Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Match.com and The "Commodification Of Love"

Well, I bet E-harmony worked for these two.
As many friends already know, my dating life is often a rollercoaster of nonsense, and many have suggested dabbling in the world of online dating, which I have refused to do for reasons that have zero to do with social stigma or any sort of notion of embarrassment that for some reason still exists in society (though once upon a time, I did try it).  Plenty of friends have experienced success in the online dating world; some of whom have actually married their match.  They’ve sung its praises while referencing difficulty to meet people in the ever changing world.  But, for me, there’s a mental/emotional disconnect.
It seems that since the rise of the internet and cell phone, the world is a busier place.  Busy not in the sense that we have more to do, but the level of information has grown tenfold, providing us with more content that we have to process on a daily basis.  To counteract the possible chaos, I’ve noticed that I’ve had to hone my organizational skills and, whether I realize it or not, prioritizing has become a necessity in my daily life.  Now, this could coincide with my transfer into fulltime adulthood, but I suspect that daily lives, as well as social lives (due to entities like Facebook) are busier in general, even if you aren’t actually going out as much.  And while this prioritization comes in handy when dealing with practical needs, the advent of online dating has probably unintentionally tapped into this new way of thinking, causing the, what I term, commodification of love.
I don’t mean this in the sense of dating sites seeking profit off providing a service, but, instead, in the organized, functional fashion they force us to look at something that, at one point, was more spontaneous and chaotic.  Though I am no expert in the history of relationships and love, it is common knowledge that, over the course of time, marriage has had a functional value, as did having children.  After all, if you needed help plowing the fields or whatever the family business required, having children was an answer.  This has gone by the wayside in modern society and has been replaced by an emotional need.  And online dating somehow melds the two into a Frankensteinian monster of emotion, need, and societal expectation.
But how do we view each other as commodities?  Think of your run of the mill marketplace site like Amazon.com.  If you need a book on gardening, you probably type gardening in the Amazon search engine and compare/contrast different titles based on your needs, cost, entertainment value, etc. Similarly, if you decide that you want to enter the dating pool and are looking for a mate, you may go on  match.com, fill out a few questions regarding what you seek in a mate, and are provided a list of choices or profiles that actually dehumanize (for lack of the better word) a person, assigning them a personal value to your needs based on looks, interests, etc.  Essentially, they become a product that has right of refusal.  You compare their value to other similar profiles (or products), make your decision on who to contact, and hope you get the response you desire.  It’s essentially a buffet: some of the food may satiate your taste, while others may give you explosive diarrhea.
Now, if you’re lucky enough to earn a response, many dating sites actually provide suggestions on how to correspond to best serve the future of the potential couple.  If these rules are followed, and you decide to meet for a “date,” congratulations, you essentially just signed up for an interview to see if you’re “compatible” in the same way you may try some crappy ab machine you bought off an infomercial but have the right to return in sixty days.  Though one can make an argument that any first date may unfold in a similar fashion, a non-online one, in my experience, seems less regimented (more organic) and less like a quid pro quo business transaction since both of you shopped your interest like buying/selling a used car.   In fact, in my experience, these “dates” usually started with a handshake followed by a conversation about likes and dislikes.  They feature no foundation of commonality like a random meeting probably provides or even a set up organized by a mutual friend.  Not many feel comfortable answering the question “so why did you sign up for match.com” like they would “how long have you known Earl?” or “it was crazy meeting you in the antacid aisle at Ralphs, how long have you had issues with heartburn?” 
I do know my hypothesis is, at least, partially true as I have friends that will corral 3 or 4 potential online mates at a time while comparing and contrasting their strengths and weaknesses in the categories of potential sexual compatibility, future relationship possibility, among other things they’ve thought entirely too much about.  Perhaps this has something to do with supply and demand of the site, and I do feel there is comfort in the knowledge that if none of the potential suitors work out, they can easily re-enter the website’s vast dating pool to try again. 
Perhaps I’m personally jaded to the world of online dating, but is there romance in an online date? The premeditated nature of the entire thing causes it to seem like a job interview to see if your possible future significant other has the potential to be the “perfect mate,” as if such a thing is a necessity in life on a functional level.  Perhaps the online dating site is just a conduit to the eventual romance, but spontaneity and people’s obsession with the relationship of love and fate certainly do not apply to this world. What would Shakespeare say about this relatively new form of connection? 
So, is online dating just a sign of the times?  Are people just afraid of each other and prefer to communicate behind the internet wall? Or have we come to view relationships differently?  Maybe it’s just easier? Anyone have any thoughts on online dating in general?  Would love to hear from you on this one!

9 comments:

  1. Humans are becoming and will continue to be productized. I think this has only happened in recent years as advertisers of all kinds find value in what one "likes," for example. Simple world wide web browsing is tracked so companies know how to exploit these modern technology-inspired behaviors. Similarly, one's personal status or importance is determined by the many ways in which they're "connected" on the web - through Twitter, Facebook, Living Social, Vevo, Groupon, Yelp, etc. - and it's so very absurd to me. Through this we are losing physical/personal connections and losing the knowledge of what makes those physical/personal connections special. All this internet branding, marketing, selling of the human race is for the birds!
    I can guarantee this - in a time of crisis, a people will not unite and coalesce by sitting behind their computer monitor or mobile device. It'll forever be the physical/personal connections that result in the most beneficial contributions to societies worldwide and this precious home we call planet earth.
    Brett, I advocate sticking to the more traditional methods of meeting and greeting a potential true love. The spontaneity sparks the fire moreso than a planned match.com dating session after dinner ever will. Best of luck to you. Maybe we'll meet in a dark alley... ;)

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  2. I think the above comment is really smart, especially the part about the time of crisis. The only thing to challenge that is how people rallied around eachother via facebook in Egypt, but in general I think this is spot on.

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  3. Couldn't agree more. Less questionnaires more magic! Good read.

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  4. My old professor is a famous relationship psychologist who has his own TV show, made appearances on Oprah, and actually helped create eHarmony's "29 Points of Compatibility." What people don't know is that he met his wife when he was a kid and started dating her at age 15. In one of my textbooks for my "Relationship Development" class (written by the professor, himself, of course), he wrote "If you attempt to build a connection with another person before you have done all the hard work of getting whole or healthy on your own, all your relationships will become an attemt to complete yourself. And they will fall flat guaranteed. Because nobody is designed to complete you." Why would you sign up for a dating site unless you felt that you needed to fulfull something that was missing (aka you are not whole and healthy)? I find it all quite contradictory, really.

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  5. I agree that online dating has the sense of "shopping" to it since there's always someone better or more compatible. Who can we ultimately settle for, then? It's megalomania and just another example of the pain/paradox of choice the modern world is currently suffering from.

    Although, I have to agree that dating online is convenient since, like you said, we are so busy and tied in front of our computers most of the time anyways.

    Still, I'd say meet your date/the interesting person you met online in person as soon as possible. This is to avoid building too much of a "fairy tale" out of the thing i.e. making it "real" and building a personal connection.

    I think it's easier to be more open about yourself online: that is, without expectations and "physical intimidation" i.e. people can actually get to know each other initially (not just stare at a pretty face). But the downside is that it's also easier to deceive.

    I actually prefer meeting people spontaneously online (I'm the same way in real life too I guess) and I have gone on dates with guys I met this way, but I never signed up on a "dating site". Perhaps I'm like you: I just don't like the feeling of being forced into finding a mate. Makes the moment too fake.

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  6. Yeah, i think meeting someone online and meeting someone on an online dating site are two seperate things because intent is different and you arent selecting from a pool of men/women. Good point about the opportunity of getting to know one another.

    Also totally agree that if you do meet someone online, meet them in person quick to avoid unrealistic expectation

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  7. I think if you look at it as just another tool for communication in our busy worlds, and don't take it too seriously, you have a better chance of having a good experience. I had some good and even romantic internet dates when I was single, but pretty much my sole criterion for responding to a guy was "did his profile/opening email make me laugh, ie show a spark of originality." If so, I pretty much met him right away. None of this "WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR US- COULD WE REALLY BE COMPATIBLE" crap, or spending days emailing. Incidentally, around that time I also went on same dates with people I met-cute randomly IRL and those ended up not actually being all that great, so...eh.

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  8. Here a great Com-modification of the Love.Thanks a lot for sharing your views,Keep it up.

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