The Dehumanization Of Online Dating

The Dehumanization Of Online Dating
Photo by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

Before we talk dating, let me tell you an absurd story.

The year was 1932. While Hitler was building his power in Europe to start World War II, another war was happening on the opposite side of the world.

Australia was fighting the Emus.

You know, those smaller, sillier looking Ostriches. Over the last few decades they had been terrorizing farmers' crops in Western Australia. So the Australian government sent Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery with a truck and a few thousand machine gun bullets to deal with the issue. How hard could it be? They're just birds.

Hard. Very hard.

The Emus turned "dodging bullets" into an Olympic sport. They jumped, ducked, and emu'd about. After just one month, Australia admitted defeat.

Why am I telling you about this absurd war in a piece about the problems with online dating?

It's because the Australians experienced the same problem insidious to online dating: abstracting away complexity.

Just as the Australians underestimated the cunning of emus by abstracting them as "dumb birds", online dating reduces complex individuals to Pokemon cards, losing their human essence in a sea of swipes. As explained in Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, the more abstract something is, the less emotional weight we attach to it.

This is why online dating can be hell for so many people, including me.

Personality, values, and interests become foggy, unimportant characteristics. Instead, stats comprise someone's attractiveness, height, religion, etc. And just like Pokémon cards, people feel they must catch em all!

People swipe on 10, 20, 100 people in a single day. According to a 2024 survey by Cloudwards, 19% of online dating users have talked to 11+ people simultaneously. Because there are so many choices, they don't bother asking thoughtful questions or giving interesting answers but instead start a conversation with the dreaded "Hi, how are you?" Inevitably, they are unable to keep up with all the texting or get bored--going on a date is really hard--so they do the only thing they can think of:

They ghost... They ghost so much...

According to a 2023 article in the Thriving Center Of Psychology 84% of Millennials and Gen Zs have been ghosted and 65% have ghosted themselves. It turns out that 67% of people who have been ghosted flip the switch and ghost someone else. If someone ghosts you, you think it's okay to ghost someone else. This is even though 69% of ghosters report feeling guilty for ghosting.

Ghosting sucks for both parties.

Over my years of online dating, I've been ghosted probably 100+ times at this point (you might say maybe you're a serial killer, but it's not just me. Trust me, I've talked to others). Other dehumanizing things have also happened. I've had a date cancel on me an hour before because she quote on quote "had more homework than expected." I had what I thought was a wonderful three-hour date with a girl going to dinner, walking under the stars, and laughing, only to receive a one-sentence text message the following day that went, "I don't think it's going to work, goodbye."

And worst of all, I'm also at fault.

I've ghosted. I've canceled a date. I've told someone it wouldn't work in a short text message.

The abstractedness of online dating brings out the worst in all of us.

What's the solution?

If abstraction causes the problems, concreteness is the solution.

I can't believe I'm saying this because it sounds so obvious, but instead of seeing your online dates as Pokémon cards, treat them as living breathing human beings.

Whenever I'm using the apps, I imagine the person I'm texting is sitting in the room right next to me. I ask, "what would I think, feel, or do if they said this to me? Would I like to be treated that way?" I don't try to catch everyone but only swipe if I think I would genuinely like to go on a date. I don't talk to more than 3+ people at once. If I go on a date and don't want to continue with the person, I don't tell them in one sentence. I tell them I had a good time, a few things I liked about them, and wish them good luck in the future.

It's amazing how much better this makes you feel while on the apps.

You still encounter heartless people all the time; that's inevitable. But your heart lightens. A weight lifts off your shoulders.

You'll notice when you find someone is doing the same. They don't give 5-word responses. They think of thoughtful questions.

Unlike the Australians, they don't treat you like you're "just a bird."

They treat you like a human.