There’s Something Wrong With Our Dating Landscape
Men are now fungible
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Almost half of all relationships begin online, and it’s making things pretty weird.
To start with, let’s get into some dating app demographics: 67.4% of bumble’s users are male, while 78% of users on tinder are male. This skews normal dating dynamics into such bizarre and unprecedented territory it’s hard to believe. Some basic evolutionary psychology is the best tool to parse what’s happening.
Women are more selective than men in the dating market for the simple fact that only women are able to give birth, and the sex that bears the cost of reproduction needs the most discretion in choosing a mate. A certain level of selectiveness is good, and to be expected in both men and women. But selectiveness always needs to allow some appreciable margin of error since we’re dealing with human beings.
A man or woman who’s picky insofar as their potential mates are loyal, able to moderate their substance use, able to make and take a joke, have good hygiene, are capable of holding a job, and are capable of holding a conversation, is totally normal. These are things that can’t really be dispensed with and are reasonable enough to use as criteria for rejection because of their necessity and commonness. Any issue beyond these is probably small and workable.
A man or a woman may not want a partner who talks over them, talks loudly in public, chews with their mouth open, laughs at the wrong time, or asks few questions in conversations, but these are things that can be improved by just talking about them. These aren’t grounds for not dating someone. But with enough potential mates on retainer, the reasonable, common demands and expectations we have become subordinate to hyper-specific, maladaptive ones, ones that you would never reasonably use as mate-criteria. An example can be taken from Malthusian labor bargaining:
An employer with a small potential pool of employees might have to accept some employees that fall of short of his overall ideal. The leverage the employer has over potential hires is capped by population size in his labor market, he can make only limited demands on who he chooses and has less latitude in how he chooses, since there’s one else. But if he has a surplus of potential hires, criteria that might have seemed nonsensical becomes less so, he has room to be hyper-selective. Half of the job applicants may have qualities that make them apt for the work, like punctuality and competence, but these traits not only fail to remain as distinguishing marks, their commonness reduces the risk of using personal preference in hiring; If one person doesn’t meet his ridiculous standards, someone out there probably will.
The same is happening in dating, with men being made completely fungible (partly) by way of female selectiveness having no reasonable limit. There’s no reason to work through any issue in a potential mate since there’s always the option of discarding one person and picking up another. Under normal circumstances, saying no to a second date with someone just because they weren’t as gallant as Joe from “You” would mean you’d probably end up alone. Now you still have hundreds, sometimes thousands of options.
But there’s a problem: Choice Overload, the tendency to choose nothing when our pool of choices grows, inspiring confusion, doubt, discounting of options. Here’s a small study on the phenomenon and its role in mate choice:
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