“He wasn’t that attractive,” said a well-groomed woman to a friend sitting with her at a table a few seats over from mine. Being all alone and sipping on my latte, it was hard not to tune out of the conversation. “What was he wearing? Sweats?” joked her friend from across the table. “No, he just didn’t look as good as any of the pictures he had up online.”
Overhearing this short exchange was a revelation for me.
Want a new book? Buy it on Amazon. Tired of your wardrobe? Find it on any clothier’s website with little effort. Want to find a partner – or even a fling? There’s an app for that… and the selection process has become more commercialized than anyone could have imagined a few decades ago.
There are obviously positives and negatives to this new trend. On the one hand, people less likely to find time outside of their jobs or who wish to avoid the bar scene have an easier time than ever to connect with potential matches. Some apps and websites ask you to answer some of the most personal questions out there in regards to sexual tendencies, romantic history, and whether or not you think you’re smarter than the general population. These questions are equally answered by other matches. The higher you agree with each other, the more compatible you are… or at least, so it seems. (I don’t think I’d like to date an exact replica of myself in any event).
Some websites and apps are helpful for people who wish to find matrimonial candidates based on religion, such as Christian Mingle or Shaadi. Others are intended for people who specifically want to date to marry, such as eVow or eHarmony. The gay community has Grindr, an app that locates other potential matches based on distance. Tinder is notorious for its swipe left for no, swipe right for yes choice system, which makes dating – and flings – a very visual process.
All of these options, regardless of their general established “purpose,” have created a very similar environment to the likes of even eBay; in short, users have to “market” themselves like a product.
This can be both very efficient and equally very troubling. Many that I know have had very beautiful relationships blossom from these websites and apps, whereas others have found them discouraging. “I don’t like being seen like this,” one friend mentioned to me while chatting. “I’m just viewed for my photos. It’s annoying because I know I’d get along so well with some of my matches if they met me in person. They say no because I don’t meet their physical standards. It’s superficial.”
For those who receive no response, a general copy and paste message is sent out sometimes hundreds of times per day. Conversations fizzle out after simple introductions. Accounts close because of boredom, and reopen for the same reason.
Are we at the point where everything – relationships included – can be grouped as a commodity? It almost seems that way. Psychologically speaking, the average person is bombarded with advertisements and paradigms of beauty no matter where one goes. These subconsciously embed themselves into our minds, and we form checklists for what we desire just the same way as we remind ourselves of the consumer goods we dream about.
To a certain extent, preferences are natural and have always been. For example, I have always had a predilection for men with darker hair and eyes. Does that rule out the possibility that I would date someone with blond hair and blue eyes? Absolutely not. But for many it would, and the websites have made it very easy to do so. Included in many search options, a prepackaged mate can be chosen based on height, race, education level, and more. It’s almost like buying a new sweater. If it doesn’t fit, send it back and search again.
More than ever, it seems like technology has acted as Pandora’s box, providing a wealth of options and opportunities, but erasing the key components of natural connection, whose signal is weakening day by day.