Is Online Dating Mysterious?

Assistant Editor Dan Hoffman discovers stories of romance and mystery in digital matchmaking.

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Posted in , Dec 14, 2015

Online dating–is there mystery and romance in it?

I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately–for the same reasons any single guy would think about it–but also because our upcoming February/March issue of Mysterious Ways features a whole section devoted to this eternal subject: “Love & Devotion.” These stories are about the miraculous ways people meet, connect, reconnect and develop a lasting relationship–whether it’s a romance, friendship or bond between family members.

For me, the romantic stories stood out. As I was reading over them one last time before sending them to the printer, I couldn’t help but think about online dating:  has it ruined the idea of “soul mates” for my generation?

There’s no doubt the landscape of love and dating in our society has changed, in large part because of the advent of online dating. With apps and websites like Tinder, OkCupid, eHarmony and a host of others of which I’m not aware, one can find a date with a few swipes or clicks.

Years from now, when I tell my future kids my love story, will it begin with, “I saw your mom’s photo on a website?” Not exactly the stuff of Shakespeare. Or Mysterious Ways.

The common critique of online dating is that it can lack all that is special, miraculous, mysterious and passionate–in a word, romantic–about love. Its blessing, and its curse (particularly in a city of 8 million like New York), is that the potential partners seem endless.

The lonely heart is overwhelmed with the possibilities– as if finding love were like playing the lottery: the more tickets one buys, the higher the chances of “winning.” I’ve known many who’ve renounced online dating–at least in theory–on just these grounds, yet all the while remaining on the sites “just in case.” It all feels like a big mess sometimes. (The reader is not to infer anything about my personal life.)

And yet, in one of our upcoming stories, I read about a woman who joined a Christian dating site (reluctantly), and not only met the man of her dreams, but the only man who could heal a heartbreak she’d suffered 32 years earlier. I don’t want to give too much away–but these two turned out to share a connection long before they filled out their online dating profiles.

Stories like that give me pause to reconsider. Isn’t there actually something equally miraculous about two people meeting online and falling in love? Why should it “count” less than our parents’ more traditional stories? Two people create carefully edited online self-representations of themselves, which are inevitably imperfect, they’re mixed in with thousands of other users based on complicated algorithms created by computer programmers, they agree to meet–and the rest is history. Two people, I might add, who never would have met otherwise. No one would have imagined that was possible decades ago.

It may seem less romantic to fall in love at first sight with a photo on your computer–but falling in love at all, whatever the circumstances, is a miracle in and of itself. Online dating simply increases the number of people we can meet–what happens after is still beyond the power of any earthly algorithm.

What do you think? Did you meet the love of your life through online dating? Do you think you would have met otherwise?  

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