages, not looking like their photos, being the opposite of how they describe themselves, not being honest about their backgrounds, passionately emailing but never going further.
But “rating,” in the form of reacting hormonally to something very tangible — hair color, facial expression, height, physique, race — is what takes us all through the first “cut,” and always has (unless, of course, we’re among those who’d let Rev. But misrepresentation and misdirection is par for the course whether you’re picking likely suspects off screens or barstools.
Facebook, Twitter and email — apps arguably responsible for the decline of written communication and normal conversation — get about the same proportion of accolades as online dating gets abuse. And then you enter into a relationship and begin to unearth the really interesting stuff. Whether the things that lured you in are what you really want…
First and foremost, online dating is chastised as being a “meat market.” As New York Times columnist David Brooks recently lamented, online daters are “shopping for human beings, commodifying people.” This criticism ignores the huge benefit of “commodified” dating: expanding the world of dating experience, and, hopefully, the knowledge about oneself and others that can flow from it. Despite the critics, online daters are analyzing people across the same spectrum as anyone ever did, just with more choices.
For example, having come of age around the same time as Brooks, he and I presumably had access to the same panoply of 1970s and 1980s mate-finding tools: bars, beaches, work, school and introductions through family and friends. The proof of this is the tremendous number of marriages originating online.
On that statistically “slim pickings” number of opportunities — akin to what the surviving members of an endangered species have — we based our most important decision: selecting a mate. In 20 years or so, when we can study the durability of these relationships, maybe we’ll find out that these marriages, compared with those of the less recent past, happen to be more enduring.
Sun Myung Moon — who once married disciples by the thousands — pick our spouses). Online dating may generate more of these unfortunate encounters, but that’s probably because it produces more dating experiences.
The fact is that, after this first stage, whether you met on the Internet or at TGI Fridays, deciding to continue seeing a person inevitably becomes about a great deal more. As with a bad restaurant experience — which should make us smarter about where we dine (rather than give up on eating out) — these experiences can make us better at assessing people, more knowledgeable about our own blind spots and more intelligent about our choices.
As for me, without online dating, I would still be stuck in serious relationship quandaries.