As a (borderline) millennial, my dating experience has been largely shaped by the digital age. For all the technological advances of the 21st century I imagine dating was a lot simpler without mobile phones and the internet. Without the hassle of apps, profiles and algorithms you’d know if you liked someone by more organic means. The way someone made you feel by how they behaved and what they said. Now that route is getting lost behind a seemingly unassailable quest for perfection and decisions made by reflex rather than reason.
We now have to stand out just to remain competitive. How we look and what we say are now held up for the wider community to judge rather than just limited to your peers outside in the real world. There’s a lot to be said about the corrosive effects of Love Island yet that desire to be a perfect physical specimen (a snack, apparently) has been adopted online. While that toning competitiveness sates the needs of the contestants and the public watching at home, we all do it when we pick and choose on an app. Abs, tan lines, white teeth and height all seem essential requirements to get anywhere these days. Fail on just one of those criterion and it’s curtains.
Are they sociable? Do they holiday in the right places? Have they got a dazzling smile? Are they adventurous? Do they prefer bars or clubs? Do they work out? Are they good with kids? Do they spend way too much time with their pets? Do they like football? You can only gauge so much from a set of six photos and even then that’s a stylised, choreographed glimpse into someone’s life. A picture can speak a thousand words but two seconds in someone’s company will likely tell you so much more.
Choosing the right photos is only half the trouble as you then have to choose the right words. There seems to be a thin tightrope between sounding cheeky and borderline creepy. A little about me can be make or break and what emojis you pick can go a long way. Quotes can be inspired and insipid. Chat-up lines fixed and foolish. Lists demanding and divisive. Whatever you do type will be judged, pored over and scrutinised all in a couple of seconds.
Then there’s the question of which photos and which words to use on which apps. Should you be more considered on Bumble because the girl gets to choose? More flirtatious on Tinder to aim for the Saturday night crowd? More opinionated on OKCupid to suit their algorithms? That’s even before considering whether to pay on Eharmony.
This is where the Paradox of Choice comes into play. If you limit yourself to a handful of options at least you’ll have a good idea of what you like, at least you can reason with what’s available instead of acting on reflex with the options you see. Much like grocery shopping, instead of doing your perusing online and deliberating over which grade of asparagus you want actually take a tote bag to your local greengrocer. Shopping is a lot easier when you can see with your own eyes and judge what’s put in front of you.
With so many apps to choose from and so many profiles to consider some of us seem blinded by choice, crippled by so many options and helpless to take a chance. To know so many people match what you’re looking for can raise hopes yet it all seems so temporary and even cheap when there’s such a plethora of options. Let’s put it this way. If you went to the pub and were introduced to someone who wasn’t your ‘type’ but you still hit it off, are you more likely to go out with them rather than the absolute snack who can’t hold a meaningful conversation?
Dating apps now fill a gap of convenience. While we were once limited to the people we’d physically come into contact with, now our eyes have been widened to people we might not even cross paths with, all in the palm of our hands at a moment’s notice. People we can judge in an instant despite never sharing the same space. There’s something inherently wrong about that; a quick cynicism we’d all do well to avoid. That your hopes of a match can be dashed because someone doesn’t like your haircut in a particular photo, or disagrees with your top five films, or thinks you could lose a few pounds. Things you’d gloss over in public are now the be all and end all online.
At least in the real world you can usually tell if someone likes you with a glance. Ghosting doesn’t happen because you can simply be polite and make your exit. Rejection can be a forced smile and a dignified response. Few people nail first dates as easily as they do online dating, therein lies the concern. We can all parade our best selves online yet when it comes to nailing a first impression and holding a conversation isn’t that where the focus should be?