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The Unspoken Secret of Online Dating

I’ve been trying out new podcasts, and I downloaded a December episode of Gimlet’s Undone because it sounded interesting.  It was the story of online dating, beginning with Operation Match in the 60s.

The episode opens in the here and now with a woman talking about her frustration with online dating:

[Man’s voice: We live in this moment in history when computers seem capable of finding basically everything we want.]  If you have a problem which is like, “I’m hungry,” you can open up Seamless and food arrives.  If you have a problem like, “I need a bed frame,” you can open up some apps and just do some online shopping and find a new bed frame.  Get it delivered.  No problem.  But I have this problem, which is that I am looking for someone to love.  If I wanted to, I could fill an entire page of my phone with dating apps, but I don’t think that’s made dating better.  I actually think it might be getting worse.

Replace dating with infertility and you can see why I sat up straighter in the car as I listened.  Here are two problems that are seemingly straightforward — find someone to love, build your family.  Situations that are commonplace and experienced by nearly everyone; either without trouble or with great difficulty.  There are so many obscure problems out there with good solutions.  And then you have dating and infertility that have solutions, but they’re mostly hit or miss.

Later in the episode, one of the founders of OK Cupid admits the secret of online dating.  Those questionnaires you fill out?  They’re sort of pointless.  They don’t really encapsulate a person’s personality or what they’re looking for.  Those things all fall in the je ne sais quoi category of life, unable to be touched by an algorithm.

What online dating does is get you out there, dating.  That’s it.  That’s the whole point.  And the idea is that if you keep doing it, keep plugging away, keep meeting someone, statistically, you will most likely meet THE person, though some people may never find their mate. So that’s the point of dating apps; they’re just to get you out of the house and connecting with another person so you have the chance of finding them.

Okay, so perhaps that wasn’t the most profound idea to you, but it blew my mind.  Because I really thought there was a point to the algorithm and the questionnaire and all of that stuff.  Nope.  Not really.  It’s all spaghetti thrown against the wall, and the point is just to get you to keep boiling pots of spaghetti vs. sometimes have spaghetti but most of the time feeling frustrated and staying in to have rice.

In some ways, that thought is freeing.

Because it’s actually helpful to not be given an unrealistic promise.  To hear that it’s just about getting you out of your house.  Because THAT I can get behind.  What has always made me upset is the idea of promise: If you’ll sign up for the dating site, you’ll meet someone. (Or the equivalent “if you do treatments, you’ll have a baby.”)  It filled me with peace to hear someone say, “It may happen or it may not happen, and the solution only covers nudging you on your way so you can see if it will happen.”

Somehow hearing the stark reality of life makes me feel better instead of worse, even if it means that not everyone will meet their life partner or build their family.  It acknowledges that some things are beyond our control, and our job is to put ourselves out there so things may happen but also realize that when it doesn’t, it wasn’t because of something we did or didn’t do.

In fact, maybe we did all we could humanly do.

Thanks for making me think, Undone.


1 torthuil { 02.12.17 at 11:16 am }

I met my husband through a dating website. (I wouldn’t say we dated “online”: we saw each other’s profiles, exchanged a few emails, did the rest in person). I joined the websites because I wasn’t meeting enough people any other way. So I had come to the same conclusion as you do here, basically.

2 Raven { 02.12.17 at 11:31 am }

Wow…although I met Mr. Big through a dating website, I never considered that the point is just to make you get out there.

I also appreciate your connection to fertility treatments…I almost feel like it takes a bit of pressure off (a bit).

I really have to get on board with podcasts!

3 Jill A. { 02.12.17 at 12:40 pm }

Here’s a short poem from my favorite book of babyloss poems by Marion Cohen.

We feel guilty to avoid feeling powerless.
We feel powerless to avoid feeling guilty.
And wind up with the burden of both.

That is part of my struggle. The question of what I am responsible for and what I am not responsible for. What is in my control or not? What is my fault or not? In today’s culture, we are encouraged to take full responsibility for our lives, but that is not quite right. Some things are beyond us. Beyond me.

I agree with you, Mel. It is a relief when I figure out what is on me and what is just life.

4 Cristy { 02.12.17 at 12:59 pm }

Have you ever seen TIMER? It’s about the ultimate dating device that guarantees you will meet your soul mate and tells you when it will happen (count down in days, hours, minutes, seconds). Except when there is something off, as with our heroine who has a blank timer. Or her sister who’s timer says she has 20+ years before she’ll meet her soul mate. Let’s just say things get interesting.

As humans, we like the idea of control and also some guarantee. To be in the know. Which is why dating and fertility are such so hard on us as finding true love and having a baby are not givens.

One of the most profound realization that I had during treatment was that the failures were not reflective of me as a person. I didn’t somehow deserve all the crap that was happening to me no more than I deserved to bring home the Beats. It was something outside my control that wasn’t working. That was freeing because the acknowledgment of that loss of perceived control allowed for some healing and to start living again.

5 Working mom of 2 { 02.12.17 at 3:40 pm }

Interesting. However I don’t think trying for a baby and trying to find someone are really comparable. I think for the vast majority of people – – not including you or I or most of your readers perhaps – – the hard thing is finding someone to spend your life with. Once that’s done, for most people having a baby is the easy part. Which is why I think those of us for whom it is not easy take it so personally and wonder if it’s our own fault, etc. We all know dating is a crapshoot and it’s hard to find “the one”. But we’re kind of gobsmacked when we try to have a baby and doesn’t happen.

6 fifi { 02.12.17 at 4:02 pm }

I read somewhere that online dating can lead to a “paradox of choice”. Having a lot of choices can in some situations make it difficult to narrow down your decisions, or make you reluctant to commit to a decision for fear of losing out on something better.

I think online dating works well for people who have a small dating pool — older singles, gay people, rural dwellers, etc. It widens the dating pool so you might find at least one good match. But if it widens the pool too much, you can get stuck in that “paradox of choice”.

7 Jenn P { 02.12.17 at 8:36 pm }

Online dating is just that – meeting people online, communicating, and then meeting in person to get to know each other. I don’t think many people keep it only in the realm of the internet and consider themselves in a relationship. Sometimes the internet can help with long distance relationships, but it’s not the only way they interact.

8 Ashley { 02.13.17 at 9:50 am }

I’m living with both. And I can tell you from personal experience, dating as a known infertile sucks. Life has certainly taught me you don’t always get what you want no matter how you try or how badly you want something. Most days I’m fine, but sometimes I feel like a double failure….

9 dubliner in deutschland { 02.13.17 at 10:34 am }

yeah I can see how using dating sites or going through infertility treatments increases your chances of reaching your goal but there is still no guarantee. A lot is still down to chance. Like the right person might happen to be signed up to dating site the same time as you. Or you might be lucky one month and the starts align and you get the right egg & sperm etc etc

10 Sharon { 02.13.17 at 1:54 pm }

Ditto what torthuil said. The only way in which the online dating sites I used really helped me was in meeting more people and going on more dates. Even e-harmony didn’t change the quality of the people I met.

11 Amber { 02.13.17 at 5:07 pm }

Makes a lot of sense to me!

12 Mali { 02.13.17 at 5:57 pm }

I am loving the poem Jill A. quoted. Infertility and dating are both things that you can try your hardest and take a lot of personal responsibility, but still not achieve your goal, through no fault of your own.

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