“Plenty of Fish…or Not?: Confessions of an Online Dating Refusenik”

round cupidAccording to Merriam-Webster, a refusenik is a ” 1: Soviet citizen and especially a Jew refused permission to emigrate. 2: a person who refuses or declines something.” I guess you could say I fall under the second part of this definition, since I’m what my friends and family lovingly refer to as a “hater”. I’m not sure if it’s a function of my age [I’m a Gen Xer], my ethnicity [I’m half Arab], or my religion [I’m a non-practicing Muslim], but I’ve yet to dip my toe into the shark-infested waters of the online dating pool. Now, there are those who would argue therein lies the greatest weakness of my position, but I beg to differ. As a writer, I spend a great deal of time observing people, analyzing my environment, absorbing the effects of different social and cultural phenomenon and then assessing their overall impact on our society. Like most any sentient moderately intelligent and self-aware person living in the twenty-first century, I’ve watched technology transform everything of import in both the public and private sphere. To my mind, the greatest metamorphosis has taken place in the way we communicate, relate and seek mates and [from what I’ve seen and heard] this change is way more then we bargained for.

Although some online dating sites like match.com have been around a few decades now, it’s the crop that sprung up after 2000 like Plenty of Fish,eHarmony, and the advent of mobile dating via TinderHinge , Happn and [for say the male gay community] Grindr that has basically decimated the traditional dating rules of engagement, especially for millennials. The impact of the change technology has precipitated shouldn’t be underestimated. In her piece for Vanity Fair,  journalist Nancy Jo Sales interviewed Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. This is his historic perspective on a millennium plus worth of dating and mating:

“…We are in uncharted territory when it comes to Tinder et al. … there have been two major transitions in the last four million years. The first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled. And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet.”

What makes these 2 transitions major? The first lead to the establishment of marriage as a cultural contract and the second has cemented the appeal of a hook up culture that has been percolating since around the time Coco Chanel designed and sold the first pair of women’s trousers. For the record, it’s not casual sex I find actively repellent. Commitment-free sexual encounters are a normal part of the dating and mating cycle for almost any man or woman living in the first world or in an economically developing society that has made space for the personal and professional growth and development of its citizens. There are times in our lives where professional or educational pursuits, personal goals, interests and [above all] timing...trump our need to partner up. I don’t see an issue with connecting with others in a healthy way that doesn’t involve courting or exclusivity. What’s repulsive to me is how love and sex have been commodified. Moreover, when it comes to romance, I don’t really subscribe to the ever popular mantra that “the Universe helps those who help themselves.”  As an Arab, the concept of mektoub or fate; the notion that destiny has a vital role to play in the enfolding of one’s life is a core belief that has shaped my own philosophy of love, sex and commitment. Both my own experience and observations have left me a times confused…but mostly in awe of that intangible and unpredictable X-factor that can lead you to that specific encounter or that makes or breaks the potential for the intimacy and commitment that followed. As an idealist and old-school romantic , the prospect of creating an online dating  profile makes me both yawn and cringe. I’m bored by the bio I must carefully craft; the one that will strike just the right note with that ‘special someone’. I also dread the phony baloney, perfectly airbrushed,over-filtered pic I must post along with it. Finally, I resent the copious amount of time I’ll be devoting to triaging potential candidates just so I can [à la Fiddler on the Roof] “find me a find, catch me a catch!”

But POF is a veritable Shangri-la compared to the horror that awaits the denizens of the mobile dating arena. For starters, [as CNN commentator Mel Robbins aptly noted] “the game is rigged for guys. ” The battle of the sexes is one thing in the boardroom; quite another in the boudoir. A fair amount of research indicates that [biologically-speaking] men are hard-wired to play the field and spread their seed, while woman are programmed to be genetically discriminating and select the best of it available. When it comes to mobile dating apps like Tinder and company the odds are definitely stacked in favour of the

tinder hingehappngrindr

Tinder hero on the prowl and not the Tinderellas he’s seeking.  Incidentally, the idea of being selected by some random guy who just ‘swiped right’and ordered me the same way he ordered his Bose speakers makes me want to hurl and then bathe in Lysol overnight. The numbers game being played by some users is equally unsettling, especially when you consider STIs are on the rise, again. Finally, the fact that [unlike most online dating sites] only a tiny percentage of the connections [2,000 out of 13 million matches per day] made on Tinder added up to real commitments in 2014 is legit food for thought.

The reality is millennials don’t know what it’s like not to date or mate in such a shallow, degrading and bizarre environment. They don’t know what it’s like the transact with others in an arena where technology can’t really mitigate the quantity and quality of human interaction. They’ve come of age in a time where social awkwardness and an Orwellian lack of privacy is the norm. It’s a generation that increasingly depends on a collection of swipes, clicks and likes for personal validation and lacks the confidence to turn to themselves or their true loved ones for something so essential. Ask around and you will hear how vigilant most are when it comes to their online presence ; how they fret over their Facebook profile pics, not clogging their friend’s feeds, how many followers they have and why one person might like or ignore the stuff they post or share.

In the aggregate, the fixation on such superficial concerns doesn’t bode well for the future of commitment and matrimony in the new millennium. Barely 16 years into it…and were already dealing with the kind of game-changing societal change whose implications we’ve only just begun to understand. However, just because technology  and our increasingly codep relationship with social media are transforming the mating game, doesn’t mean we abdicate all personal responsibility for the way we choose to meet and treat potential lovers or partners. Do strange responses from over eager male POF candidates mean chivalry is dead? Not, necessarily. Will Tinder sound the death knell for true romance and intimacy? It doesn’t have to. We can choose to keep it ‘real’ and remain authentic even when faced with a dating environment that promotes the contrary, especially if we’ve taken that online plunge. I may be a ‘hater’, but my mantra has always been ‘live and let live’. Focus on doing you; no one else can …(!)and if you’re lucky enough to encounter a fair number of individuals who respect and value that, you just might find there really is ‘plenty of fish in the sea’.

How do you feel about online dating? Do you agree that mobile dating apps are a factor in the current “dating apocalypse’? Share your story!

One thought on ““Plenty of Fish…or Not?: Confessions of an Online Dating Refusenik”

  1. Pingback: “Where is the Love?: Welcome to the New Millennium’s Marital Matrix” – Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

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