Modern dating is not for the faint of heart. You swipe and click and swipe, making split-second decisions about potential suitors based on the scantest, most superficial snippets of information. It’s bewildering.
I recently downloaded Tinder again after a self-imposed hiatus that lasted several years. I opened the app and as I began to swipe, my inner monologue went something like this: “Nup. Nah. Nope. Too much beard. Serial killer. Why would you use your wedding picture as a profile? Nup. No, no, no. Weird eyebrows. ENOUGH WITH THE GUYS HUGGING SEDATED TIGERS. Nope. Nope. Which one even are you??? Put your shirt on. Nah. Maybe. Why can I only see half your face? Nup. Nah. Cute. Out of focus. Obviously insane. That’s just a picture of your ute. Nope. Nope. Nope.”
“Nup. Nah. Nope. Too much beard. Serial killer. Why would you use your wedding picture as a profile? Nup. No, no, no. Weird eyebrows. ENOUGH WITH THE GUYS HUGGING SEDATED TIGERS..."
There’s nothing like a dating app to make you confront just how shallow you really are. But this is the world we inhabit: we can afford to keep swiping because there will always be more options. It is literally never-ending.
We are spoilt by choice in every aspect of our lives. A digital smorgasbord of movies, music and TV shows are available at the click of a button - but still we complain we can’t find anything to watch. The “bigger, better, more” consumer culture means we can source practically anything we want from an infinitely stocked online marketplace. Yet, the free market economy with its abundance of choice has led to paralysis not liberation.
And nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of online dating.
You could chat to the 15 people you’ve already matched with, or you could keep searching for someone better. How do you know the partner of your dreams is not just a few more swipes away? Or what if they’re on a different dating app? With new players like Happn – which only matches users with people they’ve recently been near – there is the added pressure of knowing you may have just walked past the potential love of your life on the street.
That nagging “what if” feeling has created a dating culture that all too often leads to countless empty and meaningless interactions. The majority of matches never lead to a message, much less a real life date, and even if there are messages, they often come to an abrupt stop for no apparent reason. The anonymity of online dating has made “ghosting” an accepted modern phenomenon. It is perhaps understandable, but nonetheless exhausting and dehumanising.
Imagine meeting someone in a bar and exchanging pleasantries about your passions and interests only to have that person walk off in the middle of the conversation, never to return.
We have learned to treat each other as disposable commodities rather than real people with wants, needs and dreams. This is the burden of choice.
How do you know the partner of your dreams is not just a few more swipes away? Or what if they’re on a different dating app?
American psychologist, Barry Schwartz, put forward the theory in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis of choice and make a decision, we end up less satisfied than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.
Using the analogy of the 175 different salad dressings on offer at his local supermarket he said: “If you buy one, and it’s not perfect – and what salad dressing is? – it’s easy to imagine you could have made a different choice that would have been better. And what happens is this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made, even if it was a good decision. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option you chose.”
If it’s this hard to pick condiments how can we expect to choose a life partner?
The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option you chose.
Perhaps the answer is to reduce our options. Be discerning, not picky. Make choices beyond the superficial and look for connection rather than attraction. And maybe we can be brave enough to pause and ask the tough question: what is it that we’re really searching for? What gap are we trying to fill?
This Valentine’s Day, I choose me. As trite as that may sound, it is the most important choice of all. Choosing single life is not a failure it is a celebration of self. So I have deleted the apps. No more swiping. No more searching. I remain open to love and romance but I also know that the only person who can “complete me” is the one in the mirror.
There's a whole lot of love and movies about love available to stream at SBS On Demand this Valentine's Day. From movies on love to documentaries about dating, visit SBS On Demand to view the entire collection.
To watch SBS's diverse dating series, Undressed, tune in to SBS each Monday at 9.30pm. Catch-up on episodes online via SBS On Demand here. Join the conversation: #Undressed.