(the perfect) One In A Million (of compatible choices)

Dating in the digital age has become a radically altered experience than those of the past. The opportunity to meet your future partner at school, work, the grocery store or the local coffee shop doesn’t always present itself. Even when it does, the ways in which individuals communicate and embark on any romantic journey have changed drastically.

Once bound by the constraints of time, geography and cultural expectations dating is now a much more free and personalized experience. What happened to finding your life partner within your neighborhood? Well, today many individuals search for love within the digital “neighborhoods” of online dating technologies. From newspaper classifieds to the dating apps of today’s post-modern society, digital media technologies have transformed the dating world. Full of endless opportunities and chance for hyper-personalized experiences, dating in the digital world is a paradox of choice.

Joining the online dating community gives you access to an abundant source of singles; it’s now up to you to filter through them to find your “perfect” match. This proliferation of choice comes with both benefits and drawbacks. The opportunity arises to move past possible boundaries that may have prevented you from finding “the one” by chance in real life. A personalized profile and selection process gives you the advantage to potentially skip those awkward first-dates and encounters with someone you have nothing in common with. These platforms are full of a plethora of potential romantic partners, but what happens when the abundance of choices becomes too much. Although dating applications and websites provide the chance to sift through the many options to find the perfect one for you, this also makes the decision process more difficult than ever before.

“Don’t you see what’s happening to us? There’s just too much jam out there. If you’re on a date with a certain jam, you can’t even focus, ’cause as soon as you go the bathroom, three other jams have texted you. You go online, you see more jam there. You put it in filters to find the perfect jam. There are iPhone apps that literally tell you if there is jam nearby that wants to get eaten at that particular moment”(132). — Aziz Ansari’s, author of “Modern Romance”, reflection on the proliferation of choice and Sheena Iyengar’s studies.

Evidently, a copious amount of choice is overwhelming. Am I making the right choice? Is he/she the one? Wait, what about that one? These are common questions running through one’s head as they navigate the world of online dating. Given all the possibilities, people rush to judge those they meet and second-guess their decisions in search for the “best”. It’s become clear that this proliferation of choice makes it difficult for some to commit to another. Overwhelmed and indecisive many wind up in a never-ending cycle of singles.

No choice = misery and “settling” // Abundance of choice = stress and hesitance.

This is the paradox of choice.

Relating to the paradox of choice is the change in mind-set regarding dating and marriage. With the rise in dating technologies and the proliferation of potential romantic partners society has seen a shift in the dating and marriage mindset. As Aziz Ansari puts it what we seek in a lifelong partner has moved from a companionate, “good-enough marriage” to that of the passionate, “soul-mate marriage”. For generations past marriage was often times a decision based on life partnership, social status, and maintaining gender specified roles. Today people are determined to find their soul mate; the one they deeply love, the perfect match, their better half and so on. In today’s society we are provided with the technology and resources to do just that, yet the quest for a soul mate proves to be a very difficult task. Presented with the proliferation of choice and endless opportunities to find “the one” many individuals develop a very nit-picky attitude where they constantly second-guess any dating decisions, fantasize about other possibilities and struggle to commit.

“The soul mate marriage is very different from the companionate marriage. It’s not about finding someone decent to start a family with. It’s about finding the perfect person whom you truly, deeply love. Someone you want to share the rest of your life with. Someone with whom, when you smell a certain T-shirt they own, you are instantly whisked to a happy memory about the time he or she made you breakfast and you both stayed in and binge-watched all eight seasons of Perfect Strangers. We want something that’s very passionate, or boiling, form the get-go. In the past, people were looking for something boiling they just needed some water. Once they found it and committed to a life together, they did their best to heat things up. Now, if things aren’t boiling, committing to marriage seems premature”(24).

It’s clear that society’s expectations regarding love and marriage has changed drastically over the years. Digital technologies have provided for much of this change. People seek the “best” in all aspects of life knowing that (in many cases) find the “best” is achievable. Though the opportunities are endless, seeking the “best”, most fit lifelong partner is a daunting task. Faced with an abundance of choice, it becomes difficult to lock down “the one” and commit. Dating in the digital, post-modern world has become a process of finding (the perfect) one in a million (of compatible choices).

“We’re in a hallway with millions of doors. That’s a lot of doors. It’s nice to have all those options. But — a hallway with millions of doors? Is that better? Is it terrifying?”(28).
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