Love, Sociocultural Phenomena

Online Dating: The Future of Love?

At first, I was ashamed when I started to use dating apps for my erotic encounters a few years ago. To approach potential lovers or partners in this way seemed too undignified and anonymous to me. In addition, the required self-promotion reminded me too overtly of the lonely-hearts ads in newspapers and magazines of my youth, which were always a welcome target of our ridicule.

Entire books could be filled with the codes and customs—so numerous and subject to constant change—that govern our online dating universe, in which literally nothing is impossible: There is someone for everyone, and every Jack will find his Jill. 

Courtship controlled from the domestic couch: hygienically clean and comfortably convenient, exactly within the parameters of our specified desires. The smell and voice of potential lovers or partners are the only features not on direct display yet. Given the adequate know-how, even a seductively promising or mischievously attractive look is not too difficult to achieve for yourself.

The media not only dominate numerous other aspects of our lives, they have also long since taken over our guidance in matters of love. This is not so different from the function of the (melo)dramatic romance novel in the 19th century, which had a decisive influence on people’s behavior in love. Besides movies and daily soaps, there are countless shows on dating, coupling, therapying, breaking up and making up that assume the task of contemporary love guides. Dripping with «pure authenticity», they primarily make us cringe.

Longing for authenticity and truthfulness

As a consequence of all the virtuality, we are currently experiencing an increasing demand for what is «natural», «spontaneous», and «authentic»: the desire for «true trueness» is enormous. But other than often claimed, our «online trading for love» by no means categorically excludes these—quite understandably—demanded qualities. Inconceivable in offline «reality», the anonymity of the internet and the noncommitment that goes with it also offer viable, interesting opportunities.

«The anonymity of the internet increases the chances for intimate communication. The majority of online flirters present themselves truthfully. Anybody who keeps a bald head or a spouse a secret has already lost his chances. According to a psychological study, the average rate of lies in e-mails is only 14 percent, compared to 27 percent in face-to-face conversation and even 37 percent for telephone calls. Written communication apparently makes for a higher degree of commitment. 

The anonymity on the internet is thus causing the revival of inner values. Not only the external features are what counts online, but rather communicative talents such as wit, originality, openness and empathy. An additional benefit over face-to-face conversations: online chats reduce the time pressure for immediate response. Not least, virtual space holds a highly romantic appeal precisely by its effect of diminishing inhibitions. In comparison to a club or a café, the possibility of remaining invisible on the internet substantially lowers the inhibition threshold to approach a potential lover or partner. Feelings of insecurity are easier to cover up; some people even hide their identity and act under a pseudonym. Because people are not forced to reveal much about themselves, the willingness to open up grows, and this openness is a decisive factor in getting to know each other. Becoming closer in such a way is both binding and nonthreatening, giving people the courage to do things they would otherwise never dare. The virtual play with romance and eroticism therefore tends to be more daring and adventurous than in reality…

However, what happens on the internet is not really different from what happens in real life. At a pub, people who are willing to flirt will also classify the others as ‹suitable› or ‹unsuitable› for flirting. This systematic search is merely carried out more deliberately and speeded-up on the Net.»[1] 

Ineradicable romantic love is by no means lost to us—we have merely adapted it to the current circumstances. The players of the virtual game also develop their mutual longings, which are then either fulfilled or disappointed, just like it was usual in «the old days». And the potential physical union is, as usual, at the end of getting to know each other, not at the beginning.

«Sweeping complaints about an allegedly cold media society are therefore not appropriate. Lamentations about the burden of unbridled lust and complaints about a rationalization of romance are counterbalanced by the wide variety of new qualities and opportunities. It is precisely in virtual space that people today have maximum opportunities to find their personal paths in a confusing society, including and in particular when it comes to love.»

[1] Christian Schuldt, Der Code des Herzens. Liebe und Sex in den Zeiten maximaler Möglichkeiten (Frankfurt: Eichborn, 2004), pp. 126–128. The English title would read: The Code of the Heart. Love and Sex in Times of Maximum Opportunities.


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