“I’m currently in the early stages of dating three people that I met online. Each of them has interesting and attractive qualities. I only want one life partner. But how do I know I’m choosing the right person?” – Jim, 35
Online dating can be overwhelming – as your dating apps twinkle and beep and blink at you, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the choice of millions of potential partners. In this second article of my two-part series on online dating, we will explore the paradox of choice.
Roughly 40 million Americans are looking for love on the Internet. To put that in relative terms that is about the entire population of Poland who are scrolling the human market, which offers row upon row of shiny, eclectic human beings to choose from.
The online world has opened up circles of possibilities – concentric rings that ripple beyond the tiny villages of the past where you had a handful of mates to eye across the square. The beauty of an app like Tinder is that it works in place of your grandmother (whose ancient rolodex may limit her matchmaking potential) and replaces her with an algorithm. This has opened more avenues for human connection, but it has also created confusion. This confusion comes from the vast swathe of people to select, which creates uncertainty and self-doubt. After all, how can you know the person you settle on is the right choice when there are so many other options?
Not long ago, anthropologist Helen Fisher and I had a stimulating debate on the Ted stage about whether or not technology has changed the way we love. I believe the need for love is ubiquitous and universal but the way we love is changing fundamentally.
Our previous model of duty and obligation has shifted to free choice – emphasizing individual rights, self-fulfillment and happiness. But this rushing tide of high ideals often washes us out of our depth: we are drowning in cognitive overload, floundering in the uncertainty and self-doubt that comes with choice.
Here are some ways to tease out your thinking about decision-making and online dating that will help you deal with the paradox of choice.
Do the Curiosity Test
Curiosity – a counterpart to desire – can be a great indicator of your interest in another person. When you are curious and interested in another person, they appear to you like a great novel: you are so captivated that you want to turn the page and read the next chapter. You want to know them more intimately; you want to see them again. So instead of asking yourself if you have certainty about the other person, and interrogating all aspects of your future life together, ask yourself: am I curious?
You may also ask: How do I feel in the presence of this person? Do I feel understood? Do I feel enhanced? Do I feel more interesting when I talk to them? Do I feel more beautiful? Great novels, like great art, elevate you and engage you in the mysteries of life. If you have zero curiosity, then you know that you are not in the right place.
Be the Partner You Want
Jim and so many others are asking themselves: is this other person right for me? Turn this question towards yourself. Remember, you have agency too – you are the co-author of the story between you and the other person. Love is not just about finding the right person; love is an action, a verb. Think about the kind of lover you are going to be, rather than just focusing on the kind of lover you want. How are you going to practice love with the other person?
There is a mistaken hope that we will meet someone who is going to be the rejoinder to our uncertainty. They will calm our inner rumblings and anxiety; they will turn our heads away from an attractive person who passes us on the street. We place impossible demands and expectations upon our future beloved. We want someone to completely captivate our imagination and free us from our fears.
I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but this person you are dreaming of is a mythical creature, a beautiful illusion that simply does not exist. You will find more happiness when you allow for some ambivalence – maturity is the ability to live with the not knowing, not to erase it. This notion can be an epitaph for life and love.
Free Yourself by Making a Choice
The paradox of choice is crippling. The hundreds of profile photos that can be swiped through give a sense that there are always other options. But when faced with a multiplicity of options, in order to move forward, we need to choose. Choice frees us up. It allows us to breathe. Instead of placing the emphasis on the other person and whether or not we trust them, we need to trust ourselves.
It is easier to make a choice when you acknowledge that there isn’t just one person for you, nor is there just one relationship and one life we can lead. We simply pick one. Of course, we all live with longings for unlived life and the people who we passed over. I believe this is true whether you are dealing with arranged marriages or the free choice market.
So make a choice and make the best of it. You may find glorious freedom on the other side of a decision. And the beauty of freedom is that it’s your life to lead.
I am curious about your online dating conundrums. Do you have too many or too few choices? If you found someone online, how did you ultimately choose that person? Let me know in the comments below.