Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Grand Social Experiment

As a single woman with mostly-married friends of all ages, I get bombarded on a regular basis with offers. “I think you’d be perfect for my husband’s friend/my brother/my nephew/my grandson/this guy I met at this place this one time.” Generally speaking, I have a “No!” rule, although there have been a few occasions where a good story comes out of it. (I actually met one of my closest college friends on a blind date that involved the movie “Death to Smoochy.” Terrible date movie.)

[Always, always an xkcd.]
In more recent years, though, my well-meaning friends (and my email spam folder) trying to solve this Single-Ashley-Problem have changed their approaches. The most common question I get now is, “Why don’t you join a dating site?”

As the Internet grew, online dating sites were to be expected – after all, matchmakers have been a part of the human experience since basically the dawn of time, from astrologers in ancient communities and meddling aunts in Victorian England to the personals in newspapers. When we rushed headlong into the digital age, online personals were there right at the beginning with news sites, search engines, celebrity gossip and pictures of deranged pets. It was only a matter of months before sites appeared that were dedicated to pairing all of the floating profiles.

What I used to consider a strange phenomenon is turning into one of the most mainstream social experiments on the planet., the oldest and largest of the sites, has actually been around for 17 years. eHarmony has existed for 12. There are sub-sites associated with Facebook, sections on Craigslist (yeah, that seems like a bad idea), and sites for almost every subgroup of people, whether nationally, religiously, racially or culturally specific. If you are looking for someone, there is a site you can use. Plain and simple.

As odd as it seems that we routinely entrust our love lives to computers, I will readily admit that there is something tremendously appealing about online dating sites.

Think about it. They're organized; they're anonymous; as long as you’re paying attention, you can know with relative certainty that the people you find are actually single. Someone -- or rather, something -- else tracks down people with whom you already have something in common. It's a bit like having that matchmaker friend, but the system is much more objective and less crazy than that friend and it's drawing from a larger pool.

And unlike the straight-up personals, there's still that middle man so you can separate yourself from the crazy people just a little bit more.

My coldly logical side loves the idea. Aside from the usual state of my space, I'm not a fan of chaos; I like when things go according to plan, and generally speaking, that's the idea behind these sites.

As logical as they are, it's a little hard to argue against them on a subjective level, either. They've gotten much more commonplace -- the stigma of "Oh, we met online" is slowly disappearing. If the commercials are to be believed, 20% of couples meet online (and the number’s only getting bigger). Personally, I know several couples that met through eHarmony, Match, or PlentyofFish (I’ve even been to a handful of weddings for these couples) and to be perfectly honest, they all seem to be pretty darn good fits for each other. Generally speaking, they’re living proof that the system works.

I get it. It all makes more sense than I would normally admit. It's a truly practical approach to finding someone. And it’s far more foolproof than meeting someone at a bar. (Or a grocery store. *Ahem.*)


Isn't there always a but?

There are two big reasons I have no interest in dating sites.

The first is that I am just not willing to make that jump. These sites require a certain amount of commitment before the commitment. If you're going to use a site to the best of its potential, odds are good you'll have to pay for it (although there are free ones out there) and stay on top of it. More importantly, you have to be willing to go on a lot of dates, both good and bad.

Maybe I just lack focus, but I can’t commit to that.

The second reason has nothing to do with logic or practicality, however.

The thing is -- I'm a storyteller. (Perhaps you've noticed.) I love the random stories that come out of normal life, but the ones that truly get me are the random/crazy/ingenious ways people end up together. “Oh, we met online” just doesn’t do it for me.

For now, I'm content to watch this grand social experiment play out. Who knows? Maybe I'll change my mind at some point and join the fray. Or maybe my next grocery store encounter will lead to a different kind of story.

... Yeah. For now I think I'm good with that single thing.

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