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The Failures of Online Dating Services – Because of the Online, or Because of the Dating Service?

Here's a pretty old legacy post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 21 years ago, in 2001, on the World Wide Web.

Digging through old unread links, I found this New York Times story on online dating and its failures. Much of what is said is true, although one thing they don’t note is the often depressive and stormy nature of relationships online, which I think is fostered by the lack of emotional warmthy and nuance in text communications. There’s no way you can replicate a light brush on the arm and a smile in e-mail or chat. The best you can manage is often a kind of sappy-depressive-longing mood, which is all well and good every now and then but tends to degenerate into desperation over time. It’s very easy to blow up into fights and very hard to resolve them online.

Not surprisingly, the story also doesn’t stop to question whether there might be other major factors besides the online nature of the relationships – such as the inherent falsity and fabrication built into these kind of anonymous, random matching services. As long as you’re engaging with someone as a filler for some kind of existential placeholder – Date, Lover, Fiance, Spouse – rather than a real, breathing, complex person, I think you will always see these games of false expectations and failed relationships and so on, whether you meet on IRC or in the local bar. The only difference is that in a physical meeting you can’t help but be confronted with the reality of a person, to a much greater degree than online. And, on the other hand, if you really engage with people online as real people and not behind the facade of Hooking Up, then you’re much more likely to have a successful relationship (platonic or otherwise) with them.

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