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What one Englishman learnt from 2 years of online dating in New York - Part 3

 #dating #onlinedating #datingadvice #NYC #NewYork #datinglessons #datingblog #love

Lesson 3 - Wistful observations about the changing nature of human connection

So I learnt my first two big lessons in the NY dating game fairly quickly, in case you missed them they can be summarised as: 1)  that guys are mostly expected to take the initiative in dating, and 2) girls also date to get laid.

The third and final lesson I wish to impart here took somewhat longer to crystallize, and I’m still not sure I’ve quite got a firm grip on it. The first bit of the lesson might simply be: ‘life isn’t all about sex’, but the second bit of the lesson regarding what else it is about is where things get tricky, (especially when trying not to resort to any sentimental hokum that I so despise.)

These days I’ve noticed the newspapers like referring to ‘Hook-up culture’ as if it is somehow clearly distinguishable from ‘Dating culture’ and ‘Not-wanting-to-die-alone culture’. Different people in the dating scene are undoubtedly looking for a wide range of different things, but I think it’s false to proclaim that there just two sets of people and one lot are just out to get laid and the other lot are out to find life partners; there’s a whole wide spectrum between those two extremes. These days though it does seem like there is a genuine shift towards ‘living life in the moment’, and when this is combined with expectations of quick and easy gratification, and also an abundance of choice because we can meet new people easily online, of course things are going to get crazy.

I’m not sure if anyone is in a position to say if modern dating culture is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but I think there are specific downsides that should be highlighted. One risk is that with the abundance of choice we can end up making lots of weak and transient connections with people but when things get tough and we need a genuine partner or firm friend to fall back on for emotional support then we can find ourselves all at sea.

On the flip side these days it is so much easier to find someone with compatible interests to you when you can go on a dating site where they list their interests up front! With all this choice no one should really feel stuck in a relationship they definitely don’t want to be in because they’re worried they won’t be able to find someone else....

However maybe this diverse free-market of potential dates encourages a kind of dating prescriptivism, perhaps more so amongst women, who as I’ve mentioned tend to act as the gatekeepers in this dating economy (at least to begin with). ‘I want my partner to be this, this and this’ reads someone's dating shopping list, but constructing a fictional ideal to measure partners by seems likely to serve as a kind of dream catcher for future happiness. Also is having completely compatible interests with your partner always positive? How are we going to grow as individuals if we only date people who think the same as us and do the same things as us?

If you date more people it should make it statistically more likely you will find ‘THE ONE’, or at least the ‘The ONE of SEVERAL optimal matches out of the very limited percentage of the worlds population you will encounter in your life’. Anyway if we assume ‘true love’ is a genuine thing then maybe dating around a lot does increase our chances of finding it...

But then how does one know when one is really in love? Maybe there is such a thing as ‘love at first sight’ but personally I’ve never experienced it, for me it has always been something that’s grown with getting to know someone. Sometimes you can feel the attraction growing faster with certain people, but rarely have I had long enough for that attraction to grow into a mad infatuation that I’ve called ‘love’ for lack of better word (or psychiatric diagnosis). With a culture of casual dating it might be that we don’t give love a chance to grow in any given relationship. Perhaps though that’s because we’re scared of love in the first place? Does dating lots of people actually increase your chances of accidentally skipping over a connection with the potential to develop into true love, because we're blind sided by all the ‘chemistry’ of short term attraction? Also what’s the optimal number of times you should date someone before you can safely write them off as not ‘the one’? Does one 1st date conversation in a bar actually tell you anything meaningful about who someone really is and if you can really rule them out as your soul mate?

‘Fuck knows’ is my answer to all those questions. However I think they need to be asked. We live in a world so advanced that fantasy and reality seem within a hair's breadth of each other and when the later doesn’t quite match up to the former some people decide that their reality isn’t quite good enough. If we want to actually be happy I think we need to appreciate that fantasy and reality will always be separate. It might also help to recognise the intricate and unpredictable beauty of reality that fantasy can never match. Reality might not always work out as we hope it will, but it sure as shit is a lot more interesting.

That’s the approach I’m aiming for anyway, unfortunately I’m not sure it is shared by many people in the New York dating scene. New York can be amazing (I certainly have had plenty of kinky sex), but sometimes this city makes me feel like a ghost. Strangely in this multitude of people it almost seems like human connection is just a mirage, or an illusion, conjured to manipulate people into buying or selling some part of themselves. I have had so many great dates where conversation flowed and laughs and smiles were present in abundance. However after our lips parted and my date was whisked away in a taxi or subway car it was as if a spell was broken, and again and again I was cast into a purgatory of silence and unanswered text messages. Maybe it’s just my nature as a scientist that I can’t stand absent data or unresolved questions, but those silences were the one truly awful part of New York dating that really tore me apart. If someone told me they weren’t into me it might sting for a minute if I was into them, but I can pick myself up and dust myself off, ‘I am a grown up’ as they say. With silence though your imagination is free to roam and probe at the darkest corners of your identity, it tears at your ego and claws around inside your self consciousness. Your imagination finds the absurd weak spots in your character and exploits them, making you assume painful personal deficiencies or foolish mistakes are the reason you have been left in limbo…

It is also possible that an absurdly large number of my dates were eaten by bears, or suffered other unfortunate accidents, and that’s why they never responded to my texts. However the odds of that seem small, so instead I am just left with my unanswered questions and a sense of broken connection.

I think online dating is the thin end of the wedge in this ‘the age of loneliness’; it exposes the ugly and shallow side of our natures all too easily, and highlights the diminished empathy we feel towards strangers and the low value that we place on the connections we make with people. However, I don’t think ‘hookup culture’ is the root cause. I believe that you can value people highly while still sleeping with a lot of them, and I hope my New York adventures don’t contradict this notion. Instead though I think it’s the crushing rise of ‘individualism’ that’s truly forcing us apart, and other commentators have already described this better that I could.

But what great ‘dating lesson’ am I striving towards with all this waffle about individualism? I suppose what I’m trying to say is that we should all try to assign greater value to the connections we make in our lives, whether it’s a romantic connection with a random date we meet though the internet, or a friendly connection with a work colleague, or just the person behind the counter selling us our bread and milk. Humans are social creatures at the end of the day and it’s the connections we make with each other that hold the keys to our happiness. And yes that may well sound like the sentimental hokum I was trying very hard to avoid, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also true!

As for how to best apply this philosophy to dating without accidentally coming on too strong is still something I’m trying to figure out. Maybe over-valuing connections has sabotaged me from time to time, but then perhaps I’m over thinking things again, and maybe the best dating advice is simply this:

Find someone that makes you happy, tell them they make you happy, and if you make them happy too, try not to let them slip away.

...Oh and spank them occasionally if that’s what they’re into!

1 comment :

  1. Maybe it's the emphasis on dating being about sex instead of friendship. I don't think it's necessarily a dating problem but like you said, it's about connection. People have forgotten how to be friends or be friendly. It's kind of this either-or right now, where you have to find someone to spend your life with or simply be alone (without deep friendships). We've changed the way we look for life partners (whether it's one person or several) but not the way we relate to everyone in general. We still kind of have that menu mentality when meeting people and miss out on enjoying them as they are. People think it's a waste of time if they don't feel that insanity romance brings (I have no idea what it's like, either. I'm actually aromantic, so I'll never feel it. I only feel a deep, lasting, and ever-growing passion after we've been friends for a while). Maybe what people are really searching for is not merely a relationship but something with more friendship in it.