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Why Online Dating In New York City Doesn't Work

Even though New York ranks as the city engaging in the most online dating activity in the U.S., according to Kiplinger, over half of the metro area’s 18.7 million households are single ones. This statistic reminded me of my friend who complained that even though she had met a plethora of men in the city through dating sites, she had yet to find even one meaningful relationship. Online dating in a very big city like New York makes it even more challenging to find a true companion.

New York offers a surplus of things to do and several ways to meet potential dating partners. The city’s culture of abundance with respect to dating, is further perpetuated by online dating sites that make it easy to meet people that one otherwise may not have met. Ironically, while the option to meet new people increases, it becomes more and more difficult to build a serious relationship.

Access to endless people through online platforms makes it difficult to decide who to date. According to a New York Times article, psychology studies show that the more choices one has, the unhappier one becomes. The task of choosing is “debilitating” and once a choice is made, one wonders if it was, in fact the right one. Committing to a person becomes a herculean task, where no matter who one chooses, one will always see someone better. This opportunity cost is not just limited to a potential date – in a city like New York, people are stereotypically busy, and have to choose between working, exploring something new, and meeting friends.

While people in small towns tend to get married early, New Yorkers go on several dates, largely because it is easy to meet and reject people in the city. A study shows that New Yorkers on average are three times pickier than people in cities like Boston and Los Angeles. Add online dating into the mix, and it is even easier to “shop” for new people – perhaps too easy! Dating sites create a shopping cart mentality, which makes people picky and judgmental. The UK dating site “Bag a Bloke” is even designed to look like an online shopping site for dating. The result is that people are now disposable, just like items in a shopping cart. The smallest problem experienced with a potential partner causes need for replacement. Is it worth spending time taking the subway to meet him/her, when one can easily sit on the couch and surf through OKCupid profiles and find someone new? This throwaway attitude reduces the likelihood of repeat dates that could build towards a serious relationship. Moreover, this mentality creates a culture of promiscuity, enhanced by location-based applications like Grindr that help people meet potential hookup partners.

New York allows for a sense of protective anonymity while dating someone outside of one’s friends circle. Similarly, online dating sites create a sense of removal and apathy during the initial stages of the relationship due to the impersonal nature of exchanging inbox messages. Dating requires time and effort, and falling for someone requires repeated human interaction in several forms – making eye contact, laughing together and revealing something about oneself. The more investment one puts in a relationship, the more of a return one can expect to get out of it. A sense of removal means that personal interactions are fewer. Therefore, one has less of an investment in the relationship, and gains less of a return. As Timothy Egan from the New York Times says, “How can you get dumped when you were never really involved?”

Being promiscuous, picky and apathetic tarnishes peoples’ ability to build meaningful relationships. Granted, the level at which potential mates exhibit these qualities depends on their personalities and on how determined they really are to having a serious relationship. However, online dating, particularly in a big city like New York, certainly enhances these qualities by offering people so many options to choose from, by making it too easy to find people, and by allowing people to maintain a sense of removal from the relationship. 

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