Because young people and/or anyone in the dating world don’t have enough things to be confused and anxious about, the Atlantic, of course, has a new piece by Dan Slater all about the ways in which internet dating is destroying human capacity for love and monogamy. Bloggers, of course, have a lot of things to say about it, and publishers, of course, are peddling a new book from the author that you can pay a lot of money for if obscure topics like “human relationships” and “finding love” happen to interest you. Great.
You know it’s legit though, because Slater’s source material comes almost exclusively from a lone asshole named Jacob, and from people who make their livelihoods by running online dating companies. People who, as one consultant in the piece points out, have an obvious financial incentive to “keep [these fuckers] coming back to the site as often as we can.” So.
Anyway, Jacob. Jacob is in his mid-30′s, and claims that all his relationships pre-online dating ended in him being dumped for neglecting his girlfriends in favor of loner activities like “sports” and “concerts,” things one could never possibly enjoy with an appropriately compatible significant other. Post-online dating, his options have expanded, he says he may “not be willing to wait” for one of his “girlfriend prospects” who doesn’t want to sleep with him immediately, and claims that he otherwise “would have married” one girlfriend out of convenience. Which is confusing because the article makes it clear that she broke up with him, but whatever, petty details.
What this is supposed to demonstrate is the “too many options” trap of online dating, and a broader theory that “the rise of online dating will mean an overall decrease in commitment.” Which is certainly true. For better and for worse (as they say in those marriage vows none of us will ever get to hear, aaaaaah!), the endless variety of online dating reminds you that there are options. Which is so, so good when you need to get out of a “meh” relationship or a wrenching bout of post-breakup self-doubt and loathing. It is also good if you are an asshole like Jacob who needs fresh new reasons to avoid fulfilling relationships.
And, there’s the other thing about options. Sure, there are a lot of them, and the “tyranny of choice” is horrible and crippling and real. But that doesn’t necessarily mean so much. Anybody with an OKCupid account has undoubtedly been on endless dates with nice, fun people, but also people with jobs and interests that sound cool and interesting, but with whom the idea of actually, say, having sex or spending your entire life gives you the kind of “bugs under the skin”feeling that makes you fake diarrhea just so you can leave a half hour earlier and stop trying to make small talk. For instance. Dating is easier now, yes, but not such a candy store of amazing options that the need for intimacy and a deeper level of human connection has been totally obliterated. We are not a doomed generation of zero-attention-span little shits.
I guess I just get upset when I see articles like this — with scary sound bites like Jacob’s “I’m worried I’m making it so I can’t fall in love,” or one executive’s speculation that “marriage will become obsolete” — which so obviously prey on people’s worst, saddest fears. It seems cruel, and also stupid. At the end of the day, this is just another tool to help people get where they wanted to go to begin with, whether that’s out of an unsatisfying relationship or in to a childish, never-ending gauntlet of promising early dates, or even into a great, committed (or casual! whatever!) relationship that wouldn’t have otherwise come to be, and which doesn’t necessarily have to end in marriage because not everyone wants that and it’s just fine. No one’s fundamentally changing here. But anyhoo, this isn’t such a big deal regardless of whether or not Slater is right and I’m just being a silly, blind optimist here. If you think about it, we all die alone, in the end. So cheer up.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.