A few weeks ago, I wrote an article lauding online dating as an emerging norm, claiming that, in a culture that has normalized casual hookups, online dating is doing wonders for monogamy. Since then, online dating outlets such as Grouper and Tinder have exploded onto the scene, causing me to reassess the benefits of online dating entirely.
Grouper and Tinder are simply awful, amounting to no more than crass technological extensions of the hookup culture. Grouper removes the vulnerability implicitly involved in dating, since it sets you up on a date with two of your friends and then three potential dating prospects for each of you. Fearful of a lull in conversation that would test both your intrapersonal skills and genuine attraction to your date? Not to worry! Just piggyback off of your friends' conversations. You do not even have to make it known that you are attracted to any of the three with whom you were set up. It could just be a casual "hangout" that may or may not lead to a drunken makeout, depending on how many bars you hop to... naturally.
Tinder is even worse. Tinder advertises itself as a "fun way to break the ice... all anonymous until someone you like, likes you back," because god knows striking up a conversation is way too risky these days. No, with Tinder, you just have to download an app and scroll through a series of pictures pulled from Facebook. You rate "Friends" and "Friends of Friends" based exclusively on how attractive they seem in pictures. The more speedily you click through and rate people, the more likely you are to be matched. Then you engage in a series of text-like conversations that usually start with some comment about how "hot" or "fun looking" the other is because, given all you know is what they look like, what else is there to say, really? It's a meat market in which anonymous participants have nothing to lose.
For the purposes of investigative journalism (and, admittedly, out of curiosity), I downloaded Tinder. It lasted less than a day on my phone. During the brief time I perused the "options," I came across a disconcerting number of 19-year-olds, guys friends from college and a bunch of sketchy-looking dudes from "the DC area."
"This is just the hookup culture manifesting on my cell phone," I lamented to a friend who -- like most 20-somethings -- has his own Tinder profile.
"It is," he affirmed, remarking that he's been on three Tinder dates, two of which ended in a hookup.
To be true, the jury is still out on sites like OkCupid, which provide a genuine forum for one-on-one interaction with fellow users who take the time to develop their online profile into something representative of their personality. The problem with OkCupid is that, by using a series of algorithms and questions, it attempts to garner from us exactly what we want in a partner. That presumes we in fact know what we want.
As Gordon Marino writes in his philosophical musing on love and tenderness, "Kant insisted that inasmuch as love is a moral duty, it cannot be a feeling because it is not within our power to command emotions." In referencing this, I simply want to highlight Kant's astute categorization of love as something over which we have no control.
Suffice it to say, I agree. We can no more control who we love as we can predict who we will love, which renders the questions and algorithms of dating sites somewhat self-defeating.
Women are often chastized for making idealistic checklists that their prospective suitor ought to fulfill. Ladies, how many times have you had the following conversation with your girlfriends: "I just want someone who is smart, successful, kind, funny, shares my world view and values..." et cetera, et cetera. And then, you meet someone, you fall head over heels and they happen to only to check a handful of these boxes.
In my recent dating experience -- both on and offline -- I was too rigid in assuming that I knew exactly what I wanted, casting off prospects simply because they did not fulfill one "necessary but insufficient" category. This was unwise, as I'm young and have only a vague notion of both who I am and what I want. Of course, there is a lot to be said for setting reasonable standards and expectations for yourself and others. There is also a lot to be said for recognizing that much in the realm of love is beyond our control. The extent to which online dating allows for the requisite unexpected has yet to be determined. But one thing is for sure: Cultivating a dating status quo in which we act as if we have nothing to lose is going to be ultimately detrimental for us all. After all, when you have nothing to lose, what could you possibly have to gain?
Follow Rachel Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rachel_e_ryan