Would Romeo and Juliet be matched online?
- The average courtship for married couples that meet online is
- The average courtship for married couples that meet offline is
- In 2010 the worldwide online dating industry is worth $4 billion
- In 2009 17 % of married couples met online
- 1 in 5 singles have dated online
- 1 in 5 singles in serious relationships met their partners online
- USA has approximately 40 million online dater. China has 140 million
onlinedaters largest in the world.
By Howard Axelrod
IN A cluttered studio apartment on the outskirts of Verona, Romeo sits
down at his desk and picks up his quill. His best friend Benvolio has
been at him again. Time is running out for marriage, Benvolio has said,
and there’s only one cure for his latest heartbreak. Online dating.
Resigned, his handsome brow furrowed, Romeo scratches and blots his way
through a profile. “By a name, I know not how to tell thee who I am,” he
begins, “nor am I equally at ease in jeans or formal wear.” Then, in
spite of himself, he continues, “I cherish jousts of words, and jousts
of love, and those who romance beyond words.” Not entirely appalled, he
opens his Mac, takes poetic license with his height and build, adds a
selfie shot in the bathroom mirror, and prays for the best.
Meanwhile, across town, Juliet has just logged in. Through her 20s she
swore, especially to her mother, that marriage was an honor she dreamed
not of, but with tenure now a lock at the university, her Facebook news
feed overwhelmed with friends’ photos of weddings and babies, and her
remaining Netflix options grown chidingly thin, she has begun to long
for a partner.
The numbers suggest Romeo and Juliet are doing the right thing. In the
United States — let’s assume they’re in Verona, N.Y. — roughly 100
million people are single, and about 40 million people have tried online
dating. The superabundance of potential matches is new. In 1950, only 22
percent of American adults were single, but now the figure is nearly 50
percent. Also new, perhaps due the increasing role of technology in
American life, is that the stigma of online dating is largely gone. In
2013, a Pew Research study found that 59 percent of Americans agreed
with the statement: “Online dating is a good way to meet people.”
But does an increase in options, and an increased ability to navigate
those options, actually increase the likelihood of finding love? What
impact does the online-consumer model — a virtual warehouse of potential
partners, stocked according to an algorithm designed to suit your stated
tastes — have on forming a committed relationship?
For one thing, Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t find each other today.
Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers met at a masquerade, which meant a
party’s limited options and almost no information about each other,
except the touch of Romeo’s hand and the heated flirtation of their
words. But today’s Romeo and Juliet have a shopper’s catalogue of
choices and set their search parameters to find exclusively what they’re
looking for. And given the centuries-old feud between the Montagues and
the Capulets, they’re not looking for each other. Perhaps Romeo, like
most of the Montagues, is short; perhaps Juliet, like most of the
Capulets, is a bit stout. In person, they find many types of people
attractive. But with online dating, given the option to rule out the
short and the stout, they do.
Which raises another question: Does a more bounded context, with fewer
choices and less sense of control, help us with what the theologian
William F. May calls “an openness to the unbidden?” And, even more
complicated, do the greatest love affairs come from finding what we’re
looking for, or from finding what we don’t know to look for — from the
alchemy that flares when the unbidden happens to find us?
As with most questions of love, there are no easy answers. But these
questions do prompt an important distinction between great love affairs
and great committed relationships, which may not entirely overlap with
each other. For securing the latter, many of the singles I asked said
they find Internet dating helpful. They prefer a large pool of prospects
and the power to vet those prospects in advance. Granted, certain
indignities can result from the efficiency approach: One friend told me
she felt like a horse whose teeth her date was inspecting before
purchase; another said she feels like she’s dating everyone and no one
at the same time. But for the privilege of casting a wide net, and of
not having to catch a stranger’s eye in public when he’s likely looking
at his phone anyway, online daters endure.
For great love affairs, though, having so much control may not be as
helpful. It’s hard to start a fire with a checklist and an algorithm. No
one trusts love at first click.
But sometimes online dating outfoxes itself. About six months ago, a man
from Los Angeles was passing through Logan airport; his smartphone
geo-located him; his OkCupid account included a South Boston woman’s
profile as a possible match. Bored waiting for his plane, he looked. She
saw he’d looked. By the time she messaged him, he was back in LA.
Neither one was interested in a long-distance relationship — their
search parameters said as much — but they started messaging. Eventually,
they went offline and started writing letters. Maybe not with quills,
but with paper and ink. “I was 30 years old,” she said, “and he was the
first man to send me flowers.”
This fall he’s moving to Boston. They’ve already met each other’s
family. Theirs is a modern love story — one of both control and the
unbidden, one of both playing the averages and following an exception.
May all online daters be so lucky.