Post-Apocalyptic Notes: Online Dating and How We’re Custom-Built for Rejection
The following is an excerpt from a novel I’m working on. UPDATE: The book Wear Chainmail to the Apocalypse is now available for sale. Our fearful narrator keeps a journal to account for everything that did not survive the apocalypse—television and video games, family photos and ironic bumper stickers, bendy straws and mass processed fast food, celebrity news and Internet pornography, orthodontics and Ritalin. In this section, he writes about online dating.
We really pushed the bounds of what’s possible with dating. We gave single people every possible advantage. Thousands of hungry, available mates under the scrutiny of an algorithm designed to find a compatible someone. No awkward political conversations, no religious sidetracks, no superficial incompatibility. The person across from you at the coffee house was vetted, sorted, and ranked. And still people searched for better options. We domesticated dogs from their wolvish ancestors by removing them from the hunt. We let them eat our table scraps instead. Likewise, the thrill of the hunt in finding your perfect counterpart was replaced with a spreadsheet of potential matches. You click on them. They click on you. And yet, you still weren’t “clicking.”
That’s not to say online dating wasn’t tremendously successful. But it changed expectations and the narrative of how people connect. Hooking up became much more aggressive and paradoxically regimented. There was a routine, a pattern, an etiquette. I wonder if people got exhausted with dating — deciding the ease made it too much of a fuss. When you can find a date from your computer or phone, the pipeline of available mates is overwhelming.
If you’re reasonably attractive, that is.
If you don’t come across as too desperate
or if your profile doesn’t have too many typos.
Online dating was a vicious wake up call for some. The quizzes and surveys all indicated compatibility, but the empty inbox said something was wrong. Friends consoled you by saying it was merely a matter of economics — supply and demand. Women on these dating sites get flooded with messages from men, who are playing the odds. (Based on the strategy: If I message 1,000 girls, “sup,” a handful might message me back.) Women were in high demand and short supply. You were lost in the noisy marketplace. Surely, it couldn’t have anything to do with your utter lack of appeal. The system was rigged. And women? Well, the site was filled with creeps and losers. What did you expect?
The wants and needs of a human being are strange. We like to stay occupied. We don’t like to be deceived. We also don’t like to be disappointed or bothered. Thus, humans are custom-built for rejection. If we couldn’t find love online, a constant stream of television, movies, and video games provided a sort of digital castration. We didn’t need to worry about further failure. We were too busy catching up on whatever was glowing on the screen inside the darkened apartment. Lonely, but entertained.
Here’s what the philosophers of the old world think. Plato said we seek out love to complete ourselves, to be whole. Arthur Schopenhauer said we love as a deception of nature to trick us into birthing children. Bertrand Russell said we love to keep the loneliness at bay. Sometimes, I think we love to see if it comes back to us. It validates our place in the world, like emotional sonar. Yes, I can be loved. I belong here. Online dating is like a million pulses shooting outward and bouncing off in the distance with a few returning to us. And for that person who is floating alone in the void, there is no signal, only silence.