Online dating as a pick-me-up.

Online dating, and in particular Tinder, has been subject to criticism recently for enabling their users to become non-commital and flakey when it comes to relationships. The argument is that popular dating apps like Tinder allow people to see of their dating options, and never commit to a relationship because the ease of casual sex or new dating options is right there on your phone. The term ‘dating apocalypse’ has been coined – popularised by this Vanity Fair article. In my opinion the article is pretty awful. It reads more like a bad fiction story, and I question the veracity of it. Even if the people in this story are real, I don’t think they’re representative of Tinder’s overall userbase.

But the argument does have merit.

If we take Paul Oyer’s (author of Everything I needed to know about economics, I learned from online dating.) premise – that everybody is seeking the highest value possible mate (however ‘high value’ is defined – and is perhaps subject to person’s own values), even if successful in romance, they will continue searching for higher value mates, so long as their cost of search doesn’t prevent them. Because online dating makes cost of search much lower, (people don’t need to spend an entire Friday night out at party or social group in order to meet potential mates), people will be less inclined to settle with their current romantic match, for fear of missing out on a higher value match that’s just around the corner – if they have the security of knowing that they can easily find an equal value match with a couple more swipes and few interesting text messages.

I deleted my Tinder account about three weeks ago. I found I wasn’t enjoying it anymore – I wasn’t getting as many matches as I used to, conversations were stilted, I’d arrange dates that would flake out, etc. So I deleted my Tinder and decide to focus on meeting people the IRL way – through social groups, parties, etc.

Two weeks later, I was feel lonely. While joining social groups and generally putting yourself out there is an effective way to meet people, there are two difficulties with turning it into romance.

Firstly, there’s a lack of social signal about their availability (whereas someone’s mere presence on a dating site indicates that they’re single and interested in dating). This can lead to an awkward conversation.

Secondly, there’s a lack of continual contact with the person. For example if you meet someone at a social group that meets once a week, unless you get their phone number or Facebook straight away,  you only have the opportunity to talk to them in the time that you’re together at time each week. Whereas with online dating, you can maintain a prolonged conversation throughout the day and the week. This means that establishing a connection with someone you’ve met in real life, can take a lot longer than one where you’re able to talk online.

I ended up getting quite depressed, and on the weekend reinstalled Tinder, and signed up to OkCupid. I started chatting to some girls, and you know what? It was fun! I enjoyed myself, and I felt good.

This has led to a rethinking of my online dating philosophy. Online dating should be treated as a flakey and non-committal dating experience. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have value.

Instead of being seen as a primary and serious way to meet a romantic partner, it should be seen as fun and non-committal ‘pick-me-up’. That is, continue building your social networks in real life, as these tend to be a bit more reliable than online dating relationships. Use online dating for a fun pick-me-up during the day, or as an activity as you’re unwinding at the end of the day.

Of course – online dating matches can turn into a real date, and then a real relationship, and there’s no reason not to pursue this option. But your general expectations for going into online dating shouldn’t be ‘I’m here to find a mate’, it should be ‘I’m here to have non-serious fun, by chatting to people I find interesting or attractive’. Anything that goes beyond that, is a bonus.

Now this might sound a bit cynical, dishonest or unethical. If I’m treating online dating in this non-serious manner, then it could be considered dishonest to the people I’m chatting to if they’re taking a serious approach. Three points to counter this – firstly, not being serious about online dating doesn’t mean you need to act like a jerk. Secondly, I can be fairly upfront about what my intentions are. This is quite a good piece of writing, and I’d be happy to share it, to at least gauge reactions. Thirdly, people don’t have an obligation to act in a way that other people want them to. This ‘don’t be serious’ approach is fairly self-contained, and there’s no explicit agreement that you both have the same intentions when chatting. People need to take their own responsibility for recognising that others may have different values or intentions in their social interaction, and that doesn’t mean you’re both not compatible for a fun chat.

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