Log In for Love

Tales of dating in the digital age by Jennifer Egan, Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, and others.
5 stories

Would Cyrano de Bergerac have hooked up with Roxane in the age of eHarmony and Facebook? It's complicated.

In 2003, Jennifer Egan explained the rise of online dating. "The societal reasons for this fury of activity are so profound that it's almost surprising that online dating didn't take off sooner: Americans are marrying later and so are less likely to meet their spouses in high school or college," Egan wrote. "They spend much of their lives at work, but the rise in sexual harassment suits has made workplace relationships tricky at best. Among a more secular and mobile population, social institutions like churches and clubs have faded in importance. That often leaves little more than the 'bar scene' as a source of potential mates."

Lori Gottlieb noticed that many online dating sites were trying to be data driven. "All have staked their success on the idea that long-term romantic compatibility can be predicted according to scientific principles—and that they can discover those principles and use them to help their members find lasting love," she wrote. "To that end they’ve hired high-powered academics, devised special algorithms for relationship-matching, developed sophisticated personality questionnaires, and put into place mechanisms for the long-term tracking of data. Collectively, their efforts mark the early days of a social experiment of unprecedented proportions, involving millions of couples and possibly extending over the course of generations. The question at the heart of this grand trial is simple: In the subjective realm of love, can cold, hard science help?"

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt described her experience on an online dating site for adventure-seekers. "Sure, I was worried about attracting porn addicts and other sleazoids," she wrote. "But friends assured me that dating online was cool, safe (if you're smart), and —considering the numbers—, completely logical.

And Stuart Jeffries posited that the age of e-dating has one fatal flaw. "Sex and love are opposites," Jeffries argued. "The problem is that we want both, often at the same time, without realising that they are not at all the same thing. And online dating intensifies that confusion."

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