Dan Slater, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is the author of Love in the Time of Algorithms: What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating. This is the second piece in a series he’s writing for HowAboutWe on what technology means for the future of relationships – for sex, intimacy, jealousy, compatibility, love, cross-cultural dating, and more.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bloggers, and wondering, worrying, that perhaps a common affliction ails their relationships — or at least, their experiences with online dating. Reading many dispatches on the Internet, you’d think online-dating sites are awash with perverts and misanthropes lying in wait for the next piece of meat naïve enough to presume that online dating is a reasonable place to meet a decent guy.
“No, online dating is not a joy,” writes Slate blogger Amanda Hess, summing up her experience. “It is a horrific den of humanity that sometimes seems even less fun than actually being married.”
On The Gaggle, a relationship site for Millennials, one young woman chronicled an Internet-dating adventure that did indeed seem horrific: six years, five dating sites, more than 50 dates, and not a single lasting relationship. After her first session on Blendr, a location-based dating app, blogger Ann Friedman wrote on the New Yorker’s website that she would only open the app “to show it to friends, scrolling through pages and pages of unappealing men in what resembled a masochistic digital-age performance-art piece titled ‘Why I’m Single.’”
Why who’s single?
Are all young women unhappy with online dating, or just the ones who blog?
Granted, not all writers paint such a bleak picture: Janice Cane, an editor at the Atlantic, noted that the myriad negative descriptions of online dating (including, arguably, my own) didn’t reflect the reality she’d experienced, which is that most men on the internet are looking for a meaningful relationship.
With approximately one-third of the 90 million single Americans dating online, of course you discover as broad a spectrum of experience among online daters as you do interviewing any segment of the dating population. While researching my book, I interviewed dozens of Millennial men and women. Many found online dating a pretty great way to expand their options and accommodate other aspects of their lifestyle – dwindling free time, long hours in offices with no eligible singles, and, for the women in particular, an aversion to spending their precious weekends in bars.
“The people you meet might live a mile away from you, but you’d never run into them IRL,” said Alexis, a 24 year-old woman whose dating adventures I chronicle throughout Love in the Time of Algorithms. “Plus, the online profile screens for red flags. If you’re serious about meeting someone with long-term potential, there’s no need to waste time on three dates only to find out homeboy still lives with his mom and failed out of junior college. It’s still exciting and scary and new to get to know someone you meet online, and a bit magical as it starts to work out.”
Alexis is no online-dating evangelist. She endures her share of horror stories, and keeps her expectations in check. Online dating, for Alexis, is a way to connect with more people who might be right for her, nothing else. As she climbed online dating’s learning curve, she seemed to accept that meeting more people would also occasionally mean meeting more, as she calls them, Chads.
For online-dating naysayers, maybe Chads make for better blog posts and headlines. But when NPR invited Slate’s Hess to discuss online dating, she seemed to conflate her own experience with the larger landscape. She insisted that the men one encounters online are, in large part, no good, because she herself had met no good men there. She cited a new “sexual economy” in which men are simply beneath women, and stuck to this argument even as callers phoned in their happy stories of having met wonderful boyfriends and husbands online.
“One of the reasons I didn’t find online dating very efficient was because before I actually met someone in person it was difficult to get a sense of who they were,” she told NPR. One of the most interesting things about online dating, she added, is that it allows everyone “to have a better sort of handle on their place in the dating world and it sort of provides a loose narrative or structure to understanding dating, which is really confusing.”
I don’t know about narrative or structure, but I agree that dating can be really confusing; and for those who regard dating technology as a torment to blame rather than a tool to lean on, it’s likely to stay that way.