What we miss when we treat romance like online shopping.
On the internet, there are plenty of ways you can find what you’re looking for—there are review sites and editorial commentary and video blogs and ratings that can help you narrow down your search. What’s harder to come across are the things you didn’t know you needed in the first place—the things that, as those in Silicon Valley and beyond love to say, “surprise and delight.” In an increasingly interconnected world, the same holds true for dating: You can find what you’re looking for. But is what you’re looking for what your heart actually wants?
The Economics of Dating
It’s become easier and easier to take an economic approach to finding love, a story from The Atlantic reports, and it has a lot to do with the fact that you can swipe or scroll or tap for hours until you’ve matched with tens of people who fit your specific criteria: they must love dogs or have good taste in eyewear or frequent the farmers market or find running enjoyable or be astrologically compatible with your sun sign. This precise phenomena is likely what inspired a fake Amazon Dating page, formatting singles profiles’ as if they could be ordered on Prime. The finding isn’t the hard part. It’s where you go from there.
According to behavioral economics researcher and dating coach Logan Ury, the seemingly limitless possibilities for finding a partner lead to “relationshopping” which, well, is exactly what it sounds like. There’s a constant influx of new fish in the sea to choose from, except these days, those potential-suitor-fish are more likely caught by way of one big net (which might drag in some trash, too) and less likely by way of a single-pole with just a bit of bait and a lot of patience.
This is not to say that dating, at any previous point in time, has been better, easier, or more special. It’s just that now, in our tech-centric economic approach, there’s slightly less potential to be surprised; there’s a difference between knowing what you like, and setting out to find what you might think is your cookie-cutter match—after all, a person is not the bulk order of absorbent yet eco-friendly paper towels you incessantly researched before committing to.
Love in the Time of Corona
As it becomes harder to connect with humans in real life—first our own social resistance to meeting people in the wild then a global pandemic that keeps us distanced—online dating seems like the best option. A 2017 Standford study showed that nearly 40% of all heterosexual couples met online; and since our nationwide shutdown dating apps have seen upwards of 25-30% increases on the number of messages, video calls, and downloads. OkCupid saw a 700% (yes with two zeros) increase in the number of digital dates in the first two months of quarantine. While we may be averse to digital relationships, our need for human connection has become even more important. And this means actually getting to know people prior to being intimate with them (and getting creative about dating while doing it). Experts call this the slow burn.
When you don’t leave some wiggle room for the unexpected, you might miss out on an unlikely spark; which could be just why a show like Love Is Blind—as chaotic as it may be—at least suggests one kind of antidote to our overdone economics. With (metaphorically) closed eyes and an open heart, your swipes might start to feel a little more special than your Seamless orders.