The process whereby people, in various societies of the world, select a husband or wife has gone through a major revolution in relatively recent years. Noting important exceptions, like the Muslim culture and areas of Africa and the Far East, it’s a worldwide revolution that, to a large extent, originated in the U.S. and then spread to other countries. At least in this respect, one can say America was the cutting edge. Our influence has changed the world’s social and sexual norms more in the past 50 years than they’ve changed at any other time in the past 10,000 years.
In the past – in fact, as recent as the early 1930s in some regions of rural America – other people determined who you would marry. Your family and church and, to some degree, the entire community selected your mate for the presumed good of everyone involved, except perhaps for the good of the actual couple. Compatibility, mutual affection and shared interests had little to do with the choice. Money and family wealth were key factors.
Twentieth century America destroyed all that. The growth of cities, deferment of marriage, the pill, working women and many other factors combined to turn our morality upside down. In particular, novels and Hollywood films promoted the idea of “romantic love,” the notion of a powerful emotional force and spiritual fulfillment stemming from your one-and-only soulmate. Everyone was free to seek his or her own true love. (Yet, isn’t it surprising, given a world population in excess of 6 billion, how many people find their soulmate within their high school or at least within 50 miles of home.)
Today, the process of selecting a partner, whether for one night or a lifetime, often results from chance meetings at work, in classrooms and in bars. Unfortunately, such happenstance connections oftentimes don’t produce the desired results. One of the consequences of free choice is possible failure, especially if your hormones take precedence over reason.
So now we have computer dating – online sites like Match.com, eHarmony, and OKCupid, for example – that hold the promise of connecting you with your one-and-only through a system of elaborate questionnaires involving race, religion, sense of humor, musical tastes and other factors, and mathematical algorithms which, at the most refined levels, take approximately 1,500 variables into account.
The obvious advantage of online dating is that it provides a wider pool in which to find someone. Yet, diehard romantics may find computer dating a bit troubling because it reduces love to math equations and psychological profiles, stripping the experience of all its magic and emotions.
Be that as it may, the popularity of online services has caught fire. A few years ago, such matchmaking was felt to be the last resort for desperate people and a bunch of jerks and perverts. However, for many of today’s young people, its no less natural than the bar happy-hour. And not only the young. Strange as it might seem, the fastest growing group of online daters are people over 50.
Of course, online profiles aren’t exactly honest. People tend to exaggerate their incomes. Everyone online has an excellent sense of humor. Men become taller and tall women become shorter.
Then too, online hookups can be dangerous. A woman in L.A. was raped by a convicted sex offender she meet through Match.com. On the other hand, the stranger you connect with in a local watering hole might be just as dangerous.
A large online pool of possible lovers can also be a disadvantage because there are simply too many choices. It’s more difficult to make a selection because, at least theoretically, there can always be someone better out there. Someone who’s better looking, a little richer and more entertaining. The online term is “trading up.” In short, you become too picky.
Personally, I’ve never tried online dating and probably never will. Call me an old fogey, but I prefer the conversation and warmth of drinks in an intimate, secluded little club in Lower Manhattan or the Upper Eastside. Barring that, Rendezvous will suffice.