The problem with dating apps and dating websites is that they reinforce the myth that we have an unlimited supply of potential partners while simultaneously promising us that our one true soulmate is out there in the digital playground, just waiting for us.
These concepts run counter to each other. On one hand we have an unlimited supply of choices, so why stop at one when the next choice could be better? On the other hand, there is that one true choice, the Eve to our Adam, the fire to our tinder. The result is the fairytale mentality that plagues the hearts of many teens, young adults and even older adults. We all ask, where is our Prince or Princess Charming? Where is Mr. Right because Mr. Right Now isn’t cutting it?
Our smartphones have become our handy cupid, with bows taut and quivers ready for whenever we say the word, or rather, tap an app. So if the real world forces us to come out, mingle, talk to strangers and face the possibility of in-your-face rejection, we can opt out of that reality.
We look at the “mirror, mirror” in our hand and ask, who is the fairest in the land? So an algorithm, the wizard behind the curtain, presents to us what it presumes to be the best choices. And with quivers loaded, we can shoot at as many targets as we like.
So if, in happenstance, Mr. Somewhat Right flashes on the screen, rather than take the plunge and get to know him, some of us think or feel that there could be a better person around the corner. So ends the potential for a beautiful conversation or possibly a relationship.
Some others do try out that basic human concept of communication and start talking to Mr. or Mrs. Somewhat Right in hopes of seeing where this goes. But more often than not, the conversation ends right there on that lucid screen, with blue and gray messages frozen down the sides, a cold reminder of how disconnected the digital world is from the physical.
This is because there are way too many excuses out there that prevent us from meeting our correspondents, and all are related to the limitations of dating apps. There is the fear and anxiety of the person turning out to not be who you think they are, other choices that we hope would work out instead, the stigma of being seen as using an online dating platform or just the more common instance of ego stroking where some individuals get online strictly to have the opposite sex compliment them.
Researchers have also shown that there is a condition of paralysis by choice, and this seems to be a condition dating apps afflict on their users. Psychologists at Columbia University looked to demonstrate the effect of having too many choices, so it set up shop at an upscale store. In one instance it had on its display 24 jam varieties, and in another instance, only six jam varieties.
The results? More shoppers came to ogle at the 24 jam samples than the stand with six jam samples, but in the end, more shoppers were willing to buy jam when only six options were provided. The conclusion was that, with many more choices, participants felt that their current choice wasn’t good enough and another option would be better. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? With all those choices and all those filters we can set for finding a match, the expectation of Mr. Right is unattainable, and we end up being disappointed by any choice we do select.
The United States Association of Psychological Science has also pointed out that because of the multitude of choices and profiles, we are more likely to be judgmental than we would be in a face-to-face meeting. As both sides involved in a potential match are well aware of the multitude of other choices out there, those willing to initiate a conversation are under an extreme level of pressure. The worry is that the slightest attempt at a joke, or the slightest hint of authenticity that doesn’t come out right, could ruin the potential for something deeper. So what do we do then?
We cower in the shadows and project the hologram of the Average Joe — the uninteresting, safe and prototypical Average Joe — and hope that the other side will give us a chance to get to project more of ourselves. The result is an unsatisfying encounter that proceeds to joining the recycle bin of other encounters, most likely to never be restored.
“Finding a needle in a haystack” is what comes to mind with apps such as Tinder, Badoo or Bumble. With these dating apps, it’s like trying to find a spark in a cold, deep ocean. That’s because online, we all elevate our standing of who we think we are and how we feel others should perceive us. With this extra tick of confidence comes the cold shoulders that allow us to brush away potential candidates. We place ourselves on a higher pedestal and look down on potential mates when they don’t check every tick on our check boxes.
We have evolved for thousands of years to interact in the physical world, and no algorithm can yet simulate the multitude of connections our brains make when they encounter people we would be interested in.
Tinder can’t send out those pheromones that we all send out when in the same physical space. Bumble can’t show the charisma that we can display in real moments, not in cover photos that we select based on up-votes and likes from our peers. Many of us set our filters to find those with the most similarities when the human species has evolved to crave differences. These dating apps are facades trying to be the real thing, failing at it and destroying what makes us human in the process.