Online dating is rapidly changing as technology progresses in our society. It has become a more popular and more accessible way to meet people and express attraction. While dating apps open up new opportunities, especially during this time of social distancing, the majority of online daters are still struggling with the process of online dating and the reality of harassment.
Romantic attraction is difficult to predict. While data on personality traits like the Big Five and attachment types can effectively predict how much individuals want to be in partnerships and how desirable they may be as partners, romantic and sexual compatibility and relationship longevity are difficult to trace and anticipate.
“Because so much of how we relate to others is due to our subconscious beliefs, self-reported personality data derived from conscious awareness that is fed into algorithms and regressions on dating websites cannot accurately capture how individuals operate in relationships,” explains Maria Abramovich, MT-BC Board certified music therapist and Founder of Empowerment By You.
She continues, “In order for artificial intelligence and machine learning to better predict romantic compatibility, the data would have to include data on subconscious programming.”
However, there is something to be said about the potential of AI for romantic pairing. The 2020 situation is a bright example how dating apps can serve us during the time of isolation. “Many of my clients met their partners online. It really works when the right skill set and proper filters,” states Lana Elco, Intimacy Expert and Founder of the Empowered Women’s Club.
“It is fascinating to witness the evolution of dating sites and apps,” says Elco. “I had my own dating agency back in the 1990s. At the time it was something new so it was not for everyone. It wasn’t part of the mainstream culture quite yet.”
Now it is quite the opposite. Most people use dating apps and find each other online.
We just left the decade that gave rise to dating on our phones. We’ve endured the so-called dating apocalypse and created buzzwords for every iteration of being inconsiderate to the potential suitors we’ve met on apps. It’s no secret that the majority of couples meet online now, and that dating apps have shifted how we find love.
The problem with relying on algorithms for something as complex as love is that it will often leave us disappointed.
Elco says that common frustrations with dating app predictions often sound like, “I feel like I am wasting my time,” “I have so many messages but no quality dates,” “It’s hard to meet someone who is interested in serious relationships,” “There are too many disrespectful men online.”
Those who are actively dating seem to delete and reactivate the same dating apps over and over. Why?
“I have heard the term “dating fatigue” and this appears to be a real and true thing,” says Elco. “Scrolling and swiping through hundreds of pictures a day of people that you have no interest in or no attraction to.”
True intimacy is about exploration and growing together. Current AI, or Machine Learning, can capture casual human interaction but it is not yet capable of processing the depth and complexity of the human psyche. And yet, many daters knowingly rely on algorithms built by strangers to present them with potential intimate, possibly life, partners.
AI bias and bot hacking make dating via apps even more problematic, not to mention online harassment.
Dr. Christy Wise, PSY. D. is a former Forensic Psychologist and Founder of Life-Sauce, elaborates: “If you are a woman and never received a dick pic from a guy you met on a dating app, I’d say, you’d be rare.”
She continues, “About six out of ten women from the ages 17 through 35 who have used dating apps report that they have been harassed.”
In fact, 57 percent of women report that someone that they met on a dating app contacted them despite making it crystal clear that they were not interested and did not want to be contacted again.
Ultimately blocking that user and reporting them is the most common course of action, but there is algorithmic and human bias in this process as well, and often victims of online harassment’s complaints are met with silence.
Tinder introduced a new machine-learning tool to “help flag potentially offensive messages and encourage more users to report inappropriate behavior,” according to a recent article in Wired. While this is a step in the right direction, dating and intimacy experts like Elco don’t see it as a complete solution.
“AI can create an extra layer of protection but it won’t solve the problem,” says Elco. “The only way to work through this massive societal challenge is providing education and psychological support to women and men.”
Even as AI advances, there will always be limitations to how it can compare to human intelligence, especially regarding something as complex as the emotion of love. However, when we are considering AI and dating, it is near impossible to overlook the possibility of skipping the app altogether, and simply falling in love directly with the algorithm.
According to a recent study, over a quarter of people have not ruled out the idea of falling in love with a robot. “I believe that while it is a bit more complicated we are capable of developing feelings for a robot,” says Wise.
“However, it might be a companionate type of love but not likely a romantic type of love. Knowing and understanding that the robot might respond appropriately to your emotions, does not mean that the robot will feel them back. Frustration, resentment, and disconnection occurs ultimately driving a wedge in the relationship.”
“Emotional intelligence develops through practicing direct communication with other human beings,” explains Elco. “Intimacy is not just about sex and physical pleasure. That’s why sex toys are not enough for our intimate wellbeing. In fact, it is emotional intimacy that opens us up to experience the deepest and the most powerful intimate exchange with another.”
Babita Spinelli, LP JD, Psychotherapist, Relationship Expert and CEO of Opening the Doors Psychotherapy and Babita Spinelli Group says that although she is fascinated about how AI can enhance our lives, she is also “extremely concerned about replacing the human quality, touch and connection.”
Spinelli, trained in psychoanalysis and other modalities such as the Gottman Method, is very aware of the positive aspects of online dating.
“During this pandemic, technology, and algorithms more specifically,” says Spinelli, “have enabled virtual dating which has been extremely helpful for my clients who are single or divorced and want to meet someone. It has also allowed for long distance relationships to have virtual date nights and maintain their relationships especially when travel is a concern.”
Given that dating apps are now a commonplace, and useful part of life, how do we humans deal with less-than-perfect algorithmic models so deeply entwined in something as crucial as love?
“What is important from my lens,” says Spinelli, “is choosing a dating app where you feel it reflects your goals. Do you want an app which allows room for you to share more about you and read more about others? Where there is more thought in the responses because you are searching for a potential partner? Or are you seeking to date for fun and not searching for a long term commitment?” It is important to get clear on your dating intentions prior to taking the plunge into the dating app world which can often become overwhelming.
Spinelli adds that it is also important to check in on your anxiety, depression and depletion levels when using these apps.
“Is the process wearing on how you feel about yourself? Is it productive for you, or are you having difficulty focusing because you are consumed by the app?” “Are you still enjoying the process or has it become depleting?” “These are some of the questions to ask yourself,” says Spinelli.
“When it was all brand new, technology knew its place and its limits, essentially it was a worker bee for us,” says Wise. “Today however, technology has become very personal and incredibly intimate. We would be irresponsible not to take a deeper look at the emotional, social, and psychological effects of algorithms and how they ultimately influence human identity.”
“I personally don’t see anything wrong with finding the right match and working through the informational database,” says Elco. However, she continues, “We need to be aware that AI can be used for wrong purposes such as manipulation, deception and misleading communication.”
At the end of the day, most experts agree that any attempt to substitute real human relationships with AI is an elusive escape from reality and avoiding to face the intensity of real intimacy. Depending on algorithms for emotional support might seem to be an easy solution but it leads to addiction and isolation.
For now, online dating is viewed as being convenient, easy, and sometimes intriguing. However, in the opinion of many coaches and experts like those quoted in this piece, problems arise when people hide behind these apps and their algorithms to avoid the complex emotions that accompany human relationships.
Dating algorithms are limited by current technology as well as the biases of those who build them, so one’s faith in an algorithm needs to be tempered by realistic expectations, as well as some reliance on different ways of meeting people. As Spinelli explains, “for some people, dating apps end up hurting their in-person opportunities to find love.”