Love in the Time of Algorithms

Online Dating Isn’t a Failure, It’s Just That It’s Harder to Find Love These Days

aaron schildkrout Online Dating Isnt a Failure, Its Just That Its Harder to Find Love These Days

Mr. Schildkrout. (Photo: Kathryn Tucker)

Aaron Schildkrout is the co-founder and co-CEO of HowAboutWe.com—a dating site that’s all about actually getting offline on real dates. Yesterday he got word of the first HowAboutWe wedding.

Adrianne Jeffries of Betabeat pinged me yesterday with a link to a post from Philip Greenspun titled, “Is this continued existence of involuntarily single people proof that online dating is a failure?

STC (Save the Click): Here’s a summary of Greenspun’s piece: He argues that, given the falling rates of marriage over the past few decades and the continued plethora of single people who want to be married, online dating is a de facto failure. He believes that self-description in online dating should be abandoned for more of a peer-testimony system. His evidence is some census data about marriage rates and the success of a lengthy testimony he wrote on behalf of a now-married friend. The whole thing is framed in opposition to the claims of a pro-online-dating “26-year-old” guy who Greenspun met at a Hanukkah Party (“suspiciously held on Christmas Eve”).

To reframe his questionable argument as a question: Given 1) people’s desire to find true love and a wonderful life partner; 2) the near-ubiquity of internet access in the U.S.; and 3) the existence of dozens (actually thousands) of online dating sites—why are so many Susans (and Jims) still desperately seeking?

Simply put: It’s terribly challenging to find the love of your life.

Check out the ecstatic German poet Rilke on the topic:

For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.

And I believe this is becoming increasingly difficult.

Imagine two curves.

The first: Time versus marriage rates. This curve arcs downwards over time—at least over the last few decades (according to Greenspun’s research).

The second: Time versus the Ease of Finding and Sustaining True Love (or even good-enough-love). This curve, I think, would be curving downward even more steeply than the marriage rate.

haw graph Online Dating Isnt a Failure, Its Just That Its Harder to Find Love These Days

If you buy this math—then what accounts for the difference in steepness? I’d venture that at least one cause is online dating.

More broadly, I’d say that contrary to the tremendous historical forces driving marriage and love-finding rates down (transformations in employment patterns, gender dynamics, mass entitlement, the decline of men, post-industrial depletion, etc.—that’s for another post) is millennialism—the internet-driven, global, connected, do-it-yourself, change-oriented, active, healthy, actualist movement that is also upon us.

Internet dating was born of this 21st century spirit. Accordingly, the best sites are fairly effective at helping the most highly motivated ring-seekers find a match—and therefore account for some of the differential between the two curves we drew a minute ago.

Sadly though, most internet dating sites have failed to stay true to millenialism. They embody much of the stagnant, non-doership that millennialism opposes. Endless online chatting. Fake hope couched in “scientific” matchmaking. Browsing and browsing and browsing people like so many boxes of cereal.

But that’s not all internet dating can be —or will be. So, in a sense, Greenspun is intuitively right that internet dating isn’t there yet. It isn’t millennial enough yet.

Chemistry—the recognition that occurs between two people that they could each imagine a wonderful life in the other’s arms—this kind of chemistry happens offline.

My hope is that as more and more people embrace the internet’s power to create magic in the real world, the curve that maps the ease of finding and sustaining true love will lift upwards.

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Comments

  1. Mike Hawk says:

    Could it be that the internet has led to so much potential that people realize they don’t have to settle? I feel like I have so many options now that it’s just hard to decide on one.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Like flipping through a catalog?

  2. Mike Hawk says:

    Could it be that the internet has led to so much potential that people realize they don’t have to settle? I feel like I have so many options now that it’s just hard to decide on one.

  3. I’ve heard of this new dating/ social media site that might give other dating sites a run for their money. I guess it’s a sort of Facebook App call TheComplete.me. It sounds cool because information is constantly synced with a person’s Facebook account, so you can see people change over time. I hear they’re going to add something so you can see the single friends of friends. I’m not sure if it has launched yet, but I think it sound pretty neat.

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