One of my Twitter followers sent me an interesting article today. The piece discusses the possible negative impact that online dating has had on monogamy and commitment.
In the past, Jacob had always been the kind of guy who didn’t break up well. His relationships tended to drag on. His desire to be with someone, to not have to go looking again, had always trumped whatever doubts he’d had about the person he was with. But something was different this time. “I feel like I underwent a fairly radical change thanks to online dating,” Jacob says. “I went from being someone who thought of finding someone as this monumental challenge, to being much more relaxed and confident about it. Rachel was young and beautiful, and I’d found her after signing up on a couple dating sites and dating just a few people.” Having met Rachel so easily online, he felt confident that, if he became single again, he could always meet someone else.
This feels like a “which came first: the chicken or the egg?’ scenario to me. It’s no secret that online dating encourages a shopping cart mentality amongst its users. People join a dating site in the hopes of meeting people for….whatever. Sex. Love. Casual love. Once they complete a profile, it takes but a matter of minutes to hours to receive attention. Yes, online dating creates the idea that our options are limitless. Just like the media creates the idea that if we buy the latest version of of iPhone our lives will be that much easier and more complete. The concepts of supply and demand and the law of scarcity have existed for centuries. Online dating didn’t manufacture them. They already existed. All online dating did was provide us with a platform in which we could meet people. It’s up to the individual user whether or not they decide that commitment or casual sex is for them. If someone is conditioned to leave a relationship at the first sign of trouble, isn’t that more about how they viewed commitment and monogamy in the first place?
From the sounds of it the lead character in this article, Jacob, wasn’t really inclined to desire commitment in the first place. He stayed in unsatisfying relationships because that was a more appealing alternative than being alone or regularly masturbating. Are we to overlook the fact that Jacob was also an only child? Gee, you mean someone who grew up never having to share or compromise or argue with a peer isn’t good at relationships? Color me stunned. A man who doesn’t feel compelled to commit to just one woman? File that under “No shit, Sherlock.” What online dating did was enable an already preexisting condition. For many men, more vagina = more gooder. For many women, more dates = more attention.
It’s interesting that the article doesn’t focus on both a female and a male subject. Has online dating fostered a similar lax attitude towards monogamy and commitment in its female users? Based on the letters I receive and stories I hear, that would be no. The women on Twitter or Facebook or blogs frequently mocking the “nice guy” or coming up with excuse after excuse for turning down a second date, to me, seem to be exerting a false sense of vindication and control. Did that chip on their shoulder start with online dating? I don’t think so. I think these women always harbored warped ideas about love, sex, men and commitment and I think those seeds were planted long before they scoffed at their first Wink. That thinking was borne from years of being told they could do better by well meaning or sabotaging girlfriends.
It’s too easy to blame online dating for society’s evolving ideas surrounding commitment and monogamy. What I believe turned people away from monogamy and commitment wasn’t a collection of profiles. It was the habitually piling evidence that maybe, just maybe, what we were taught about relationships and sex is antiquated and counter-productive. None of these so-called benefits that existed 20, 30, 50 years ago no longer apply. Societal views and morals concerning these subjects are rapidly changing.
With divorce rates climbing can we really say that marriage is the expected course of action should two people meet and fall in love?
With the economy struggling and as more and more men remain out of work while women return to work can we really continue to believe that women need to marry for financial security?
With infidelity rates between men and women neck and neck are we still going to say that women are “hard wired” to be monogamous?
How can we continue to function under such beliefs when numbers don’t lie?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, it’s broke. Only now people are choosing to fix it their own way rather than how they were told they should. Online dating didn’t serve as the breakdown in commitment and lack of interest in monogamy. We have simply evolved beyond what we were originally taught.
I come from a family where there is no divorce. My father had not one but two extremely successful and satisfying marriages. As such, I believe marriage is to be done once and you better pray you choose wisely and be prepared to fight the good fight. I was raised in a sexually repressed and religious household. Where did I learn about sex? From books and friends and movies. It was the exposure to and experience with these subjects that enhanced and changed my views. But in order for me to upgrade my line of thinking, I had to have been curious in the first place. There are plenty of people who are more than willing to accept what they are exposed to as the “right” way to live. There are others who challenge such views or desire more.
The medium that provides the exposure simply does just that. It’s the people who implement the strategy. I’ve met men who write profiles stating they want something casual only to turn out to want something more long term. I’ve also met men who write about wanting to find a partner but never appear to do so, as their profile stays active day after day, month after month, for years.
In my mind, it’s not the environment that online dating provides that is the problem. The true hurdle is certain user’s inability to accurately identify what it is they seek. That’s what makes it difficult for them to settle on just one person.