We can’t cope with too much choice. Faced with a huge array of delicious jams we are less likely to buy one than when presented with just a few options. That, according to psychologist Barry Schwartz is all about the ‘paradox of choice’ which leaves us perpetually dissatisfied.
It’s the same with online dating, we are now being told. When we choose from amongst a multitude of prospective dates we are always looking over our shoulders wondering if we could do better.
Like much of what we hear about internet dating, it’s total hogwash. Sure there are now millions of singles online but that doesn’t mean we all have endless choice. That’s like suggesting a homeless chap gazing through the windows of David Jones’ Foodhall will lick his lips at the delicious options he has available. That’s not going to happen because sadly he knows all too well the choices are there but not for him.
That’s why it’s such a reality check when most people start to use Tinder. This iPhone dating app is no longer just a hook-up site, but has become the main way young singles today are meeting their partners. Faced with photos of hundreds of potential dates you swipe left or right, depending on whether you’d like to meet them or not. Only when there’s mutual attraction does the site put you in touch.
That’s the point. A randy young man can spend all day chasing hot chicks, but unless he’s also a catch he’ll just end up with a sore finger. Tinder forces young people to come to term with their market value, learning to approach suitors in their ballpark rather than just drooling at unobtainable options.
That applies also when I help older folk get started in online dating, usually using the Fairfax site, RSVP, the only major site which allows people to conduct their own searches.
Last year I was working with a man from Brisbane. Great bloke in his 50s running his own thriving business. A real success story who’d managed over recent years to lose 37 kilos and was now running marathons, taut and trim after having been fat all his life. I helped him choose a new wardrobe, get a better haircut. We put together a lively, enticing profile and he sent out over 100 messages to women and got three responses.
He was 5’7” and even women far shorter than him knocked him back.
It’s maddening. I tell my short female clients how lucky they are to have their pick of these vertically-challenged yet attractive, interesting men, but many refuse to put aside their prejudices about short men with Napoleon complexes. My Brisbane bloke was rightly pissed off, particularly when most of the women he actually met were overweight – a problem, he points out, that they could do something about where he was stuck as a ‘short person with nobody to love’, as singer Randy Newman once so cheerfully warbled.
The biggest problem limiting the options for older single women are those ever expanding bodies. My Melbourne photographer has come up with the perfect shot for buxom bottoms, perched casually on a hillside, one chubby leg artfully draped over the other. So flattering to the larger figure, without disguising it totally. No woman wants to have a prospective suitor’s face fall when they turn up for that first date.
Of course, not all men prefer stick insects. One of my male clients fancied more meat on the bones so we headlined his profile, ‘No Twiggy for me – I like shapely women.’ He was knocked over in the rush. But many curvy women really struggle and sometimes end up embarking on a fitness blitz to improve their chances.
Sometimes people limit their own options through faulty presentation. A man wrote to me recently asking why his online dating profile wasn’t working. The answers were obvious. He had 14 photos, for heaven’s sake, five featuring him draped all over his shiny black Mercedes. Totally up himself, was the universal female verdict. And then there was his verbal diarrhoea. Here’s his description of creating a space for intimacy: ‘A space where the discourse glissandos seamlessly across the cosmic, cultural, devotional, geological, historical, literary, social, mechanistic, mystical and political spheres.’
I ran this by a group of my female clients – ‘pretentious drivel’ was one of the politer responses.
Of course, women make their own mistakes. I can’t tell you how many older women fill their profiles with talk of book clubs and yoga classes with not one word about anything likely to interest men. In my own profile, I made it clear that I far preferred the dancing doona to yoga’s downward dog – a saucy touch works a treat when it comes to attracting older, divorced men emerging from miserable sex-starved marriages.
The truth is only a favoured few are drowning in options in online dating. The gorgeous people – male and female. Young slim women, hugely successful older men. But the rest of us discover that even though there seem to be endless choices when we embark on the exciting task of window shopping for prospective dates, the reality is you can’t date whom you can’t attract and only a few of those people will respond if we contact them.
Next comes that first phone call followed hopefully by that first meeting. But here, too, it’s rare to feel any mutual spark. We are all just too complex for that serendipitous connection to happen very often. The whole business of online dating isn’t really about dating at all, but rather the magical opportunity of connecting with all sorts of possibilities and only when you actually meet and feel that shared attraction can you plan a proper date and see where it leads you.
Yet it’s the only game in town for most singles – and works well for those with realistic expectations, and the cheerful, optimistic nature required to persist in what can be a rather trying but totally fascinating business.
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