Flash or hearth fire?

1738 1760 Elisabeth Karsten

In the 21st century people use their available media to find a partner. Currently also with one or the other smartphone app. But the wish that drives them, is as old as mankind: the yearning for true love.

Recently one of my clients complained yet again about her stress with tinder, a smartphone app for the short winded encounter with matching representatives of the other gender. Quite astute, even though somewhat mean a Dutch artist has placed a smartphone with the open tinder app underneath a swinging piece of meat that randomly wipes over the touchscreen, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left…

Tinder has a flame over the i for a logo – probably suggesting that the data base includes candidates for a potential mutual flight of sparks – hence tinder. If that then is only a flash or a long term oven fire – depends on the calorific value of the involved….

The app certainly lacks romance

Actually the app is quite sobering: according to some algorithm the data base offers a picture with first name and age of the other – and wiping over the touchscreen one signalizes with a swipe to the left not interest and a swipe to the right can – if the other did the same – enable a “match”. Then both can chat with each other and everything further is up to them. A subscription to the app is about 20 US$ per month.

My client is in her early thirties and actually has a sincere yearning for a long term partnership and even family. But she would rather die than communicate that, after all this puts a lot of men in her age and target group off. So she presents herself a little differently in order to be more attractive and because she is pretty and charming and a champion at texting she gains a lot of interest.

More disappointment than success

However, after the short lived excitement the dates often leave her with a long term disappointment and an empty feeling, for she knows she actually wants something else. But who at that age (Tinder´s target group is age 18-35) dares admitting their wish for a possibly longterm and family oriented relationship? For the fear of finding someone with whom that is possible is often just as big as one´s own fear that it might be possible and then? Apparently it´s much easier to long for a partner than having one…

Always the fear of failure in love

I can understand how hard it is to find a partner – I have been single for most of the past decades and I´m not happier or unhappier than those in a relationship. I have long learned that personal wellbeing and contentment are not dependent on my relationship status. But of course a partnership and a love relationship are very different from relationships with friends and the really important relationship to one´s own self.

And so the present popularity of tinder all the many other apps and dating websites are most understandable. For the yearning for a partner and romantic love has always been an important if not existential issue. For generally love and partnership are considered to be the premise for family and procreation and that is indispensable for the maintenance of a culture…

Besides the emotional yearning for companionship and sex of course, there is another aspect, I call “order of life”.

This sense, that probably many of us have gets satisfied when people are in happy love relationships. Instead of hectic searching and scanning any social gathering for a potential significant other.

In general everybody seems to be more relaxed if they have someone who can take care of him and furthermore all the couple´s offers, vouchers for two and double packages make a lot more sense and don´t cause frustration…

Far more difficult than playing checkers

I actually already spend a lot time as a teenager on thinking how to match all these lovely people I knew – not only my own friends but also the unmarried acquaintances and friends of my parents with somebody suitable. For the longing for a partner was often rather tangible in most. With this thought I supported the endeavours of our class at my girls´school to organize a party with the boys from the boys school (we choose a class a year ahead of us). We actually had a fun afternoon – I even think that among the approximately 60 youngsters one or two couples emerged. And later as a student I toyed around with matchmaking ideas during boring lectures on art history. How could one match all these decent, well educated and marriage oriented girls with their desired partners on a grand scale? Maybe if one organized an event with the men studying mechanical engineering, where there was a notorious lack of women? I thought women with a profound knowledge about Bavarian Baroque churches would be a perfect match for a future engineer.

Unfortunately more opportunity does not allow for more hits

The arrival of the internet did change our mating behavior. By the way: Americans already had had their first virtual experiences – from marriage proposals, online affairs and divorces before the first email ever was sent in Germany. And all this a long time before facebook – and yet hardly 20 years ago!

The potential of the electronic media and the possibility for an often anonymous and noncommittal encounter did not only attract nerds from the start but many of those who had failed so far in the free physical wild. The first German dating websites like friendscout24 where still free of charge in 2000. But on February 14th 2001 Parship began its online dating service and many followed and keep following. Usually for a fee and initially often more expensive for men than for women… And the gay dating websites offer a much better service in my opinion than the straight services…

An algorithm cannot replace chemistry

In the meantime this has become subject to science and – independently from the various platforms who all like to suggest that they have particular high rate in successful matches. But that´s not true. The likelihood to meet a suitable partner online more often and faster is an illusion. As a guy once put it whom I had met through a dating platform while we were taking a “trial walk” through Berlin: he said, he had read one statistically had to meet 100 potential partners before love might be sparked. The internet simply made it easier to work off the volume…

And I felt sick imagining having to take 100 walks with guys through Berlin. Even though that might increase my knowledge of the city immensely, it also made an insurmountable mountain of time and social investment appear before my inner eye. I mean, how many times did I really want to listen to favorite travel events, key moments in choosing one´s profession and the latest reason for laughing? Especially since that often results in complaints about expensive air fares, too little pay and an idealization of comedians I didn´t like? This perspective made me dizzy.

But I too was driven by yearning…

Nonetheless I made use of dating websites a few times in my life – and the older I get the more I dislike the electronic dating services. Not only because of my own – not entirely negative – experience, but I learned that these platforms live off the opposite of what they sell and promise: for actually they thrive on people NOT finding a partner – with every match and people signing off or suspending their subscription they lose two clients…at least for a while.

Furthermore I find it unpleasant when business is made off longing and neediness in the name of love. It seems to me like marketing a dietary remedy that actually increases an imbalance in weight. But coincidentally allows a certain percentage of people to find and maintain their ideal weight… for a while at least… But it certainly is no contribution to the wellbeing of the concerned but definitely to the wallets of the owners of the platform.

Electronical media have become part of our mating industry

I might rant as much as I want – nowadays the electronic services for dating are just as much part of our mating industry as only print ads and matchmakers were in former times. It is also a fact that quite a number of couples meet through the internet and actually establish long term relationships, even though the number may be not as high as the dating services claim. Furthermore some people have met their partner online and would have never ever met him or her otherwise. That is clearly an advantage of the new media.

But what really bothers me a lot recently is that I recently read an article in Der Tagesspiegel (my Berlin paper) where many young Berliners claim to have chosen to remain single because of their disappointments with dating and electronical dating services, to remain single. I find that very sad. But with the media who constantly give a lot of attention to failing relationships, a generally high rate of divorce and an increasing number of patchwork families ever branching out – the courage and the willingness to invest trust into a partnerships dwindles.

Despite the fact that it isn´t actually all that bad: first of all the divorce rate has been going down in Western countries for a few years now and according to studies relationships nowadays have a better quality than in the past.

Let us love more courageously!

I would wish that human beings would be more encouraged to love – in the media, at school, at home. If we all loved more consciously – then perhaps the many expectations and notions and the thus resulting disappointments would have a less detrimental effect on the individual and collective love life. Then the love for ourselves and the trust in one´s own healthy feelings would allow for encounters where the sparks can be nurtured longterm. Not because of some silly algorithm, but originating in the common enthusiasm for a life together and the courageous willingness to perhaps fail at it – but knowing to have given each other and life a fair chance.

It would be even more lovely if we as a species could develop the ability to identify a potential partner with certainty and ease and we then could establish conventions where such encounters are discretely supported. I actually do believe that this is possible and shall nurture the vision!