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.