We are well past the time when online dating was seen as something rare, strange, especially dangerous, and exceedingly ostracizing. While the narrow-minded among us may still stigmatize meeting potential partners from the virtual world, for many these various mediums for meeting and connecting with people are utilized with frequency—for a lot of different reasons—and effectively.
Whether for friendship, long-term dating, sex, or the many fluid, creative, and beneficial relationships and connections in between, those who are busy, shy, transient, or simply curious can head online to meet others.
Whereas there once perhaps weren’t enough users to make online dating more than a niche platform, we’ve gone the other way entirely and new problems are arising. A deluge of connection seekers, particularly younger users who are growing up and maturing in this digital world, are causing many to become desensitized to feelings and individuality — a phenomenon we’ll call the swiping effect. We too easily dismiss each other, collectively buying into the acceptability of instantly ignoring people. While we all tend to feel that there are many people out there to choose from, people often disappear and become unreliable, and so we simultaneously race to lock down a date for fear that someone else is coming around the corner.
So, with that in mind, here are a few suggestions on how we can improve the online dating experience, which is full of possibility, excitement, connection, and love, but riddled with potential problems.
Let’s get the serious one out of the way first. Online abuse against women runs rampant and so many of us are way too comfortable with solicitous, patriarchal, power-grabbing comments, all dressed up as compliments or silliness. Suggestive, sexualized, aggressive comments aren’t cute, aren’t okay, and they’re not really about sex. Cat-calling exists online and it’s much easier to do behind the protection of a screen; it’s just another way to subject women to the wills of men, to let them know that they exist for the pleasure of men, that they are on display and every part of their looks and lives can and should be criticized.
So let’s create a codified, standardized system wherein we collect all abusive, sexist, untoward messages. We can aggregate all available information and link to the culprits’ profiles. What’s more, if a man’s inner misogynist doesn’t come out till days or weeks after signing up, we can add that to the database, too. If men are held accountable, maybe something can change. Or at least these men can be avoided.
Okay, let’s have some fun now.
Picture this: OkCupid meets LinkedIn. Why not a dating site or supplement that incorporates dating history? We are so curious about pop culture interests and whether someone likes the outdoors or has been to a sporting event, but we are, for better and worse, defined and influenced by our past relationships. And surely that tells us way more than a picture of someone skydiving does! So let’s take the LinkedIn format, and as we are looking for a potential partner, include our dating history. How long, the circumstances of the meeting and the breakup, where things stand, and what we learned. Bonus points if you can get a good recommendation from your past partner!
They’ve been the new hot thing in sports over the last five to ten years, with some teams jumping on board and others still resisting. Basically this is about innovative ways to aggregate old data while also devising novel statistics and evaluations to better predict performance and achieve success.
Somehow, someway, we must be able to apply this to online dating. It’s a two-step process, the first being aggregation. How many people does this person ‘match’ with online? For how long do they interact? How often are they online? How long have they had a profile? There are tons of data that can be mined, and hey, maybe its super intrusive, but whatever; we’re all exhibitionists, and that is why we’re online. That second part is trickier—what does any of the data actually mean?—so good luck with it.
One of the terrible consequences of online dating in general, and Tinder in particular, is that to varying degrees we’ve all come to devalue individuals. If you live in a big city, there are seemingly endless options and we swipe through people a second at a time. They don’t feel real; if they were real, how could we so quickly dismiss them as nothing? We wouldn’t do that in real life. Take that to the next step, and what happens so often is that we message back and forth, maybe even try to set something up, and it falls through. It can take a lot of work to actually get face time with someone, and if it doesn’t happen, we all seem fine with just allowing the other person to drop out of existence.
So we have to limit our ability to connect and set up a system that rewards accountability and punishes flippancy. We must do away with quantity in favour of quality. If there is somehow a check on the messages we send, the swipes we get, and the people we can solicit, we might be a little more careful and opt for meaningful connections.
The myriad of opportunities to connect have us all becoming more selective, able to find people with very specific interests, attitudes, beliefs, kinks, and whatnot to satisfy our desires. It’s great! But what also results is a burden of choice, and yes, a bit of an ego complex. Comedian Aziz Ansari has analyzed this at length in his recent book and a great Time Magazine essay, in which he basically talks about how a man, perhaps once seen as nothing special on the social ladder, can suddenly feel like a Casanova, dismissing women he would have once given up anything for.
You know, as a species, we’re not all that great; many of us may be decent, but we’re definitely too high on ourselves. Self love is great and all, but let’s take it down a notch. People in the past used to wed because it was secure, and now we think we’re all unique snowflakes that need 100% compatibility with someone, and if not, let’s move on.
How about a site that’s completely generic and even sets up dates for you? That way, we can have a few dull, strange, unimpressive experiences just so we can see who is really out there to date. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll sacrifice a little bit more and stop being so damn picky. Lest we all end up like—sorry, spoilers—Colin Farrell and company in The Lobster.