Why is online dating so horrific?
This is not an overstatement. Singles are basically striking out left and right. In fact, only 20% of those dating online have found any success with it, according to a study by Avvo.
With the aid of technology, modern daters should be in a realm of unlimited possibility—a veritable feast of romance. And yet, the online experience makes people feel jaded and undesirable (or even unsafe). In the words of XM radio host Sujeiry Gonzalez, “Although technology has allowed us to meet more prospects, it has also become easier to be noncommittal.”
Interviews with five relationship experts—including noted sociologist Pepper Schwartz—have revealed three main reasons behind the horror of online dating. Specifically, paradox of choice, feigned indifference, and objectification. Perhaps by understanding these reasons, the online experience could be improved.
Paradox of choice
Trouble committing is nothing new, especially for young adults that grew up with thousands of cable channels. Always scanning for something better is a side effect of having too many options. No less true in the dating scene, the swiping potential is infinite. Theoretically, with such a large sample size, everyone should find their match. Yet in practice, it keeps us in limbo. Why is that?
Turns out, all the choice is crippling. “Today, if we have one ho-hum date, we think ‘Why waste another three hours? There are thousands more where that one came from,’” says author and public speaker, Jenna McCarthy.
“I realize I sound like an old hag here,” McCarthy continues, “but I don’t think technology has done much to make love stronger; in fact, I think it creates an unrealistic illusion of possibility.”
Consider this text conversation from two folks attempting to arrange a date:
The two had planned to meet for drinks. But note the word choice of the speaker in grey. They don’t use the word “date”, but rather, “reschedule our hang out.’ Meanwhile, the response in blue embodies the “feigned indifference”.
Despite how defensive this all seems, to many daters, this is normal communication. It implies an apathy to being stood-up and a preoccupation with self-fulfillment. But the truth is, nobody likes being canceled on, and nobody likes reading a text—particularly one from a potential love interest—that conveys such a pronounced lack of interest. The potential of this relationship is over before it began.
“We tend to struggle with direct communication,” explains marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon. “We fear that we’ll be ‘too needy’, or that asking for greater clarity or certainty around a relationship will scare the other person off. So what do we do?… [We] convince ourselves out of what it is we know we want.”
She continues, “We [should be] shifting the victory to be in the process instead of in the outcome. That means that ‘the win’ is that we speak up for ourselves and communicate what it is we want/need… We want to avoid getting hurt. Obviously. But we do that at the expense of living in our truth, and honoring ourselves.”
The online dating world, like the rest of the online universe, is notorious for snap judgements and harsh critiques. Hurtful, rude comments that most people would never utter in public and/or to someone’s face fly with abandon. Why?
The answer lies in objectification—the dehumanization of others that is a side effect of virtual reality. Social profiles strip people of their vast and complex personality, reducing them to a few pictures and a soundbite. Especially for those connections that aren’t personally acquainted, the profile basically equals the person.
And of course, dating profiles are not exactly known for reliability. Daters purposefully misrepresent themselves. “Both men and women put up pictures that are either the best way they have ever looked for two minutes in their life, or ones that look blurry or ancient,” says noted relationship expert Pepper Schwartz. “All of these are a bad idea because of course one of the most humiliating experiences I can think of is meeting someone who is surprised (and unhappy) about the way you look.”
Given the objectification bias and the reality that your dating profile is, at least until you meet someone in person, “you,” honesty is important. “The more honest you can be—the more your picture looks like you do—the more confident your date will be about your honesty in general,” says Schwartz. “I know the temptation to create a better profile than you are in real life is tempting—and yes, it may get additional people interested in you. But it won’t get the right person interested because they are looking for someone else—not you.”
Is there hope?
Is it possible that these issues can be avoided? Might online dating even start to eventually realize its potential?
Sex writer Jenny Block offers hope, noting that, “technology gives us a chance to say things that are hard to say– like in difficult relationship conversations”.
Indeed, most people would agree that asking someone out is probably easier digitally. Phrases like, “You interest me. Could we meet for lunch?” are unnerving to say aloud and could be easier to type.
Regardless, the best advice for online daters is probably the best advice for all daters: be kind and considerate. “On the other side of these apps and devices are human beings,” says Pharaon. “They’re people who have feelings, and even though we may not ‘owe’ them anything, we should always aim to operate with integrity.”