Love in dreams, trees and screens
I had an unconsenting date with Elon Musk last night. That is what happens in dreams. Some neural razzmatazz in my unconscious decided to recruit him, and whola, Elon Musk was in my field of dreams. This was a few days after his successful launch of his reusable rockets. My conscious self does not even single him out as one I would be romantically attracted to but obviously my unconscious uses other criteria. I could flick my writer’s license and give in to the lure of metaphors surrendered by what Elon Musk stands for – rockets, launch pad, boosters, and his last name is “musk” for heaven’s sake – to write about it in detail, but I do not dream and tell (all). Suffice it to say that that it was a successful launch that even the empirical Elon Musk may find new admiration for the power of dreams. This date was my brain’s Valentine gift to me and if I could send it a “thank you” card, I would.
Dating in the 21st century occurs in two worlds – the real one (the one that is 4.6 billion years old) and the virtual one (about 20 years old). “Dating”, which is largely the pre-requisite so you could get to know and choose the one you will squander, at least, a weighty chuck of your romantic emotions with, now also happens online. Online dating is now considered a reasonable go-to place that even scientists made a Match.com profile for a male Sehuencas water frog who would be the last of his kind if he does not find a mating date soon.
Half of Filipinos have used online dating sites or apps and 71% know of someone who have met their partners online. The stigma of online romance, also seems to be vanishing faster than expected both in the Philippines and in the US. I know people who go on Tinder even if they are in solid relationships just to see what the fuss is all about and to check if they possess that “swipable” caliber. Full disclosure though that even in the interest of science, I did not download a dating app. I am so clumsy that I have deleted my own speech as I was reading it from my own tablet so I will not dare use any app where unintended swipes could alter my intimate realities. But indeed, “tagpuan” (place for dating) is now an IP address requiring potential mates to code their attributes and try their luck in the algorithmic sea of love seekers.
In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, they found that 5% of Americans say that they found their partners online but that only a third of Americans who used dating sites actually went out to meet their “dates” in person. The same research also found that usage of online dating jumped among those below 25 years old and also for those in their 50s and 60’s.
But what kind of decision making happens in people who do online dating? In a 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, researchers studied the patterns created by over a million users of an online dating website. They found that like the stages of real-world dating, there are also stages in online dating.
For the “browsing” stage, the rules seemed to be quite brutal – a quick process of elimination: “click, glance, bye.” They found that a photo is a “must have” if you want others to even consider you. This is because opting out of having an online photo in the dating site reduces your chances of being seen by 20x. In term of age, women, depending on their age, liked men of different ages. Men, almost generally, preferred to browse women younger than they were. In terms of physical attributes, specifically, height, women want their “online men” taller and men cared that their “online women” were shorter than they were. Men’s choices also were biased against heavier-set women but women did not seem to care about the weight of their online men.
The next stage which would involve some kind of interaction is less brutal but your initial “batch catch”, your line-up, has, already been made. What could you have missed then in online dating that face-to-face dating allows?
In the documentary, Empire of Scents, its writers mapped out the very extensive domain of smells in the way we create and remember our lives. A significant portion of it was devoted to exposing scientific studies that have found and confirmed that the top reason you choose someone in a date is that they are “nice”. But the second thing after that, is that you like their smell.
This means that “looking good”, “taller”, “younger” do not really figure as much. There was a case in that documentary of a woman said she found a man who was really right in every way, including his personality and his visual attributes. But she said every time she sees him, she would always have to ask him to shower first. The relationship did not work. There is a deeper reason why how someone smells affects our romantic choices. This is because smell signals how different our immune systems are. The farther alike immune systems are, the better the chances for having healthier children. Nature is stealthy that way. So while you are probably just thinking of enjoying someone’s company and seeing where it goes, nature has long-term plans and she built the detection system inside you. You bypass that when you go online to choose whom you want to date.
Science has also found that people are transformed when they meet people face-to-face than when they just see their profiles online. Their judgements about the other person is less harsh when they see or hear the other person. It is funny and quite pitiful that we have to be reminded that we are whole beings and not just online profiles. We are complicated beings. You may have a face that would always look terrible in photos but your animated presence may change all the impressions that your photo have elicited. This is why we bother to make, read and listen to stories especially from the “bearers of the story” themselves and not just be contented with what we think a person is about just by what we read about them online.
As I write this, I am sitting in a café from across a family, with the mother and father talking to a financial adviser. Their 3 kids who am guessing are aged 17, 14 and 9, are all glued to their phones. Their mother and father are asking questions like “in the event of his death, am I the one to continue payments?” Then they both ask, “what if we both die before the plan matures?” Nothing, however, seems to shatter the sacred time of the kids to their phones – not even suppositions about their parent’s demise. I am thinking once upon a time, the Valentine’s moment of this couple did not include any idea that one fine afternoon, love would include this. But it eventually does, and I wonder, if they have lasted that long, what do they think about online dating?
I guess what the science says so far is since emotions are real life investments, you should meet your dates in person and unleash the whole sensory, thinking and feeling armada that nature and your own experiences have given you. Even if things don’t work out, you get the full experience and carry on, with a better, more improved armada. Online dating has very limited powers to do that for you.
But then again, with love, we humans take our chances with any way that seems promising. BBC news recently featured a 500-year old oak tree in Germany with a hole in it with love letters of people who are trying to find someone. Since 1890, love-seekers go to the oak tree and take a letter they are interested to pursue. If not, they leave it to others. That has been going on since 1890 and the oak tree is said to have been responsible for at least 100 marriages.
it is a brave new world as technology changes this aspect of human life. Finding someone to connect with a tale as old as time and finding the “right” one with whom you can plumb moments that Leonard Cohen described as “a thousand kisses deep” seems to be as daunting as it was before, with or without apps. Me, am still relishing the neural residues of my Elon Musk dream. – Rappler.com