In Defense of Modern Romance

Angelo Franco

 

In the 2003 episode “The One with the Blind Dates” of the American sitcom Friends, Phoebe and Joey conspire to set up Ross and Rachel on blind dates. Wanting them to get back together, they set up their friends with terrible date partners in the hopes they’ll realize they are perfect for each other instead and reunite. The infamously hapless Ross gets stood up and, alone at the table, he asks the waiter if perhaps there’s a woman waiting at the bar because, he explains, he’s on a blind date and she has not shown up. The waiter quickly quips, to much of the laugh track’s delight, “Are you worried your date came, saw you, and left?”  

 

That line would undoubtedly land with a thud in a modern television show, where dating and sex is treated much more openly and blind dates have become relics. A Google search by Ross’s evidently shallow date would have quickly returned a photograph of the paleontologist/professor Geller, giving her a heads up on his looks and saving her from any desultory shortcomings of going on a blind date. A stalk session of the Instagram accounts of Ross’s many ex-wives and serious girlfriends would have revealed his… fickle approach to commitment? Unabashedly terrible track record of picking life partners? Two baby mamas? And reading through @dino-guy-geller would have absolutely turned up a 50-Twitter-thread explaining how they were definitely on a break.

 

With social media’s cartel-like empire in virtually all aspects of our lives, going on dates sight unseen is a concept that has essentially vanished; blind dates have gone extinct. Having at least at little bit of information on the person you’re meeting is, certainly, safer on the whole. Knowing your date’s profession and whether they have children, for example, can give you some set of expectations when going to meet with a complete stranger. But in the era of #mcm and swipe-right-for-yes, when it’s possible to obtain a person’s entire work history with a glimpse of their LinkedIn profile, the notion of going on a date with a “stranger” has blurred lines.

 

 

And there are plenty of arguments for not Googling your date prior to meeting them, many of them  valid. Some reason, for instance, that knowing as little as possible about your suitor allows you to be more engaged in conversation, asking questions and actively discovering their traits and flaws. Others say that knowing too much about your date sets unattainably high expectations for them to match their online presence. It is easy to come off as charming and witty when they have 20 minutes to compose the perfect caption and choose just the right Instagram filter; but it can be disappointing when their IRL persona doesn’t quite rise to the level you expected from scrolling through their Insta feed. This, certainly, can actually lead to an uncomfortable power dynamic where someone knows a lot more about the other. After all, it would be disconcerting for your date to ask if you enjoyed your trip to Greece in the summer of 2016 when you haven’t even brought up your obsession with spanakopitas yet.

 

But if curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the dating site Hinge, 89 percent of respondents admitted to researching their matches online prior to going on a date. As aforementioned, some of this “research” can be purely clinical. A respondent on a Reddit discussion said that they have looked at the Facebook profile of someone they had met online only so they can verify they were who they said they were. Another, however, said that they used the information they had found online to sing a song by their date’s favorite band during a karaoke outing. Their date was not amused.

 

It’s certainly an appealing concept; hundreds of singles at your fingertips giving you the power to turn them down or shoot your shot with a swift swipe of your thumb. It’s no surprise there are dozens and dozens of dating apps and sites for practically every legal demographic – from big matchmakers like Tinder and OkCupid to more niche courters such as Christian Mingle and Trump Singles (which is striving to “make dating great again”). The allure of taking the guesswork out of making eye contact and having a face-to-face conversation with the cute brunette in the subway, tempting rejection, is a big selling point for dating sites. If you match with your future soul mate on Coffee Meets Bagel is because they like you back and isn’t it grand that you can already know that from the get-go? If you don’t get a reply to your message on Plenty of Fish, no sweat – there are plenty of single fish in this virtual sea.

 

 

Perhaps first dates are awkward because there’s nothing else to talk about, having covered all the basics through run-of-the-mill online stalking and customary Tinder banter. Or maybe first dates are all supposed to be awkward, anyway. Has having all of this information at your fingertips usurped courtship? Depending on where you live, it may not matter. This whole online dating affair may be fruitful in large urban areas, where Hapnn can be your lifesaver for the 17 missed connections you had at the six different bars on Astor Place you visited last Saturday night. But if your radar is bleeping around Jim Thorpe, PA, chances are Tinder will eventually inform you, very matter-of-factly, that there are no new matches in your immediate vicinity. It is a stark dichotomy that dares to question the meaning of modern romance or, rather, to preserve its quixotic old school, #meetcute definition.

 

In cities like New York City, some bemoan the sheer availability of dates. The dating apocalypse is happening, presumably, because there’s just so much of it. It is addictive to have a thumb-and-phone session and swipe right on a couple hundred people per day to get that instant gratification, that validation that someone also finds you attractive. And then keep on swiping to get the next fix. Sex is so easy to come by, it is almost strategic. (How many miles away is he? How long would it take me to get to her place if the F train is down?). Bartenders at trendy hotspots report seeing men come in with two different Tinder dates on the same night (Twitter threads about this have gone viral) and joke about serial daters. Tinderella and Tinderfella are actual terms being used to replace the vanishing Cinderellas and Prince Charmings of the world, in an age where more than one third of U.S. marriages begin online.

 

If all that doesn’t sound like great upsides, it’s because they’re perhaps not meant to be. Looking for and finding wiling hookups for some casual Netflix and chill may be run-of-the-mill city culture, but actively dating may also drive a hard bargain. A study by Match.com puts the yearly cost of dating at about $1,596, which averages out to a nice and affordable $30 date each week. Cut down on your afternoon iced caramel macchiato and you’re all set to get your dating groove going. But that’s pocket change compared to what singles are spending in large cities to go on dates. According to statistics released by Deutsche Bank, a cheap date in New York City will cost your wallet the criminal amount of almost $135 for the both of you. This cheap date would have all the makings of a traditional date: a cab ride, pub fare dinner and a Coke, a couple beers, and tickets to a Nancy Meyers movie. Replace the pub with any restaurant where you have to put a cloth napkin on your lap and your IRA might as well become your dating fund. Zurich, by the way, is the most expensive city to date where the same outing will cost a felonious $194.

 

 

Head on over to the Canadian border, 350 miles north of the Big Apple to rural New York, and Tinder is as useful as the Compass app on your iPhone (in New York City you figure out where north is by recognizing your architectural landmarks, and in the North Country knowing your cardinal points is just an innate ability you are born with).

 

Rural dating, some argue, can actually give you an even bigger ego boost than the endless parade of notifications from Hinge matches you get in The CityÔ. This is apparently because you get hit on a lot, given the general lack of options. And you don’t even need model good looks – just an interesting job and an unfamiliar face. So going home for the holidays can have its benefits after all, when home is a hamlet of 700 people. The downside is, of course, that same general lack of options. When the Tinder red dot radar blinks and blinks and blinks and simply fails to find matches in your rural hometown, there’s just no point in using it.

 

In urban areas like New York City, where Flatbush feels like it’s an entire astral plane away from Harlem but in actuality the subway will get you there in 40 minutes, one of the appeals is that your future Mr. Husband is indeed just a train ride and an eight-minute walk away. But rural daters tend to cast a wide radius to find their significant others. If you’re in Wilkes-Barre, PA the closest major city—Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs—is a good two hours drive away. But that’s the net you have to hurl if you’re on OkCupid looking for your Tinderfella. Otherwise, as many point out, when you visit your hometown you’re suddenly in an alternate reality where you’re swiping on the Tinder profiles of the same people who are your Facebook friends.

 

And for LGBTQ people, dating in rural areas can not only turn up nil in terms of matches, it can be unsafe. Online apps are making a huge splash in queer dating in rural areas, and niche apps like Her and Surge offer a “safe” space dedicated to gay dating, but the number of users is nowhere near what you’d find on Grindr in Los Angeles. Transgender men and women, meanwhile, still relied on the now defunct “Casual Encounters” section of Craigslist to find F-to-M or M-to-F friendly partners. Gay-friendly bars and clubs, then, still play a major role in meeting other queer persons in the landlocked heartland of the U.S. But even in states like Iowa, which is considered gay-friendly by Midwestern standards, the entire state has only a tenth the number of gay bars that New York City boasts. Sioux Falls, SD, only has apparently one gay-friendly bar.

 

But like it or not, online dating is here to stay. Heavy use of social media has been linked, ironically, to loneliness and feelings of isolation, but in 2017 the Internet was not only the #1 place where people met their first date, but more than half of U.S. singles have tried online dating. And (because of course) there are generational values to consider. 22 percent of millennials are more likely to believe that technology has made finding love more difficult. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not online dating. Resilient as they can be, millennials are also 57 percent more likely to be active on an online dating site than other generations. Meanwhile, 68 percent of men overall what to date for the purpose of finding love, as opposed to 12 percent who only want to date casually.

 

As impersonal as it may seem, you can indeed find your next date with the swipe of a finger. Whether that comes with a steep price—the price of romance—depends on just how we are defining romance nowadays. Getting hit on at the bar, the laundromat, or the gym is a big ego boost if you’ve grown used to Tinder exchanges and Grindr hit-it-and-quit-it meet-ups. But outside urban areas, you’re probably going to be getting physically picked up at your house and have your dinner paid for. The price of romance, then, seems to be relative.   

 

Author Bio:

 

Angelo Franco is Highbrow Magazine’s chief features writer.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

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