Note: this a refreshed re-post of an old 2013 post, back before Tinder was all the rage. But it felt like a throwback Friday.
In my circles of thirty-somethings, the world of internet dating is still considered a last-ditch desperado attempt to find someone willing to put up with you and your weird obsession with fridge magnets and/or origami and/or whatever. There is stigma and judgement and, often, the sympathetically sanctimonious nod of the head.
Which I find confusing, because:
- lots of the cool kids are now on Tinder (although that’s more online-one-standing than it is online-dating);
- but regardless, online-dating makes so much sense.
Allow me an analogy:
- Let’s say that you’re looking for a particular shoe. It needs to be the right size, comfortable, fitting with your personal sense of style, and it should match most of your wardrobe.
- Because shoes are expensive, it’s also your hope that the pair of shoes you eventually settle on will be both versatile and durable – because you want to be able to wear it in the mornings and in the evenings and out to fancy dinners and on the beach while on holiday.
- Unfortunately, each pair of shoes is unique and does not come in duplicates.
- So that’s quite a tall order.
We could talk about market demand and market supply to try and discuss this. But that concept is quite daunting – because there is no mass market. What we’re talking about is an individual decision about many many small markets each consisting of exactly one pair of shoes (which you either do or do not want).
The Market for Soulmates masquerading as Perfect Shoes
Here is what you face:
- A world of shoes
- Only a few of which, if at all, will be what you’re looking for.
- A haystack; and
- A prize needle
If I was to try and draw this in terms of demand and supply, you’d have a whole lot of these:
Being shoes that you do not desire.
And a few of these:
Where you know what you want, but you’re not finding it.
Hoping for this:
Where finding the one at any price is the real world equivalent of “for richer, for poorer”…
Admittedly, I am exaggerating a bit. Because there’s always compromise, and if a shoe is almost perfect, you might accept wearing it to see if you get used to it. Or you might learn to live with a slightly unusual colour. Or something.
But for the most part, the world is filled with shoes that you won’t wear. Not even if you were paid to wear them.
And now for the bad news: the pair of shoes also has to want you.
In a game of squaring, you require the coincidence of two demand curves (I want you and you want me), alongside the coincidence of two supply curves (I’m available to your desire and you’re available to mine).
What That Means
Given that there are many markets, only a few of which will be star-crossed, we can say the following:
- This is a volume game; and
- Best you get started with the shopping already.
The Good News: It’s Less Onerous Than It Sounds
Fortunately, when it comes to volume games, there is no need to try every single shoe in existence.
The playing field can rapidly be narrowed down by:
- Gender (50% out – although I’m not sure if that’s politically correct anymore)
- Age (eliminates at least a further 25%)
- Spiritual/Life outlook
- Similar interests, values, and level of conversation
- <the list can go on>
In fact, within a few thoughtful moments, you can effectively isolate a thin margin of society for the compatibility test.
Which is why it’s not that surprising that couples meet each other so quickly. We have naturally tended, since birth, to spend time with people that we like. We do not face a world where there is a bell curve of people, equally distributed across time and geography. Instead, we tend to clump into groups formed on the basis of similar outlooks, experiences, classes, cultures and interests.
So the traditional path of being blind-dated by your friends? Yes – it makes sense that it’s so often successful. You’re shopping in the right places.
Why Online-Date Then?
As we get older, the groups of friends begin to dwindle. The successfully-coupled tend to spend more time with the successfully-coupled. We start working, and there is less time to club and bar-hop and form new groups of friends. And more than that, our priorities, interests and schedule tend to change and/or crystallise.
As that happens, the larger groups of friends from our university years begin to splinter into a few core relationships with the occasional reunion and random chance encounters.
Also, even ignoring that common development, the young professional group in general tends to be more geographically dislocated than it was before. We travel to study and for job positions and gap years abroad – and we’re able to maintain long-distance friendships with relative skype-ease. We’re Third Culture Kids.
All of that combined turns the volume game into a genuine problem.
Does it not make sense, then, that you should go to a market-space where the goods are clearly-marked?
I guess that my point is this:
- When shopping for shoes, it’s always nice to be directed to the right store by someone whose taste you already trust.
- But when that option is not really available (or the recommendation sounds a lot like “Oh, I got this pair in Paris”), you have two alternatives:
- Wander into all the local stores looking for a pair of shoes that appeals; or
- Browse Amazon.com with very clearly-defined search terms.
- Option A takes up a lot of time.
- Option B is just easier.
Online-dating is not embarrassing or desperate.
It’s just economically efficient.
A Caveat Though
When I researched this topic, I found a lot of people talking about their lack of success on the online-dating front. Reading between the lines, my gut feeling is that this is not a crisis of online-dating – it is a crisis of individual craziness. If you decide that you will only date women that are trilingual chemical-engineers (or lawyers – you’re not unreasonable) that look like a younger version of Claudia Schiffer (or Emily Blunt – again, you’re not unreasonable) – then you are searching for a market that does not exist.
Be careful with that list of requirements… When you get too demanding, the Universe is not polite about telling you to sod off.
Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.