Saturday, April 01, 2006

MindFindFlyingBlind.

"IN 1995, MATT FRASSICA, tired of singles bars and set-ups by friends, tried his hand at dating online. There he met, and later married, a woman who also liked long walks in the rain and homemade lasagna. They were even featured in People magazine as a prototype of successful cyber-romance. Then the fairy tale ended. Mr. Frassica said he realized he was gay, and..."

Thus opens a lively and provocative story in today's Wall Street Journal, cleverly titled "Mismatched.com," which introduces readers to the Clear Next Phase of the cyber-romance movement. If Phase 1 was casual dating, and Phase 2 was the emphasis on finding and marrying a Life Partner, we now appear to be careening into Phase 3: DIVORCE. Given that online dating took off in the waning years of the 1990s, and that a first marriage that's doomed to fall apart typically does so in about eight years, "statistics would suggest that the first wave of divorces among online daters is just now beginning," says the Journal. Writer Ellen Gamerman's evidence is largely circumstantial, but she serves up a fair amount of it, combining pungent anecdotes (like that of newly gay Matt Frassica) with expert comment in building her case.

While there is no compelling reason to believe--just yet--that online marriages are inherently more fragile than marriages that evolved in standard fashion, Gamerman notes, "Marriage counselors and divorce attorneys say they are often struck by how much of what brings people together online ultimately contributes to the undoing of the relationship."

I did not deal at any length with online dating sites, per se, in SHAM. But what unites such sites with the self-help movement's relationship wing is the (unproven and, in my opinion, almost surely false) premise that long-term compatibility can be distilled to a series of bullet points or a 25-"dimension" (or 50-dimension, or even 1000-dimension) personality profile. And in any case, compatibility does not equal companionability. And neither necessarily equals happiness. Remember the old saying, "opposites attract"? I grant you, the principle has never been scientifically verified (except in magnets), but we all know couples who have almost nothing in common except their profound love and attraction for one another. And if you think about it, there's even a crazy kind of logic to it: Isn't it possible, just possible, that the friction of incompatibility* is what creates the electrically charged atmosphere that keeps a relationship fresh over the long, increasingly mundane haul? Isn't it possible that compatibility on virtually all points spells B-O-R-I-N-G?

The absurdity of today's fixation on planting the seeds of a relationship in a huge plot of common ground seems clear in a 2004 Match.com study quoted in the Journal. The popular hook-up site tells us that "11% of its married couples were 'in love prior to ever meeting face-to-face.' " I ask you--based on everything you know about living and loving--does that sound plausible? Does it even make sense? Wouldn't you think it's preferable to fall in love with people you have actually met?

I'm going to close with one of my rare verbatim quotes from SHAM, this time pp. 182-3, not because I think my words were so brilliant but because I'm pressed for time and the passage says what I want to say about as succinctly as I can say it: "[Today's] shop-manual approach to dating precludes that glorious alchemy between one singular man and one singular woman that produces an enduring, highly individualized coupleness.... The simple truth is that no one can orchestrate real love or even honest chemistry. No one can explain why people feel love for those they feel it for. The only certainty is that men and women are going to be drawn to the people they're drawn to...." That's not a process that can truly, naturally unfold in the disembodied world of cyberspace.

P.S. LOVE SMART UPDATE, Afternoon, April 2. I know that at least one of the faithful is bound to chastise me for returning to this well--he theorizes that most of you have had quite enough of Dr. Phil, thank you, at least from this blog. But since we're talking about the subject of love, marriage, and related advice, I thought it might be apropos to mention the highly negative, highly literate review of Love Smart--by "Raj"--that now occupies the No. 1 slot among reader reviews. (Again I feel compelled to add that no, "Raj" is not me writing under a pseudonym.) I also thought it might be interesting to observe the review's fate over the next few days. It has already accumulated 11 negative (i.e. "not helpful") votes, an astonishing tally for any review that's been up for just one day and that wasn't written by "Dr. Marilyn Barry"--except of course that "her" feedback score is always overwhelmingly positive.

* and you know what I mean here. We're not talking about total, machete-wielding incompatibility, but just a certain energizing static.

7 comments:

angela said...

i think this is ridiculous. if busy people today want to use a service like match or eharmony that makes the dating game more efficient, how can that be bad? i get the point but you're over reaching now Steve. :)

Anonymous said...

I think you're actually missing Steve's point here, Angela. If cyberspace was supposed to be the salvation of the busy working professional or the "down on love" midlifer, and it turns out only to lead to greater disappointment, then what is the value, and how can it be "efficient"?? Especially if the personality surveys they tout so highly turn out to be worhtless.

Rodger Johnson said...

I met my wife using eharmony.

Although, using matchmaking services aren't ideal for making romantic connections, I was a lucky one. Using common sense, one can navigate the personals, date, find friends and potentially a lifelong companion sometimes easier than spending Thursday night at a trendy martini bar. However,these services come with a price -- nearly $50 at eharmony.

Unfortunately, some match services advertise to our basic carnal desires. Overall, we've a become the culture wanting gratification, and some matchmaking services exploit our weakness. I'm guilty of that.

Nonetheless, matchmaking services aren't good or bad, it's the people who misrepresent themselves and lack the communication skills and committment maturity to make a relationship successful. That' I believe is a much larger issue of our culture that is directly related to SHAM. Furthermore, I bet a dollar the divorce statistics for people who met and married an online mates aren't any higher than those who met in the real world in an authentic environment.

But these are yesterday's news. The matchmaking services have morphed yet again to communication tools such as facebook.com and myspace.com.

I think that these will replace the Match.com(s) of the world in a few years. Along with V-blogging, podcasting and your standard blog -- people are developing friendships and relationships using these media at a staggering rate.

Steve Salerno said...

Rodg, so wait...are you implying that meeting your wife wasn't worth the $50? (Couldn't resist. I'm just kidding, of course.) You make some interesting predictive points about where all this is heading. I think we all agree that we live in a caveat emptor world, and that anybody--regardless of the realm--who doesn't have his wits about him as he makes consuming marketplace decisions is going to get, well, let's use a relatively polite word--hosed. The risks of course are higher (and more permanent) in matters of the heart; you can't simply put a disappointing mate at the curb, or bring him/her back to the store where you made the purchase (though many of us nowadays act as if we'd like to). What bothers me here, though, as in other areas of SHAM, is not so much the naive consumer, but the very canny entrepreneurial SHAMster, who KNOWS that his methods are not apt to lead to lasting happiness, but is more than happy to profit from the desperation of those who trust his extravagant, baseless promises.

Rodger Johnson said...

Steve - I agree that when matters of the heart are involved, the stakes are much higher.

Meeting a mate online and being disappointed with him/her in some way, doesn't necessarily give one cause to "kick'em to the curb," as a friend of mine said.

And whether the date manifests itself online or at the local martini bar after work, common sense tell us that it's always friends first.

Whether the meeting is online or at the church pitch-in, I've learned (and I hate to say it, but through trial and error) that the "getting-to-know-you" phase of any relationship should take time and each engaged in the building of that relationship should be patient.

I say this, however, feeling a bit of a hypocrite -- Emily and met I and eloped in four months.

What concerns me about online dating, speed dating, drive-by dating and any combination there of makes a game out of a very serious event. And many like Angela -- the first post -- understand and preceive dating as a game. That's alarming.

Furthermore, the SHAMsters behind the curtains running all the bells and whistles of these online dating sites have perpetuated the gaming perception. But again, I think either the matchmaking SHAMsters are going to have to evolve or die off. This blog thing is -- as some have said -- the Gutenberg press of the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

If it weren't for online dating services, I'd still be sitting at home hoping some Harvard professor would magically appear at my door. Online dating has literally made the difference between (dating) life and death for me. Thank God for it! Of course you have to be careful and exercise common sense, and results are no more certain than with any other kind of dating--the improtant factor, chemistry, can't be gauged before an actual meeting. And no system or person can be perfect. But hey, it's fun, it's interesting, and it's kept my love live alive and kicking here in the sticks...

Anonymous said...

If it weren't for online dating services, I'd still be sitting at home hoping some Harvard professor would magically appear at my door. Online dating has literally made the difference between (dating) life and death for me. Thank God for it! Of course you have to be careful and exercise common sense, and results are no more certain than with any other kind of dating--the improtant factor, chemistry, can't be gauged before an actual meeting. And no system or person can be perfect. But hey, it's fun, it's interesting, and it's kept my love life alive and kicking here in the sticks...