Saved by Online Dating

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader just stumbled upon a piece Jim Kozube wrote for us last year, “Love Is Not Algorithmic,” which is deeply skeptical of online dating:

From “The 4 Big Myths of Profile Photos” by Christian Rudder

As a pure coincidence, I’m actually reading Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm right now and enjoying it. I think Kozube is taking a bit too harsh a view on this book, but I might also be misreading his intentions. As a software engineer, I’m enjoying Dataclysm because I spend every day thinking about the best ways to manage large volumes of online data. I think it’s important for us, in this age of “big data,” to understand what kinds of data are being collected, how this pool of data is currently being analyzed, and what the future applications for it might be.

So I don’t see Dataclysm as some sort of futuristic “turning love into equations” robo-pick-up-artist manual. I think it’s supposed to be more of a “hey, look at the trends that are appearing in this staggeringly huge pool of data we’ve collected over the years. Isn’t this neat?”

I also wish that people wouldn’t keep getting so worked up about technology replacing love. It’s possible that I’m just speaking from the viewpoint of the single (as a 25-year-old woman with no long-lasting relationships since high school). I mean, yes, love is obviously this great and amazing thing. But love can also be horrible, especially when it’s not working out for us.

When I was a depressed 19-23 year old, one of the largest contributing factors to feeling I’d never do anything worthwhile with my life was the fact that I couldn’t get any of my relationships to stick. I fell hard for a lot of people, and they were just never as interested in me. You know how I got over that cycle? Online dating.

Online dating made me realize you can have casual relationships, then they can end, and the world doesn’t end with them. It made me realize that when relationships don’t work out, it’s almost never the fault of one person. Sometimes people just don’t get along, and that’s completely normal, because some people are just not your type, or you aren’t theirs—and that doesn’t mean anyone is a bad person.

It made me realize that, yes, love is great and amazing and whatever, but you can survive without romantic love. And I think it’s good to, at times, be able to apply that more scientific, algorithmic representation to love, because then you can take a step back from it and survey it objectively when your idealization of it, and your painful awareness of your imagined failure to achieve it, might be destroying you.

Kozube also makes a point that he would overall rather stick with Badiou than read Dataclysm. That’s perfectly valid. However, I just want to counter: why not both? Reading things we might not agree with or enjoy is how we challenge our own opinions and strengthen our convictions. I’m enjoying Dataclysm. I’ve also read, in full, such books as Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Blood Meridian, so I feel like my lit cred can’t be questioned here. Don’t be like this about literature. Not all literature needs to be serious and full of lofty ideals.

Sometimes the loftiest of ideals are disguised in the simplest of language. Sometimes it’s much harder to make a truly universal, meaningful point in words that everyone can understand.

If you had a big breakthrough with online dating you want to share, drop me an email.