Share via Email Online dating: You went on waiting and waiting for your Prince, and you still had a long wait ahead of you, because he didn't know you were waiting, poor thing. Now you're on the net, and everyone knows it. It can't fail to work. All you have to do is look. Or such were mating rites in my day. According to a new survey by psychologists at the University of Rochester in the US , online dating is the second most common way of starting a relationship — after meeting through friends.
It has become popular in part, says one of the report's authors, Professor Harry Reis, because other methods are widely thought of as grossly inefficient. The Guardian, for example, has had its own and very successful online dating site, Soulmates , since — more than , have registered.
It can put you in touch with Guardian readers — true, that may be some people's worst nightmare, but it does mean you won't get propositioned online by someone whose leisure activities are attending English Defence League demos and you won't have to explain on a date that Marcel Proust wasn't an F1 racing driver.
Online dating offers the dream of removing the historic obstacles to true love time, space, your dad sitting on the porch with a shotgun across his lap and an expression that says no boy is good enough for my girl. At least that's what cinderella69 believes. But she's also wrong: In his sex blog, Nick works out that he got I know, I know: Thanks to the internet, such spreadsheets of love have replaced notches on the bedpost and can be displayed hubristically online.
But there's another problem for the lie-dream of online romantic fulfilment: They practically guarantee you'll be on cloud nine. The foregoing sex bloggers are quoted by Sorbonne sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann in his new book Love Online , in which he reflects on what has happened to romantic relationships since the millennium.
The landscape of dating has changed completely, he argues. We used to have yentas or parents to help us get married; now we have to fend for ourselves. We have more freedom and autonomy in our romantic lives than ever and some of us have used that liberty to change the goals: Online dating sites have accelerated these changes, heightening the hopes for and deepening the pitfalls of sex and love.
And people want to know how it functions now. It's urgent to analyse it. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely is researching online dating because it affects to offer a solution for a market that wasn't working very well. Oxford evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar will soon publish a book called The Science of Love and Betrayal , in which he wonders whether science can helps us with our romantic relationships.
And one of France's greatest living philosophers, Alain Badiou, is poised to publish In Praise of Love , in which he argues that online dating sites destroy our most cherished romantic ideal, namely love. Ariely started thinking about online dating because one of his colleagues down the corridor, a lonely assistant professor in a new town with no friends who worked long hours, failed miserably at online dating. Ariely wondered what had gone wrong. Surely, he thought, online dating sites had global reach, economies of scale and algorithms ensuring utility maximisation this way of talking about dating, incidentally, explains why so many behavioural economists spend Saturday nights getting intimate with single-portion lasagnes.
Online dating is, Ariely argues, unremittingly miserable. But it turns out people are much more like wine. When you taste the wine, you could describe it, but it's not a very useful description. But you know if you like it or don't.
And it's the complexity and the completeness of the experience that tells you if you like a person or not. And this breaking into attributes turns out not to be very informative. His model was real dates. If you and I went out, and we went somewhere, I would look at how you react to the outside world. What music you like, what you don't like, what kind of pictures you like, how do you react to other people, what do you do in the restaurant. And through all these kind of non-explicit aspects, I will learn something about you.
It wasn't about where you went to school and what's your religion; it was about something else, and it turns out it gave people much more information about each other, and they were much more likely to want to meet each other for a first date and for a second date. The septuagenarian Hegelian philosopher writes in his book of being in the world capital of romance Paris and everywhere coming across posters for Meetic , which styles itself as Europe's leading online dating agency.
Badiou worried that the site was offering the equivalent of car insurance: But love isn't like that, he complains. Love is, for him, about adventure and risk, not security and comfort. But, as he recognises, in modern liberal society this is an unwelcome thought: And I think it's a philosophical task, among others, to defend it.
He believes that in the new millennium a new leisure activity emerged. It was called sex and we'd never had it so good. Basically, sex had become a very ordinary activity that had nothing to do with the terrible fears and thrilling transgressions of the past. All they needed to do was sign up, pay a modest fee getting a date costs less than going to see a film , write a blog or use a social networking site.
Nothing could be easier. One is something that could but perhaps shouldn't be exchanged for money or non-financial favours; the other is that which resists being reduced to economic parameters. The problem is that we want both, often at the same time, without realising that they are not at all the same thing. And online dating intensifies that confusion. Kaufmann argues that in the new world of speed dating, online dating and social networking, the overwhelming idea is to have short, sharp engagements that involve minimal commitment and maximal pleasure.
In this, he follows the Leeds-based sociologist Zygmunt Bauman , who proposed the metaphor of "liquid love" to characterise how we form connections in the digital age. It's easier to break with a Facebook friend than a real friend; the work of a split second to delete a mobile-phone contact. In his book Liquid Love, Bauman wrote that we "liquid moderns" cannot commit to relationships and have few kinship ties.
We incessantly have to use our skills, wits and dedication to create provisional bonds that are loose enough to stop suffocation, but tight enough to give a needed sense of security now that the traditional sources of solace family, career, loving relationships are less reliable than ever.
And online dating offers just such chances for us to have fast and furious sexual relationships in which commitment is a no-no and yet quantity and quality can be positively rather than inversely related. After a while, Kaufmann has found, those who use online dating sites become disillusioned. But all-pervasive cynicism and utilitarianism eventually sicken anyone who has any sense of human decency. When the players become too cold and detached, nothing good can come of it.
He also comes across online addicts who can't move from digital flirting to real dates and others shocked that websites, which they had sought out as refuges from the judgmental cattle-market of real-life interactions, are just as cruel and unforgiving — perhaps more so. Online dating has also become a terrain for a new — and often upsetting — gender struggle. Men have exercised that right for millennia. But women's exercise of that right, Kaufmann argues, gets exploited by the worst kind of men.
The want a 'real man', a male who asserts himself and even what they call 'bad boys'. So the gentle guys, who believed themselves to have responded to the demands of women, don't understand why they are rejected. But frequently, after this sequence, these women are quickly disappointed. After a period of saturation, they come to think: Worse, the things we want change as we experience them: Maybe, he suggests, we could remove the conflicts and human love could evolve to a new level.
Or if 'love' sounds too off-putting, for a little affection, for a little attentiveness to our partners, given they are human beings and not just sex objects. Kaufmann suggests that we have to reverse out of the cul de sac of sex for sex's sake and recombine it with love once more to make our experiences less chilly but also less clouded by romantic illusions.
We are doomed, perhaps, to be unsatisfied creatures, whose desires are fulfilled only momentarily before we go on the hunt for new objects to scratch new itches.
Which suggests that online dating sites will be filling us with hopes — and disappointments — for a good while yet.