Swiping for Happiness Potential?

Reflections about the annoying, superficial aspects of online dating apps


I remember a conversation about online dating a year or two ago that really stuck with me. Some of my high school friends were going through Tinder and swiping left and right. It had been about 7 years since we finished high school, and by then, a few of the boys had gotten senior positions in tech companies and banking. At the time, I didn’t know about Tinder — they quickly explained (without looking up from their screens) that it was the new wave of online dating. The steps seemed so easy that it was hard to say no. Take 2 minutes to make a boastful profile and post some exciting selfie shots. It’s really okay to swipe right based on attraction. Rejection wasn’t so painful because all it took was a left swipe. The numbers were in everyone’s favor.

As the conversation continued, they talked about requirements for a future beau: college educated (Ivy league, even better), hot, slim, active, well-adjusted socially, and independent. World traveler, self-made, successful. An equal in all parts and intellectually stimulating to boot. So many choices, and so little time... They rationalized that dating selectively is the only way to find that special someone efficiently. Five pictures could make or break the determination of fit.

At the time, it was appalling to me to that online dating was so ruthless in its execution. The metamorphosis of modern relationships went from match.com and OkCupid’s infographic inundation to laconic, strategic representations of self. That wild world of online dating felt foreign. Surreal. It took away feelings and made love a practical matter. Efficient. To me, hearing that a person’s entire value could be summed into a few key statistics and meager photographs was absolutely heartbreaking. Angering. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t attend an Ivy League school for undergrad, or because I felt like the entire female gender was degraded somehow by their shallow assessments. All the same, it fascinated me that the new solution to online dating had become a marketing process. As if all mate determination became callously skin deep. Is anyone really telling the truth? And if so, how does one go about portraying self realistically?

After breaking out of a long term relationship, I decided to give online dating a shot. Since I was still dubious about dating apps, I asked a few other male friends about their thoughts, and was met by the same basic attractiveness agenda. There were minor variations on the decision making process. Some people weren’t as bothered by job or pedigree prestige. Some didn’t care much about shared hobbies. A few needed similarities on religion or ethnicity.

To broaden my scope, I also asked some female friends for advice, and they claimed that they wanted guys with a certain height, income level, education, strong looking genes, etc. The genes part was pretty amusing. Heck, does a strong jawbone equate to the success of future progeny? It might have been a joke, but I muse since my friend did seem half serious. As I became more skeptical of the whole dating process, I worried about sincerity. I wondered about common values.

The abstract aspects of relationships that may ultimately lead to success are invisible from those two sentence profile descriptors. I haven’t seen a single profile boast:

I’m happy with what I have in life. Not insecure about inconsequential things. Not passive aggressive. Willing to put in effort to make this relationship a healthy one. Good at solving interpersonal conflict. Assertive communicator.

Maybe telling the truth is too arrogant and too forward. Perhaps illustrating meaningful characteristics such as curiosity and grit is harder than putting up a cool travelogue from Peru or Italy. Bucketfuls of profiles are decidedly filled with handsome puppies or cute baby cousins. I totally get why they’re there — melting hearts is never easy — as long as those same cute cousins aren’t confused for children from a messy prior relationship. After all, the point is just to make it through the first swipe.

As I lamented about blasé first dates and the selection bias of online dating, my friend turned to me and asked, would you date someone who worked a minimum wage job? Admittedly, my answer was no. My justification was that we would have too few things in common. I would get bored. I also tacked on that we wouldn’t share intellectual conversations, that we wouldn’t be active together, and that having a run down job meant the person couldn’t possibly be ambitious. The logic was circular, judgmental. In reflection, I was overemphasizing a person’s worth on the same basic things that appalled me before. I had easily become an irksome hypocrite.

Look, I’m not infallible.

Opening the apps and swiping forces decisions. A small voice echoes: No one gets hurt with swiping. Frequently, clumsy fingers will accidentally mess up anyway. Tinder and similar apps are made to look, feel, and handle like games. But games have their own consequences. People do get hurt, and we as players should keep that in mind. Some are more sensitive than others. Perhaps the answer is not taking rejections seriously. To have a thick skin.

In a funny way, we’ve socially condoned in this century (and every century) the act of placing special value on high yield characteristics — job, affiliation, and facial features. But none of it feels right. The selection process is unfair for flawed little guys. AND — I don’t feel like I’m making enough effort or being thoughtful.

Deep down, I wish we could evaluate people based on their happiness potential.

Happiness potential: the ability to consistently make self or others happy.

Irrespective of social status, the ability to make self or others happy is a gift. It’s a skill that is honed and developed over time. It takes keen observation of how others behave and interest toward problem solving in relationships. Happiness potential involves being able to identify relationship priorities and making goals to proactively develop a happiness agenda for self, friends, and romantic partners. It means managing anger and occasionally accepting delayed gratification. It includes daily organization of emotional wreckage so that work conflict can’t spill aimlessly to hurt those who are most beloved. It takes patience, reiteration, evolution. Reflect deeply and care for self and others in a meaningful way. Find composure. Look for spaces and activities that bring about inner peace. High happiness potential protects against pain, hurt, and depression.

The tricky part is that happiness potential isn’t so easy to figure out using online dating apps. Is it even possible to summarize oneself in a few short sentences? To be efficient at finding life partners who can bring about long term happiness? I sure hope not.