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Thoughts and tips on the State of Dating
just an attempt to connect a few dots, and a few tips too.
Disclaimer, Scope and Context: I am a happily married man, not needing to date since before the Web. As such, on one hand I have ZERO recent, first hand experience of dating; on the other, there is some tiny possibility that I may be able to share some useful food for thought about stable, long-term couple relationships in a digital age.
Therefore, the only dating discussed here is dating aimed at establishing such relationships, or at least not excluding them outright. Here, I first outline what seem to me the most relevant environmental obstacles to successful dating in this age. Then I present, among all the possible digital parts of the solution, a couple that seems promising to me.
The State of Dating in 2023
Things don't look good, do they? In some places, demography alone makes the dating "scene" a "Doom Loop". In others, even some churches have surrendered to "celebrating (rather than accepting) singleness". Why is that?
Men are in trouble. Even those who don't DESERVE it
Too many men still go out of their way to warrant an exclusion from dating, at ages when they have nobody else left to blame than themselves. This shouldn't obscure the fact that all the men who don't deserve bans still tend, more than women, to have fewer and fewer friends, because they were explicitly trained to avoid deep emotional discussions about friendships and to "value toughness and stoicism over emotional sensitivity and connection". To put it mildly, none of this helps in dating (and if you allow me a blinding flash of the obvious, nobody but parents could and should really fix this).
Women are not well either
Because of men and other factors, dating and parenting have become so hard, or unsatisfactory, or irrelevant for women that in the USA, in just a few years from now, 45% of women will be single, and 25% will reach their forties without having children. It's worth noting this will have consequences well beyond dating, not just in the USA but (at least) in the whole "First World" which is in the same waters, give or take a few years. Those groups, and of course their male counterparts, are all groups that have never been so big before, in history and in the polling booth, and are all likely to be quite misaligned with each other, and everybody else.
Executive summary of the last two paragraphs: we are all going to live in even more interesting times if we don't make dating work better for everybody, soon.
A clock ticking for all young people. No, not THAT one
Too few young people seem to realize or accept, even in principle, that the best time to meet one's life partner is very likely their 20s, because that is "the last time with people [your] own age".
Any grand-(grand-) parent may tell you why. Back when the default was to "pair early with an easily found local mate", if things lasted with mutual satisfaction, which they did in more than a few cases, a good part of the merit was precisely that they started early. That is, when both parties were flexible enough to "mould yourself to your partner, and explore what the two of you might become together".
Today, instead, being able and willing to "shape yourself to another person at a young age" is more likely to look as a declaration to have no inner potential worth developing, rather than a way to discover and unleash it all. But the longer one discovers himself, the less is left to discover outside.
Flatness and consumerism = naive, unrealistic expectations
People decades younger than me have noticed that everything looks the same today, and shallow too. One of the consequences is what seems to me "not even wrong" understandings and schizophrenic expectations about the whole dating thing.
Every day, everybody is told "you don't need a partner, with so much other life you can buy" AND, with the same intensity, "you absolutely need a partner, but luckily you can buy your way to it".
Falling for any of those extremes, or claims that bad experiences should be avoided at all costs, cannot work. Ditto for "raising the standard of what we understand as genuine friendship so much that many real social relationships look worthless just because they are real, that is not ideal. According to some, even removing sexuality from movies may have contributed to make relations less complex than they should be to really work.
At another level, the very idea that there is, or should be, a dating "marketplace" or "mating market" is embarrassingly stupid. Companies helping people to "upskill your sexuality and love game in the long term" may be in good faith, but what they actually contribute to the big picture is to downgrade dating to "career planning".
Equally stupid is any variant of "my wedding must be the best day of one's life". No matter how it's worded, it literally says (besides "make debts!!!") that no day after that could be just as good. How depressing is that? Public acknowledgment of stable partnerships should be very happy days, but nothing more. Surely they should never be fake zeniths and sources of debts, for newlyweds and bridesmaids too!
For successful dating, the perfect really seems the enemy of the good (which, besides being real, may also be way better than what one was initially hoping for).
Work and sex that make dating seem scary or impossible
Besides unrealistic propaganda, there are at least three forces that make dating seem concretely unreachable, or just worthless. One is the myth that the purpose of education is to get a well paid job, thus perpetuating elite overproduction in a time when it's electricians and similar who are "getting hired and paid at record levels".
Don't get me wrong here! Real commitment to decent, meaningful work is important, doing the extra mile in order to learn its ropes is necessary, and it's true that some kids fail to get this. But when even professors still boast that "work-life balance is a myth, and that I don't remember my twenties and thirties, other than work. It cost me my hair. It cost me my first marriage. And it was worth it"... that's not teaching commitment to work. It's system failure. No wonder "so many elites feel like losers" and therefore put dating aside.
Speaking of sex... Recent CDC Data show continued declines in teen sexual activity. A 2022 essay from Italy argues that this century may be the first time in human history when 20-year-old sexual desires is LESS than that of people twice their age. If this really happens, it will be also because brains filled by toxic jobs or struggling to find any job have very little space left for anything pleasant. But another relevant cause could be the ease with which it is possible to watch extremely rough sex, if it is actually already "putting a generation of young people off sex altogether". Lame, maybe, but true.
Digitization does not help
Not yet at least. While it does not create most problems by itself, digitization does a damned good job to amplify and scatter around all the pre-existing ones, sometimes so much to radically transform them. Naively unrealistic expectations on dating, for example, are turbocharged also by counterproductive therapy-speak running loose online.
Of course, that's just the dating side of delegating everything to digital "helpers" without exploiting all the resulting free time to stay in direct, physical contact with others, or oneself. As obvious as it is, the more we tap screens, the less we ever actually "touch anything else, including each other".
Meanwhile, platforms like OnlyFans make money precisely because digital tech makes it affordable to serve desire that is "competitive, without any mutuality", and of course very asymmetrical, that is to regress to the good old times when ads like these were considered cool:
Even outside dating, women are being increasingly screwed by digital tech. As I shared six years ago, that may be because we left a combination of profit, testosterone and need to avoid every direct human interaction produce tools to avoid other human beings, and call that "innovation".
Back to dating... For many people, dating apps don't feel optional anymore. The problem is that these apps, just like WhatsApp or social media that should be SLOW but aren't, have crashed on a species woefully unfit, emotionally or psychologically, to manage them. I feel that's why I read, just a few weeks ago, that "the majority of the entire dating population is now mired in a system that seems to serve almost no one effectively." Just like on other "social media", dating apps shadowbans are as common as offers of tips and techniques to trick them. But this, like the "sexuality upskilling" stuff, increases GDP so it's all good by definition, RFK be damned.
AI will make things worse
Using ChatGPT to optimize Tinder profiles or customize Tinder pitches, that is prompting a chatbot with a profile, in order to impress whoever... asked ChatGpt to write said profile, may increase one's probabilities to actually meet that person, eventually. But it's doomed worst than two people dating because their dogs like each other, since in that case at least the dogs would know and like what they are doing. Truth is, if you didn't write your profile or lines yourself, your date will disappear the very second she realizes it, which she surely will.
At a deeper level, chatbots and other AI applications habituate people to treat things that really seem like people as if they're not people. This is bad, for dating or any other human relationship, because it also normalizes not treating like people "things" that instead are human beings. A seldom declared, but uncomfortably big part of the interest for humanoid robots, and their primary application so far, comes from the desire to boss around something that REALLY feels like another human being, but WITHOUT consequences.
A (self-inflicted) terrible thing, in disguise
This is the part of the current dating scene that worries me the most, and is one that could only happen with ubiquitous digital connectivity and over-relying on it.
This year, a Hinge user reported finding out that he would only see profiles who, according to algorithms that can catch only a tiny part of a human personality, had almost the same "scores" as him:
"If I'm a five, they're not going to show me tens. I'll see fours and sixes, and maybe they'll show me an eight to keep me engaged, but that's about it. It gravitates around your own score."
Earlier, A. Kling had observed that short men "may be more fit than other men, but in the world of online dating women will be too superficial to find out." And indeed, last year a woman said that, while she does not care for taller men in real life, on dating apps she does because "profiles are not that detailed, and there's nothing much to care about when swiping for men".
There are exceptions, of course. Years ago, for example, a lady was able to "hack online dating successfully", but only because, basically, she was born with the right genes for coding, in a family and place that allowed her to get quite good at it.
Much more often, however, the automatic exclusion of very large pools of potentially good matches is explicitly declared and requested as a feature, not a bug, well beyond the really few crucial cases where it would make actual sense, like religion or sexual orientation.
Something that's "like TikTok, but for dating" (Snack) will produce only couples of people who are both good at making videos and looking good in videos. Same for Kippo, that "looks to attract online gamers". Or for Bumble, "best for proactive women and shy guys", or Loosid, the app for "sober folks". Or for the League, allegedly the right app for "people who hold certain expectations about things like careers and education", etc etc.
Good, this is not. As far as lasting relationships and growing to handle them are concerned, this is not good at all.
From that point of view, if all you just read isn't "methods to improve the mental and physical characteristics of the human race by choosing who may become parents", that is self-inflicted eugenics, BY DEFINITION, I don't know what else is.
Don't get that last word, "parents", distract you! If you don't want to have kids, that's absolutely OK but it's also irrelevant here. Just change "parents" with "long-term partners" and you'll see that, society-wise, letting all this "market segmentation" rule dating is just too similar to ruling that "from now on people can only mate with their relatives" to be good.
In the long term, both genetically and socially, over-reliance on over-segmenting dating apps can only mean that both "good" and "bad" traits, be they genetics or cultural, will stagnate inside smaller and more closed groups than they would without apps. Looks like lifelong, multidimensional, self-inflicted redlining in all but name to me.
In the worst case, the result will be just what pronatalists say they want to avoid, that is many groups "literally heading towards global Nazism, but they all hate each other". In the least worst case, it may be frozen societies, where real progress is much harder to happen. Did you know, for example, that public education became law in UK when the rich stopped intermarrying?
Parents to the rescue (yes, it may get THAT bad)
Both Chinese and Japanese already openly speed-date among themselves, or use dating apps to match their children. Because, they say, the children just can't get it done, and sometimes it's them who explicitly ask for help. This is good, they say, also because parents are much more free to say upfront to each other what their children really want.
If that is the case, it's likely just a question of time before western parents, already tricked into overparenting every other side of their kids, follow suit. When (not "if") they'll do it, will they heavily resort to digital technology, and how? What do YOU think?
Almost all the issues I listed are the result of structural socioeconomics choices that long predate the Internet, and can really be solved only by quality education (from year one, at home) and voting. On the technological side, if I had a new, serious idea for that part of the solution I'd have already funded my own dating startup. All I can do is share a few tips that I saw around and intrigued me. Please add yours!
If you must use dating apps...
The first tip is to game the system seriously. Game it till it burns like the pointless haystack it has become. Game the system, but do it right, in the easiest, most democratic, most accessible way there is, which is the method to quickly find a needle in a haystack: burn the haystack to the ground, and what you'll be left with is the needle, because metal doesn't burn.
That is, block right away every profile that seems wrong, until the algorithms have no other ways to keep you paying than showing off their best offers. I say so because I read that it really works, and because (from the same piece) "middle-aged women are the perfect group to clean the dating app experience up, and we’re cleaning it up for everyone." Paraphrasing what Shakespeare NEVER said, if Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by dating apps, that is if enough women join that march, it may be the game-changer the system badly needs.
The second tip, taken from here, is to avoid dating apps that: - charge for subscription, rather than for success - present matches one at a time, rather than endless swiping - have different "onboarding processes" for men and women
An alternative: really DIY profiling, but MINIMAL
Believe me or not, I discovered the existence of "DateMe docs" just last week. Initially, I confess I thought that DateMe docs just look lame. I also thought that most people would just ignore them, knowing that social media timelines often tell, well beyond their owners' intentions, everything one really needs to know to date or avoid them, much better than one carefully doctored document would.
On second thought, I realized that DateMe docs are just the application to dating of that great POSSE doctrine that even climate scientists must learn, that is: publish what you want ONCE, outside of any "platform", then syndicate it everywhere. Including, why not, dating apps, where you may exploit the M&M trick below to weed superficial candidates out.
Going out regularly to meet new people, for real, remains the best option, I say. Never give that up. But if it needs help, the POSSE/DateMe approach seems a good integration because: - it minimizes the exploitation of your data for profit or any other reason that has nothing to do with your interests - Form-free writing forces you to be authentic. Avoid templates or AI help, that would make the whole thing useless - you can, and really should, put in your DateMe doc as little data as possible.
The last point may be the most important. Dare! Avoid self-redlining, be open to chance. "Describable dating" is good, if limited to the very few basic things that people really, seriously [need to] care about when matching: sexual orientation, religion, wants kids, this kind of stuff. Don't mention height, weight, size... unless they are really far from mean values one way or the other, and avoid any other parameter that would belong more to some healthcare insurance application form. What else should be in, or out? Education? Political views? Me, I'd say to omit both. Do you agree?
Last but not least, the M&M trick, originally used by Van Halen to spot major problems: end your DateMe doc with some harmless, nonsensical but mandatory demand, like "I IGNORE whoever doesn't greet me saying "2 times six equal three", because it proves they didn't bother to read this page". Link the document from your dating app profile, and it will weed out unwanted matches better than any algorithm.
Final remarks, and requests
Do tell me what I missed, or got wrong. Politely, thanks
This is part of my "human-digital" studies. Thanks for looking at them, and pointing me to relevant resources (or work)
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