Spoilt for Choice?

A husk of humanity. (Well, coconut, actually, but you try image searching the former.)

How’s this for a thought experiment? Imagine there’s no such thing as online dating.

Let’s say you live in an average-sized town, in amongst an average pool of people. Perhaps you have a ‘historic town centre’ and a railway museum, and some bars, and some shops, and some restaurants, and a supermarket, and a tourist website whose proudest boast is that ‘Time Team once filmed at a nearby village’. (Not that I’m bitter about coming from Darlington or anything.)

Anyway, let’s imagine that, in a bid to blot out reality, you find yourself boozing urgently in the town’s least heinous pub. Someone comes up and starts talking to you and, unusually for this particular pub, they’re not a dribbling cretin with all the personal charm of a blowfish. In fact, they’re about as close to what you’re looking for as it’s possible to find.

It’s not just that you like the same books/food/shows/music/films. It’s not just that, through the beer goggles, you find them so attractive you can barely trust yourself to look at them lest you turn bright red and accidentally make a selection of ape-like mating gestures. It’s more than that. You’re experiencing the glorious delusion that you and your intended think in sync.

Now, if this really did happen out of the blue in some crappy pub, you’d no doubt be so overwhelmed by the rarity of the event you’d take your coat, pull, and extract yourself from the singles scene like a tooth from an overcrowded mouth.

If it happens via a dating site, however, the instinct is more to feel blasé. “Whatever,” says your inner killjoy, with a sneer, injecting your emotional reward system with freeze-dry agent, “plenty more 99% matches in the sea.”

It’s a central paradox of online dating – through presenting you with hundreds of potential ‘soulmates’, it may well make it harder to find one. You hedge your bets. You avoid the risk of truly letting yourself like someone. You forget how unusual that sense of ‘clicking’ actually is. Too much online dating and you are liable to turn into a dessicated husk of humanity with nothing but an ashtray of cynicism where your heart used to be.

It’s enough to make you deactivate your account and revert to waiting around forlornly in your local…


About Abi Millar

British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands
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9 Responses to Spoilt for Choice?

  1. EcoChap says:

    I’m loving the new, improved layout, heading and other bits and pieces. Impressive photoshop skills! It’s a pleasure to have another, much missed and characteristically candid gem of insight.

    I must say, having visited your link, I simply can’t wait to ‘discover a different Darlington’ and see the ‘famous’ statue of the world’s first Quaker MP.

    I see what you mean about dismissing people with very high match percentages, that you also get on very well with, simply due to the apparent endless sea of other ‘soulmates’… maybe there’s someone even better a few clicks away? It’s a bit like getting carried away on a fruit machine; you keep pulling the lever, hoping for an ever better combination but, through gambling a decent reward on the hope of something even better, you risk ending up with nothing at all.

    I’ve made a point, recently, of messaging or awarding people I really like the look of, even if I’ve no romantic intentions. You’re a perfect example of a 99% (at the mo) match that I messaged on a whim, having stumbled across your profile and then felt a need to complement your blog. Turns out, against all expectations, you happened to reply and an unusually enjoyable exchange ensued. The way I see it, even if any of those delightful high-match people aren’t my ‘soulmate’, they may be potential deep friendships and that, alone, is an opportunity not to be squandered. I torture myself with ‘what ifs’ and sometimes it’s healthy to scoff at my inner killjoy.

    • Abi Millar says:

      This is a really good way of looking at it. The difficulties, as far as I can tell, seem to arise when you’re called upon to take some kind of risk. Entering into a relationship with somebody, for instance, involves a huge amount of of risk and when you have so many other contenders, it may seem like a risk that’s not worth taking. Online dating makes the dating game into much less of a big deal. That’s a great thing, but when you meet someone with whom it could be a big deal, it’s harder to make the jump.

  2. EcoChap says:

    You may be interested to know, one of the automatically generated, related posts for this is titled “Oswiecim, under the shadow of Auschwitz”. I just read it and it’s actually very interesting!

  3. Abi Millar says:

    I clicked on the ‘related post’ entitled ‘Trench Town’. It tells the tale of “an impoverished area of Kingston, Jamaica, where people’s houses can just simply rot and fall down, and where recently raw sewage ran down a main street.” Darlington isn’t *that* bad. The Quaker statue is definitely a winner.

  4. Nick says:

    Oh Jesus, you’ve captured it. I’ve always been very picky, and that has only been enhanced online. And now my keyboard is silted up from the salt of my tears.

    By the way, there’s nothing wrong with Darlington, part of my family’s from there. Actually no, there’s a lot wrong with Darlington. I’ve actually been there. Surrounding countryside’s lovely though.

  5. Pingback: An OkCupid Retrospective | It's Not OK, Cupid

  6. Anthony says:

    This is so true. It’s the paradox of choice, isn’t it. I started to exclusively see someone but initially it was hard to not think, “Hmm… look at all those other profiles, what if the perfect person is out there, and this isn’t it”. Well, we all know where that mentality will get you… nowhere and you’ll drive yourself crazy.

    Online dating is a tool, and like any other tool you need to use it properly. Luckily, it seems you have a handle on it. Good luck!

  7. s6mike says:

    Science of Relationships has an article about the same topic: Online Dating – the Paradox of Choice.

    Apparently the more choice we have, the more we rely on shallower, simpler ways of choosing – like age, height and weight. So we’re less likely to find an ideal match for the long term, more likely to find someone hot to sleep with!

  8. In bar/pub – “Someone comes up and starts talking to you” – pretty darn sure that’s *never* happened to me.
    “If it happens via a dating site” – uh, it generally quite sucks, the vast majority of which have been spam or horrible mis-matches (e.g. someone who can barely write English in some foreign country propositioning males to get married to gain citizenship). I’d show/cite such atrocious example(s), but I delete spam and similar cr*p, so don’t have such an example handy (at least presently on/from OkCupid or a “dating site”, anyway). And, the ones that are better than that? Ove those very few (one, two, maybe three? – and that’s been in over 9 months thus far on OkCupid), so far the ones that have contacted me first have been poor to horrible mismatches. “Soulmates”? Uh, how ’bout something at least in the ballpark? Okay, uhm, how ’bout maybe a one mile radius? “enough to make you deactivate your account and revert to waiting around forlornly in” … uh, yeah, real long odds, either way.

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