One guy's commitment issues don't mean the end of monogamy for the country. The first in a series of responses to Dan Slater's article "A Million First Dates."
The question at hand in Dan Slater's piece in the latest Atlantic print edition, "A Million First Dates: How Online Dating is Threatening Monogamy," is whether online dating can change some basic settings in American heterosexual relationships such that monogamy and commitment are less important.
Narratively, the story focuses on Jacob, an overgrown manchild jackass who can't figure out what it takes to have a real relationship. The problem, however, is not him, and his desire for a "low-maintenance" woman who is hot, young, interested in him, and doesn't mind that he is callow and doesn't care very much about her. No, the problem is online dating, which has shown Jacob that he can have a steady stream of mediocre dates, some of whom will have sex with him.
"I'm 95 percent certain," Jacob says of a long-term relationship ending, "that if I'd met Rachel ofﬂine, and I'd never done online dating, I would've married her.. Did online dating change my perception of permanence? No doubt."
This story forms the spineless spine of a larger argument about how online dating is changing the world, by which we mean yuppie romance. The argument is that online dating expands the romantic choices that people have available, somewhat like moving to a city. And more choices mean less satisfaction. For example, if you give people more chocolate bars to choose from, the story tells us, they think the one they choose tastes worse than a control group who had a smaller selection. Therefore, online dating makes people less likely to commit and less likely to be satisfied with the people to whom they do commit.
But what if online dating makes it too easy to meet someone new? What if it raises the bar for a good relationship too high? What if the prospect of ﬁnding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?
Unfortunately, neither Jacob's story nor any of the evidence offered compellingly answers the questions raised. Now, let's stipulate that there is no dataset that perfectly settles the core question: Does online dating increase or decrease commitment or its related states, like marriage?