If you can shop for everything else online, then why not love? A 24/7 singles bar has opened up online, and we’re all invited. This new-age dating landscape has fueled the fervent search for the ‘right one’ and has changed the way we approach our search for love. Millions worldwide are placing all their bets on algorithms and premeditated profiles over chance encounters.
Reporting from love’s frontline, the editor of The New York Times’ long-running ‘Modern Love’ column Daniel Jones, weighs in. A 14-year veteran at the magazine, Jones is a man who has witnessed love in all its permutations. From New Delhi to New England, hundreds of tales of rekindled romance, lost chances and betrayal pour into his inbox daily. From his editor’s chair, he has had the privilege of exploring love around the world in all its mess and glory. We speak to the self-confessed ‘lazy ass believer in destiny’, about the dangerous fantasy of soulmates, digital dating and learning to open your heart to love.
Since we have plugged ourselves to our smartphones, the dating pool has become an ocean of infinite possibilities, and we have declared our hearts open for business. In the pre-internet years, there was a strong possibility that you would end up sharing a bed with someone who shared your postcode. But over the past few decades, our options have become seemingly limitless. We have opened the floodgates to love as we dive headfirst into the deep-end of digital dating; toggling our options to heighten our chances of finding ‘the one’.
However, after examining the paper trail of successful rendezvous and dead-end dates, psychologists have found that choice and the illusion of mass availability may not bring us any closer to love. Surprisingly, despite the autonomy of modern dating, when it comes to love, we aren’t great at knowing what we’re looking for. This paradox of choice is a problem symptomatic of our modern age. With the world at our fingertips we have all become what psychologist Professor Barry Schwartz calls, “maximisers”. Unlike the person who is quite happy to settle for what is available, the maximiser is always on the hunt for the best. This mentality makes decision-making unbearable, and often leaves us with the nagging feeling that we could have chosen better. As technology has flung the doors wide open and enabled us to supersize our experience of romance, so has our anxiety of choice.
In his years behind the Modern Love editor’s desk, Jones has noticed that the way we fantasize about romantic love has been indelibly changed by the new movement of online dating. He explains, “the online world fuels the fantasy and amplifies the disappointment.” Divorced from the real world, the digital landscape promises a dating free-for-all- a place where our wildest dreams can be realised.
When dating online, we are encouraged to play to our inner ‘maximalist’ and dream big. The instant gratification of a ‘match’ or message, provokes us to treat our love life as an extension of an online shopping habit with the fantasy of love sold to us as another commodity. As soon as we find a match online, our fantasy of the perfect partner begins; we might start by studying quirks of their text shorthand, fleshing-out their pixelated profile and soon we are convinced that they are the ideal match. As anyone who has ever suffered the trickery of photoshop will know, the package that arrives at your door rarely meets the expectations of the fantasy you checked out. Sadly, when it comes to dating, there is no easy return-to-sender policy.
The fantasy of finding the perfect love and having a sense of belonging is a universal craving that is deeply embedded in the human psyche. Whilst we have always been a culture intoxicated by the idea of romance, the past few years has seen the monetisation of this fantasy. We want the lip-biting, self-abandoning thrill of romance, and we want it all. Over the years, Daniel has come to learn that “these aspects of love are much more about vanity than kindness.” He adds, “there are so many complicated aspects of compatibility and what allows people to be good partners for their whole lives. It’s not about romance, The truth is there are a lot of reasons to be together but not if you elevate romance above all else.”
The question remains- how do we really find true love? Daniel advises, whilst what initially attracts two people may have more superficial beginnings, a deeper human connection is crucial to finding enduring love. Arguing the case against the “soulmate” fantasy, Daniel believes that if we ventured into a forest with six strangers and were isolated from the outside world, it is likely that we would fall in love with one of them. This is the reason that most people are still finding their partners at work, or through friends. When we find ourselves in a limited environment, we are forced into a space of mutual vulnerability and are quickly encouraged to slow down and investigate the hidden depths of our companions.
In today’s age, we spend so much time desperately living outside of reality that it is very hard to connect with people in a meaningful and honest way. This idea was exemplified in the viral New York Times piece, “36 Questions to Fall in Love”, a questionnaire that sparked a worldwide conversation about love. The questions were designed to be used as tools to access deep and intimate aspects of each person’s emotions to reveal who their true selves. Questions include such provocative enquiries such as, “how do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” and “would you like to be famous? In what way?”. All these were designed to challenge, coax, and expose a mutual vulnerability between two parties to promote a more intimate understanding and perhaps, even love.
Whether we are standing in a forest with four strangers or choosing from one-hundred-thousand candidates online, we are all driven by the instinct of finding companionship. Stripping away the algorithms and the compatibility calculations, we eventually find ourselves in rooms with other people reaching out for that same connection. With all the tools for instant gratification at our fingertips, it is easy to take a careerist approach, but love is about curiosity not certainty. Although we search our souls and the advice columns for the answers, the fact is, there are none. We have to remember that some of the greatest loves were born out of an unusual match, a mistake or a ‘glove dropped at the MET moment’. It is unpredictable but, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
After fourteen years reading the stories that flood into his inbox, Daniel has come to appreciate the bravery of lovers all around the world. Those who have suffered devastating loss or heartache and have heroically opened their hearts once more to love. Perhaps, after all of our frantic searching, in the end, it is love that finds us. He adds that it is those who have taken chances, that are the “ truly happy people.”
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Daniel Jones is the editor of the hugely popular personal-essay column “Modern Love” in the New York Times. Drawing from the 50,000 stories that have crossed his desk in the past decade, his book ‘Love Illuminated’ tells the story of love from beginning to end. Follow his story @danjonesnyt