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Love in the Age of the Internet

Millions worldwide are placing all their bets on algorithms to optimise their search for intimacy. With a dating pool flooded by choice, how is it changing the way we love? New York Times Editor Daniel Jones weighs in on online dating and the fantasy of perfect love.

The more pressing question is not how we should change online dating, but how it is changing us.

Daniel Jones
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Suddenly, Everyone Out There Is A Possibility

In his 14 years behind the The New York Times’s long-standing ‘Modern Love’ column, editor Daniel Jones has observed that online dating is changing the way we fantasise about romantic love. Before the tireless iterations of sites and applications, finding love seemed a much simpler enterprise. Two decades ago, it was most likely that our partner lived within a radius no further than a fifteen minute drive, or shared no more than two degrees of separation. But over the past few decades, our options have become limitless. Applications now enable us to refine our search for a desired partner through a host of selections and clever algorithms that supposedly optimise our search for love. In this inflated economy of choice and optionality, how hard can it be to find ‘the one’?

We’re Not Any Closer to Love

The answer is surprising. The paradox of choice and the illusion of mass availability have not brought us any closer to finding love. “The online world fuels the fantasy and amplifies the disappointment”, confirms Jones. Psychologists have found that when it comes to love, we aren’t great at knowing what we’re looking for. With the world at our fingertips, we have all become what psychologist Professor Barry Schwartz terms “maximisers”; resolute perfectionists on the urgent hunt for the best deal. In this maximising mentality, decision-making is unbearable and just when we think we have found the one, we are often left with the nagging feeling that we could have chosen better.

What is ‘True Love’ and How Do We Find It?

We have always been a culture intoxicated by the thrilling fantasy of romance, and the past few years have seen the monetisation of this idea. The question remains- what is true love and how do we find it? “There are so many complicated aspects of compatibility and what allows people to be good partners for their whole lives,” states Jones. “It’s not about romance. The truth is, there are a lot of reasons to be together, but not if you elevate romance above all else.” For the New York Times veteran, online dating has exposed aspects of love that are more about vanity than kindness. Arguing against the “soulmate” fantasy, Jones believes that it is presence and connection that we truly desire. “If you ventured into a forest with six strangers and were isolated from the outside world,” he remarks, ” it is likely that you would fall in love with one of them.” This is the reason that most people are still finding their partners at work or through friends.  When we find ourselves in a confined environment, we are forced to negotiate a space of mutual vulnerability. This encourages us to slow down and investigate the hidden depths of our companions.

Love Is About Curiosity

As bonding creatures, we are all driven by our shared instinct for companionship, but modern living frustrates this basic drive. Today, we live at the beck and call of our devices. With each like, swipe, and tap, we condition ourselves away from the possibility of meaningful connection. In the digital space of engineered realities, connectivity masquerades as connection, and any deeper understanding of love seems to slip further away. Despite this, after fourteen years combing through stories of love lost and found, Jones is hopeful. “Love is about curiosity, not certainty”, remarks Jones. This idea was exemplified in the viral New York Times piece, “36 Questions to Fall in Love”, a questionnaire that sparked a worldwide conversation about love. Questions included such provocative enquiries as, “how do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” and “would you like to be famous? In what way?”. All these were designed to challenge, coax, and expose a mutual vulnerability between two parties to promote a more intimate understanding of the other. Beyond the permeable borders of our technological world, perhaps there might still be a chance that love will find a way.

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Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones is the editor of the hugely popular personal-essay column ‘Modern Love’  in the New York Times. Drawing from the 50,000 stories that have crossed his desk in the past decade, his book ‘Love Illuminated’ tells the story of love from beginning to end. Follow his story at @danjonesnyt.

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