Saved by Online Dating, Cont'd

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

A reader can relate:

I just read your very interesting post about online dating. After a long string of failed conventional relationships, all of them with women I met in college courses or extracurricular activity groups, after graduation I shifted over to online dating. I had just broken up with the last girlfriend I knew from my college years and was working very long hours in my new career. That mixture of a much busier schedule and being completely severed from my college network of friends really did a number on my social life.

So online dating was actually a bit of a last-ditch measure at the time. But long-term, it turned out to be for the best, and I think I was “Saved” in exactly the manner your reader describes. After something like 200 messages sent out over multiple sites and 20 or so face-to-face meetings, I met my future wife via OKCupid in 2009 and got married the following year. Five years later, things are as good as ever.

The biggest benefit of online dating to me was that it exponentially increased my pool of potential mates, far beyond the choices available during any of my years in school. I grew up in a small town in rural northern Pennsylvania and was completely miserable around the opposite gender in high school.

College started out the same way, but after making a few lifestyle adjustments two years in, I was at least able to have meaningful—though over-dramatically dysfunctional—romantic relationships. If online dating had not existed, I think I would have had no choice but to “settle” for one of these women I met in college, due of a lack of other options. But I know I would not have been completely happy long-term being with someone with whom I wasn’t 100 percent compatible, setting myself up for affairs, divorces, or other nasty events later in marriage.

It’s important to note that my wife and I met on an algorithm-based dating site like OKCupid, and not the shallow “meat markets” like Tinder that have become more popular since we met. My wife and I are both techie/intellectual types, and while we’re not ugly, we’re not the type of people likely to prosper in an environment like Tinder where looks are everything and words are meaningless.

So I hope despite controversies such as the OKCupid founder playing “mad scientist” with his matching algorithms, that there will still be a place out there for other dating sites used by ordinary-looking people who want to connect on an intellectual level.

Another reader makes an interesting connection:

I haven’t read Dataclysm, and since I’ve been married 35 years, I’m not dating off or online. But your reader made a perceptive comment about algorithms that made me think of matchmakers and arranged marriages.

I live in China, where the title of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” describes a surprisingly common attitude towards marriage. Stable job, house, car, status, future, health—those are the things that count. Maybe you love, maybe you don’t. A rather objective consideration of financial prospects carries more weight.

Except in some remote areas, matchmakers are uncommon, and arranged marriages have all but disappeared. But I think the algorithms of online dating are emerging as fair substitutes.