Many of us will relate to Channel Four's new prime time drama series, Dates. Internet dating is no longer taboo. We're uploading hundreds and thousands of profiles. We're attracted by their search mechanisms which are more and more sophisticated. In a recent HuffPost blog, though, professional expert Joshua Pompey asks whether match sites are in fact destroying the way we view prospective partners. We've got picky. But who wants to meet someone who sounds unsuitable? Or quickly agree to a coffee date with a guy or girl we've come across online but virtually not chatted to? Actually, I do.
I'll be honest: I'm writing my doctoral dissertation. I welcome distractions. What's more, I buy a flat white once a day, anyway. So my "opportunity cost" is low. Of course, I don't (just) date to procrastinate. And as I'll argue, I'm against market metaphors.
Over the years, I've used sites in the UK, US, Netherlands as well as Germany. I've said "hey, how's tricks?" in more languages than I can actually speak; I've filled out more profiles than I care to remember. Flippantly, desperately, and, yes, unsuccessfully (I was rejected from membership of Germany's Elite Partner). By my back-of-an-envelope calculation, I've drunk coffee with over two hundred men. There were a few whom I went on to date more seriously, and a few I'd have dated more seriously if, well, they had texted back. There's been the odd pragmatic advantage (the hotel upgrade for my parents, courtesy of the gay mafia), not forgetting a classic comical encounter: the bloke who turned up dressed entirely in white Kappa, who'd said he worked in publishing, a.k.a. the local copy shop. I've drunk lattes, cappuccinos and espressos with teachers, accountants and hairdressers; a journalist, a former circus clown, and an unemployed count - etc. Each one, too, can go on to narrate the successful, profitable, tragic and comic dates he's had himself.
I'll readily go for an offline caffeine hit with an online contact because of its discursive benefit. From all my dates and dates about dates, I've learned about politics, art, and how to compare phone tariffs - the latter courtesy of the white Kappa dude. The lad who told me about his RSI and work pressures at the council might not have rocked my world; indeed, he made me think more of my thesis. But he subtly changed my perspective on government cuts. These are the wide variety of people who have shaped my views on society, its echelons and subcultures. Those whom I laugh about, or problematize as if they were actually interested in me (and perhaps a few of them are). Other people's stories enrich our own life narratives. In any case, romance happens, so the cliché goes, when we're actively not looking for it, right?
In search of surprise, I've sometimes decided to shut down my own profile and take a break from internet dating - only to switch it on again soon after. A marketing executive said to me over coffee last week, amusingly: "dating is very people-oriented". Match sites are an ideal way to proactively engage with more people. And yet, if we search for one specific person, attaching weight to assessment algorithms or our own perceived-as-high standards, we lose sight of what makes us more interesting as people. We miss out on a diversity of experience, which is brought about by spontaneity.
What I'm suggesting is that we change the way we use dating sites. Most of my life is, in truth, chaotic, disorganized, and inefficient. Why should my internet dating be any different? A group of US academics conducted research into the metaphors a sample of online (heterosexual) daters used in order to conceptualize their search for a partner. The virtual manhunt wasn't predatory; the spell was not thought of as magical. The process was instead predominantly understood in commercial terms: we "shop", "trading" each other within a "marketplace". The researchers examined both the pros and cons of these metaphors for our thought patterns and relationship initiation. The negative results were that some users appeared to miss what we might call je ne sais quoi as a guiding principle. They experienced a sort of "buyer's remorse" if their date did not actually match the expectations they'd formed through online interaction. So, why not change our principle metaphor?
A radical response would be to get rid of the idea of online dating as an economic method of meeting someone. The shift might take up more time and energy, as well as reduce our chances of finding the partner of however we calibrate our criteria on any given day. But it'd actively increase the randomness of romance. I propose, then, that we think of a match site as a lucky dip. This metaphor would prevent us being not only picky, but presumptuous, too.