Looking for love, or just a casual affair? Match.com claims that 1 in 5 relationships begin online. True or not, the current proliferation of dating websites and apps is undeniable. Amorous directories such as 100BestDatingSites.com vouch for the industry’s growth and demographic granularity. From the squeaky clean eHarmony.com to the purely carnal AdultFriendFinder.com to the off-center Meet-An-Inmate.com, online matchmaking services have generated an unprecedented phenomenon in human history: a mega-marketplace for personal relationships.
What was once a private matter carried out organically, over traditional networks, or relegated to obscure classified ads, has become a conspicuous public pastime. In a world where community at large has disintegrated, dating websites and apps address a social need and serve a practical purpose. In the process, however, they also reveal a rather pathetic side of human behavior. The neurotic catalog of our existence has never been more self-evident. Digital storefronts open into a kind of samsaric cyber-carnival where preference and fetish mingle among the faces and masks. And somewhere in this melting pot of images and signs one hopes to find love or at the very least, momentary satisfaction.
Sometimes it happens. Success stories do exist. But the paradigm of “shopping for people” also encourages recurrent failure. Everybody wants a deal (see coupons below). In this regard, matchmakers exercise power like agents, lawyers, and other middlemen. They provide an interface for our expectations just as companies in general encourage those expectations to sell products. Is it farfetched to suppose that corporations will become the gatekeepers of intimacy? A commercial narrated by eHarmony founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, moves in this direction:
“Chances are, that behind every great relationship, there’s eHarmony.com. Stop waiting. Start communicating for free today.”
But what use is communication without critical thinking? The first amendment already permits freedom of speech. No discount or promotional offer is required.
In romantic relationships, our culture places emphasis on being understood. But do we even understand ourselves? The dating website, Be2.com, raises some interesting questions. Their motto, “Find the love of your life,” seems fair enough, but for the sake of clarification might we ask why? Why be two? Why not just be? And why find the love of your life? Why not find the love in your life? Ultimately, being two still means to be as one. It’s the same product, only repackaged as Love 2.0 for independent, middle-aged professionals. Yet on another level, people are already two; for every desire exists a counter-desire. As the saying goes: It’s complicated.
But science has us covered according to the corporate matchmakers. Dating sites geared toward lasting relationships employ scientific methods to refine search results. Many take their lead from eHarmony in this respect. The ratio between science and marketing, however, remains indefinite. “The science of love” may work for some but not others. Perhaps we have yet to discover the quantum theory of love! Our current approach assumes that desires are rational and that people filling out questionnaires are truthful. Meanwhile, instinct and irrationality pull us through like a black hole.
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