The Internet might have changed the way we find love, but the key to making it last still comes down to an analogue approach. While most of us have come to accept that dating online isn’t as freakish as it once sounded in the early 2000s, getting someone’s undivided attention in a cluttered world of life-partner choices via online dating sites means the competition is greater and desire for compatibility an even higher priority for those seeking love.
According to Dr Emma Agnew, a clinical psychologist from Scotland who runs love classes at The School of Life in Australia, the opportunities that have come with the Internet age means dating has gotten caught up in bad consumerist behaviour.
“We are consuming each other like products and are more disposable as a result,” says Agnew, who teaches couples and singles how to reconnect with love. “These days we have an endless amount of choice which means any date we’re on we’re thinking of the next date and whether that next person will better fulfill our needs than the one who’s sitting opposite.”
Agnew explains that if we want to find love, and a fulfilling partnership at that, we need to stop looking at our phones, thinking there is someone better around the corner.
“If you think there is always one more swipe right to be had, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” says Agnew.
“It fills you with a sense of dissatisfaction because you’re waiting for the next best person to come along. You end up looking for perfection, which ironically leaves us feeling more unfulfilled than when you started looking. The key is to focus on who is in front of you. Be present. Avoid strict criteria and don’t judge people so harshly. If your mental tick box has lots of crosses in one date, you’ll write people off before you get to know them.”
While it’s still possible to meet a life partner the ‘good old-fashioned way’—like at a bar or through your network of friends or family, statistics show that online dating is fast overtaking traditional hook-ups for longer lasting relationships.
Recent data in TheEconomist revealed that online dating leads to longer lasting partnerships over traditional ones. Online dating statistics show that 20 percent of those in current, committed relationships began online and seven percent of marriages in 2015 were between couples who met on a dating website.
“We now have access to far more people than we would have ever been able to years ago before Facebook and Tinder,” says Agnew. “You relied on being introduced to people through friends or meeting them at bars. On average you would only be exposed to one or two potential suitors a week if you were social. Without technology, access was limited. Now, dating has become a numbers game in the hope that you’ll have limitless options available to find love. That is certainly beneficial, but the downside is that dating has gotten caught up in consumerism and we’re not getting to know people as a result.”
Swedish-born and Sydney-based futurist and innovative strategist Anders Sorman-Nilsson argues that the digital world makes us happier when it comes to dating.
“It gives people choice to expand the gene and talent pool and there are benefits that come with that,” he says. “A third of American marriages now start online and statistics show that relationships which start online last longer than traditional analogue hook-ups. The old notion that your uncle, cousin or former flatmate will introduce you to the love of your life is old school and has been bypassed by the digital date. The revolution is already happening.”
He says that Generation Alpha, that’s anyone born after 1994, doesn’t know a world without the Internet, so it would be logical to go to the digital world to find love.
“The kids of tomorrow won’t know any other way,” says Nilsson. “They don’t know a world without the Internet so for them the logical thing is the digital world. They have been exposed to this idea and paradox of choice via the digital choices available to them from a very early age. Teamwork wasn’t something learned on a football field, they learned it via a world of Warcraftas an example. The digital world is not a complement as it is for Gen X or the Baby Boomers. Even Gen Y getting back into the game of dating is turning up in droves in online dating.”
Where you draw your own proverbial line in the sand rests with your own set of values, according to Agnew. But while choices are endless in the modern age, nothing beats a slow approach to dating—like getting to know someone beyond one or two dates, understanding that the idea of soul mates, life-long partner and happily ever after are not necessarily tangible ideas we can grab hold of.
“Happily ever after is a sub-text,” says Agnew. “We are sold on buzzwords like ‘soul mate’ and ‘compatibility’ and our ‘other half’. These words suggest love is a feeling that should come naturally and if you’re not on the same wavelength you have a problem. Love doesn’t come that naturally. You need to be prepared to do the hard work.”
That means being prepared to help your partner evolve and grow.
“Sustaining love means you shouldn’t take things at face value and look beyond your partner’s disappointing behaviour sometimes. Show them patience and kindness in much the same way you show children. Love is hard work; it’s not about soulmates. You can never assume you will organically get on. It requires a connection, commitment and wanting to better each of yourselves,” argues Agnew.
While it’s Nilsson’s job to predict human behaviour in the future, he says analogue won’t completely die off in the dating game, even if we do head to our screens for some sexual healing.
“When you swipe on Bumble or Tinder, it in effect means you are digitally disconnected from the analogue world,” says the married father of one. “Sometimes that means missing the cues to find a love spark. There’s nothing wrong with writing love letters, using a combination of letter writing and online chats for long-distance romance. Being old school still holds merit. We see people buy vinyl and tap into an analogue world—there’s a desire for it and it’s on the rise—much like the way we have embraced online dating, but still crave human touch in the way our parents knew it. It’s about being present, being aware and not getting too caught up in the system.”
For Agnew, love gurus need to stop selling the idea that compatibility is an instant byproduct of love.
“We are constantly looking for someone who will be compatible with our values, our interest and life views, but what we’re looking for is expecting some sort of perfect fit at the outset of the relationship,” says Agnew. “You go for one date and decide you’re not compatible which is the biggest mistake people make. The way to make love last and find it in the first place is to cultivate that compatibility together. The person you might be compatible with may not share your interests but can help you navigate those differences. Compatibility shouldn’t be a pre-condition of love, it should be an outcome of it. It is about being a little more open to giving people a second chance. If you’re not attracted then clearly don’t push it, but try to be open to see change occur.”
And when it comes to making love last in an era obsessed with moving on, Agnew says nothing beats human interaction. “Acknowledge your partner as an emotional being with feelings, speak to them as if explaining to a child, with kindness, and don’t look at each other one dimensionally,” she says. “When it comes to finding it in the first place, allow online to work for you, but be open to the idea of old school romance, do analogue things like see a movie, hold hands in public, avoid using phones at the dinner table and be transparent about what you want going forward. Maybe then you’ll start to view things differently.”