Why I’m Quitting Online Dating. Again.
If you’re anything like me… that is, single (alas), working full-time, caring for a family, maybe a parent or two, and desperately cramming in a little “me” time… you have precious little leftover for dating. You have even less for tripping along in life hoping for chance encounters.
That’s because possibilities for chance encounters are few and far between.
Drifting around an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art? Happens once every three years, realistically.
In a life packed with work, friends, neighbors, home life, care-taking, reading, writing, hiking, and hobbies, possibilities for chance encounters are exceedingly rare.
If you happen to have a bad grocery store, that sets you back even further. Chances of meeting an “appropriate” match at my local market are nil.
With all that said, of course online dating attracts me. It’s compelling. It often hits me when I’m making dinner. Sometimes, when I have a few precious minutes between sautéing the onions and adding the kale, listening to the Jazz Oasis on KCSM, perfectly happy, I sigh and think, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a mate to cook with, to be sharing all this with a lover.
Then, I pick up my phone to begin where I left off the last time I quit online dating in disgust.
The truth is, I really dislike online dating and don’t believe it works. Here’s why.
First, it cheapens interactions. Online dating turns people into little more than commodities. When you know there’s a lot more where that came from, you’re likely to take it for granted. By now, most of us expect these dates to go badly. To be laughably wrong. We set the date for the shortest time possible, knowing that he is she is unlikely to be “the one,” freeing ourselves to begin the hunt again. When we behave this way, we treat people as interchangeable widgets.
Second, chemistry is an utter unknown. There is no way to convey in a profile what one’s chemistry is, or whether two people will be attracted to one another, no matter what percentage an algorithm assigns to their compatibility. To my utter surprise, I’ve been attracted to people I never would have approached online, via their profiles. This is the magic of attraction. It’s bizarre, unexpected, magical. It’s ineffable. That’s what’s so great about it. It presents itself when you least expect it. It makes no sense. But it’s an essential part of the equation. Without it, love is a no-go.
Third, online dating breeds cynicism. This is related to the first reason. But it’s a little different. When one has been disappointed over and over again, it’s hard to get excited anymore. When I began this odyssey, I remember how excited I was to meet a man who seemed perfect for me. “On paper,” we were made in heaven. We exchanged messages, and he was articulate, smart, funny, and warm. I was sure he’d be amazing, we’d be amazing. Yet… when I got to the wine bar where we agreed to meet, I was shocked to discover I had no interest whatsoever in this person. And the feeling seemed to be mutual. We just didn’t connect. This goes back to chemistry. It was non-existent for us. Even as friends, we had no chemistry. We were incurious about one another, and there was nothing we could do about it.
Which leads me to my next reason. It’s unbearably embarrassing. This is the main one for me now. It’s embarrassing and painful. I can’t face it anymore. Entering the cafe hopefully, wearing something relatively cute, putting on a bright face, cultivating positivity, scanning the room expectantly, and then… wait, could that be him? My last date looked a little like Danny DeVito but more cartoonish and a lot less fun. Not that I have anything against Danny DeVito. If I met a man like that, and he made me laugh, and he was warm, and we connected, of course I’d fall for him. But this guy… not so much. Perfectly nice, intelligent, yada, yada, but just — no. Absolutely not. It was just wrong. And then it’s embarrassing. For both parties.
Also, in my experience, online dating engenders a kind of uber-incompatibility. Most of the men I’ve met through online dating, I never would have met in my real life. There is just no way in hell our paths would ever have crossed. This sounds like an extreme proposition, but I mean it. We are worlds apart. Our worlds don’t touch. They don’t share borders. They aren’t even in the general vicinity. We simply orbit in separate universes. These are men who wouldn’t begin to understand me, and vice versa.
Like the Danny DeVito guy. He picked a tacky, dirty, down-in-the-dumps cafe when there were several nicer in the area. He chose a table beside the bathroom, when there were other free tables. He had a coffee in a to-go cup with a plastic lid, even though we were planning to spend time there. He got me a water in a plastic cup even though he could have asked for a glass. Everything about it was just so… un-special. Unthoughtful. Inelegant. For me.
Let’s not forget the exhaustion factor — the effort I put in to be kind, gracious, and open-minded, even when we both know before we even speak if there’s any reason to continue. I try remain open-minded. I try not to show my disappointment. I chide myself, tell myself to give the person the benefit of the doubt. But by the end of the hour (and it’s always an hour, even when it’s just coffee), I’m exhausted. We exchange niceties. We send thank you messages to one another for taking the time. And that’s it.
I also lament the death of flirting. Online dating is killing, has killed, flirting. People don’t know how anymore. They are afraid to. I see it in my kids, 17 and 21 years old, holing themselves up their rooms. My son is online dating, and why? I haven’t the foggiest idea. Why isn’t he out and about, trying to meet young women in person? He’s handsome, smart, and charming. My daughter? She hides in her room every night, tethered to the world by her device. They live virtually, through portals.
Finally, online dating algorithms cannot discern nuance, or affinity. They parse us into categories based on exterior belief or social systems. They railroad us into unnatural channels where we are unlikely to meet someone surprising who does not mirror us. Someone who challenges us in part because they hail from a different world. I realize this contradicts what I said a few paragraphs ago about meeting people so far away from my universe that it’s laughable.
The problem is, affinity is not something you boil down to interests or politics or level of kink. Affinity is defined as “a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something.”
The key word here is “spontaneous.” We don’t have a choice. We don’t get to decide. It happens without our permission. It’s cosmic. It’s ordained. It’s natural. It’s mysterious.
It’s the ineffable part that cannot be contained or distilled or expressed in a profile, no matter how adept the writer or how real or plentiful the photos. Maybe it’s pheromones. Maybe it’s familiarity. Maybe it really is something cosmic.
Online dating is both too expansive and too limiting.
An algorithm can’t measure what’s important. It can’t measure something we ourselves don’t know or understand.
I believe in a kind of fate or an order in the universe, a method to the madness. And I don’t want to mess with it. It feels like we’re crossing wires in the online dating world.
It feels dangerous.
When I put my first online profile up, I immediately noticed the windows in my home that had no coverings.
I immediately felt vulnerable.
I had sent my query, my ticket, my request, into the technosphere, and it was now out of my control. Anyone could look at it. Anyone could do what they liked with the information, with the photos.
Once, I included a photo of myself with my daughter. A prospective date wrote to ask the meaning of the picture — if we were a two-for-one.
Of course I obliterated that profile immediately.
And many others after.
And each time I pull the plug on the thing in disgust, I grow more cynical.
It’s bad for me.
I concede online dating seems to work for some people.
But, I’m convinced I need to try it the old-fashioned way. That means veering out of my normal, well-worn paths. It means making eye contact. Smiling. Being unafraid, unembarrassed, unashamed. It means being warm, friendly, opening the door.
And it means flirting. Turning my phone off — or, better, leaving it at home altogether — and shopping at a vibrant new market, and remembering to look up as I gently test the avocados.