Ever since her last relationship ended this past August, Liz has been consciously trying not to treat dating as a “numbers game.” By the 30-year-old Alaskan’s own admission, however, it hasn’t been going great.
Liz has been going on Tinder dates frequently, sometimes multiple times a week—one of her New Year’s resolutions was to go on every date she was invited on. But Liz, who asked to be identified only by her first name in order to avoid harassment, can’t escape a feeling of impersonal, businesslike detachment from the whole pursuit.
“It’s like, ‘If this doesn’t go well, there are 20 other guys who look like you in my inbox.’ And I’m sure they feel the same way—that there are 20 other girls who are willing to hang out, or whatever,” she said. “People are seen as commodities, as opposed to individuals.”
It’s understandable that someone like Liz might internalize the idea that dating is a game of probabilities or ratios, or a marketplace in which single people just have to keep shopping until they find “the one.” The idea that a dating pool can be analyzed as a marketplace or an economy is both recently popular and very old: For generations, people have been describing newly single people as “back on the market” and analyzing dating in terms of supply and demand. In 1960, the Motown act the Miracles recorded “Shop Around,” a jaunty ode to the idea of checking out and trying on a bunch of new partners before making a “deal.” The economist Gary Becker, who would later go on to win the Nobel Prize, began applying economic principles to marriage and divorce rates in the early 1970s. More recently, a plethora of market-minded dating books are coaching singles on how to seal a romantic deal, and dating apps, which have rapidly become the mode du jour for single people to meet each other, make sex and romance even more like shopping.