Sep 202013
 

Choice

It was one of those nights. First, a gentleman who had been pressing me for a relationship and wanted me “in his arms as soon as possible” didn’t call. He was gone in a flash, like a puff of smoke.

This happens often with online dating. Hot, hot, hotter… gone. They’ve become busy elsewhere. Some other prospect is more tantalizing, more forthcoming.

Still, I did everything right. I exercised, showered, meditated, brushed my teeth, and went to bed at the right time. And everything went wrong. I woke up at 3:30 AM. Everything itched—my legs itched, my back itched, my scalp itched. I felt hot. My previously comfortable bed and pillows that had welcomed me a few hours ago felt wrinkled, sweaty, and inhospitable. (No, it wasn’t hot flashes, and I’ve had my thyroid checked). Attempting to meditate and breathe deeply made me sneeze. My cat was giving me that beleaguered look—“humans,” he seemed to be thinking. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”

There are lots of smart, self-comforting actions and remedies to perform and/or take when these things happen. Just try to think of any of them, let alone implement them, when you’re in a stupor in the dark.

Thoughts kept on going through my sleep-deprived brain—how can anyone ever decide and settle down when there are infinite choices available?

In “A Million First Dates,” Dan Slater quotes a Match.com online dating site executive: “Historically,” says Greg Blatt, the CEO of Match.com’s parent company, “relationships have been billed as ‘hard’ because, historically, commitment has been the goal. You could say online dating is simply changing people’s ideas about whether commitment itself is a life value.”

I had a conversation earlier that day with a good friend—male—at a ridiculously upscale café (with two “ff’s”) where venture capitalists like to mingle. I entered the “caffe” behind a pencil-thin young couple, the woman describing her past week at three conferences in three different cities, including the TED Conference and the “Anti-TED” Conference.

“Can’t do without commitment,” my friend said. “Going to bed with the same person every night. Waking up in the morning. Everyone needs companionship. When you die, what are you going to take with you—the number of women you’ve slept with? Who will care?”

Note that this was a guy speaking.

And it came to me—online dating puts us squarely in what Buddhists call “the world of hunger”–the desire for any external stimulus—food, sex, a new partner, a new Porsche– that an individual believes would result in happiness. Says the Nichiren Buddhist Association of America, “In the moment you are in the world of hunger, you are…a slave to your desires.”

Online dating is all about churning the possibilities, just like online shopping, where we’re always looking for the better brand, the better feature, the better deal. He/she is never enough. There’s always another one out there—better, younger, more hobbies/interests/goals that match your romantic partner shopping list. It’s just a matter of redefining the parameters, refining our search method, reviewing more profiles, signing on to another dating site.

The whole point is to meet our match. If it were just some body, any body, we could all make do with whoever we meet at the local bar, through blind dates arranged by elderly relatives, or late at night in the Produce Department of our favorite supermarket.

But we’re still faced by that dilemma of infinite choice.

Alina Tugeno in a 2010 money column in the New York Times quotes a famous study about choice by Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia University professor of business and the author of “The Art of Choosing.”

In a California gourmet market, Professor Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth of samples of Wilkin & Sons jams. When they displayed a large assortment, 60% of passersby stopped to sample, as opposed to 40% for the smaller assortment. But 30% of the tasters of the small assortment actually bought jam. Only 3% of the people who were tempted to taste by the larger variety made a decision and a purchase.

That study “raised the hypothesis that the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory,” said Professor Iyengar, “but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.”

Continues Ms. Tugeno, “over the years, versions of the jam study have been conducted using all sorts of subjects, like chocolate and speed dating.”

You’re still looking, they’re still looking. You’re never in the moment, simply together.

So, here’s the challenge—how do we use online dating as a tool, instead of a trap? Because perpetually infinite choice may be an illusion that seems to offer a never-ending variety of candy, but leaves us ever more alone and unsatisfied, craving more sweets without substance.

  2 Responses to “Single, Sleepless, Searching-The Dilemma of Infinite Choice and Online Dating”

  1. Great writing, Dorothy!

    I love your dry wit.

    Hoping you are well sans inhospitable linens!

    All my best,

    Lisa

  2. Unlimited choices, variety, options… whether is online or in the old-fashion way, one always wonder “what if”… what if I had chosen someone else?, what if I had waited longer?, what if I had accepted that old friend?… I guess that is an intrinsic part of being a human being… sometimes we are sooooo complicated!!!

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