From Chapter Eleven



Internet dating, I decided, was a paradox built upon a paradox.  It was, at once, both a great thing and a terrible thing, and what made it so great was also precisely what made it so terrible—namely, choice.

Before the advent of cyber-dating, single people past the age of 40 had relatively few options for a chance at romance.  Fix-ups, singles functions, bars, the workplace, affairs—those were pretty much the available venues, and the number of prospects afforded by each of those alternatives was relatively small.  My guess is that, given the paucity of social opportunities, middle-aged singles were more inclined back then to settle into a relationship with someone who was less than ideal, on the rationale that settling for fifty percent was better than having nothing at all.  When you’re not sure when (or even whether) the next meal will arrive, you’re understandably less choosy about eating whatever’s in front of you.

Cyber-dating changed all that.  With their ever-replenishing inventory of romantic possibilities, and their concomitant insinuation that the person you’ve always been looking for is just a click or two away, computer dating sites effectively neuter any imperative to compromise.  Your date may possess three-quarters of the traits you think you’d like in a mate, but why settle for three-quarters when a virtually limitless supply of other prospects awaits?  Certainly, with so many people still available, you can do better than three-quarters, no?

Well, maybe.  But with so many choices, what will be good enough?  Four-fifths?  Nine-tenths?  A hundred percent?  A hundred percent plus one?  There’s something to be said for the freedom of knowing you don’t have to settle for less than what you want, but there’s something paralyzing about it, too.  With their abundance of choices, computer dating sites foment both—the freedom and the paralysis.

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Excerpt content copyright Ó 2007, Kenneth W. Shapiro