26 Nov

The Case Against Online Dating

In my last blog post I talked about Todd McGowan’s book Capitalism and Desire, discussing how capitalism has infused every aspect of our lives.  I briefly mentioned that Professor McGowan included online dating in his list of cultural expectations that perpetuate sameness and turn love into romance- for-sale.  Having numerous new perspectives on loss and desire after reading McGowan’s work, I pay more attention to news items and editorials that illustrate his complaints or echo his misgivings.

I frequently reference The New York Times because I read it diligently on the weekend.  In today’s Times there was an opinion piece by Maris Kriezman called “Don’t Trust an Algorithm”.  It was light and amusing, yet at the same time it reinforced what McGowan says about relying on online dating match-ups.  Kriezman describes signing up for a dating service and listing her main criteria, which were proximity, age restrictions and “not a writer” — mostly because she is one.  She goes on to say that she was “absolutely miserable dating appropriate-age marketing associates who lived near me. I always wanted to be home reading instead.”

One night she threw a party at a local bar after doing a reading with other authors at a bookstore. A friend of a friend attended the party—someone she heard of but never met.  This man did not meet any of her criteria, and even though he was also participating in online dating, she says they would have never matched up.  (He lived too far away, was six years younger than she, and was a writer-comedian.)  She says,

“But we talked and he charmed me. He wasn’t on my metaphorical vision board, but he fit into my real life in ways I never could’ve imagined.  He’s my husband now.”

Kriezman makes the case for the right degree of sameness, yet also for differences and the unexpected.  Dating algorithms cannot possibly capture the unexpected, the part of us that is pleasantly surprised and delighted to meet someone we never would have imagined as a partner.

Although we need to share basic values with people we love, we also desperately need to find that person who taps into the aspects of ourselves that we have yet to fully discover.  This is the magic of relationships and of falling in love.  But it is also the basis for close friendships and the historical role of the muse.  The muse helps the creative person find inside him or herself what was not previously known.

There is no online “muse” service, and while people do meet and marry through online dating services, how many of them are really knocked off their perch by someone who pleasantly challenges them to be more and to see the world, and themselves differently?  Although the disorientation that accompanies new experience can be unsettling (which is why Freud likened falling in love to “temporary psychosis,”) it is also the vehicle for personal growth and change, as well as the epitome of desire.



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