The XX Factor

Digital Vs. Analog Dating

Kate Spicer of the Sunday Times has written the kind of article that used to be common but is in the process of transitioning from tediously out-of-touch to embarrassingly out-of-touch-complaining about online dating as somehow less authentic than picking men up in bars. The twist this time is to affect a skeptical pose toward the admittedly silly and unscientific algorithm sites like eHarmony that do the choosing for you, but Spicer would make a much more convincing skeptic if she didn’t paint herself as someone who is crippled on the dating market by having no idea what she wants. It’s too bad she takes such a hostile view to all kinds of online dating, because overall the trend seems to be a good one.

I’m old enough to remember that the old system of dating was one that involved committing first and asking questions later, which, in turn, led to an even more tedious view of love and marriage as something you had to work on continuously. When I was young, the general strategy was to date someone because of physical attraction and get deeply involved on a wave of infatuation. And then when massive differences of opinion on religion, politics, or what you want out of life came out down the line, you were expected to work tirelessly on the relationship, because, as we all know, love is hard work . Now we meet people online as often as off-line and we’re getting used to learning the politics and values and expectations before we even know the first thing about sexual chemistry. And from what I can see, finding out the most obvious thing about a person-whether you find them attractive-after you find out so much more else about them works out very well for people.

Presenting people with a list of traits and ideas and asking them to judge you has had a positive effect on people, because it asks them to clarify what they want before they even start going on dates. It’s far from a fool-proof system, but it does help you weed out time-wasters, as Jaclyn Friedman pointed out in this interview . A lot of red flags (such as a man’s unwillingness to take female artists seriously) don’t come out for months under the analog dating system. But in the digital system, you don’t even have to go on a first date with that douchebag, which completely closes down the possibility that three years hence, you’ll be in couples therapy talking about his issues with taking women’s opinions seriously.

Which isn’t to say that I think that algorithm sites are such a great idea. The sites that do the matchmaking for you do patronize the user, assuming that you’re too scared to reject out-of-hand those people who you know you’ll come into conflict with after reading their profiles. But, on the whole, I applaud how virtual dating has ironically made people more reality-based in what they want out of relationships, by forcing them to spell out what they want and who they are up front.