The number of people who are single has doubled in the past 30 years. This increase comes hand-in-hand with the rise of speed dating, internet dating and the acceptability of dating agencies. In a similar way that “more of us are on diets than ever before but obesity rates are rising, something about dating is making us single.” (Times website)
I will assume that “to find a partner” is the aim/motivation of dating, in order to outline some of the problems with the practice of dating. There are other motivations certainly, but let’s leave them to one side. Then, later, I will challenge this assumption.
1) Problems with the practice of dating:
Dates are high-pressure situations – It is in informal and relaxed settings, rather than on a high-pressure date, that people make the deeper connections that lead to love.
Superficial qualities – competitive style of dating encourages us to rate appearance and superficial qualities over personality, even though, ultimately, this is not what makes for a good long-term partnership. When researchers at the University of Kent asked students to rate the most important quality in a potential mate, friendship came out top, followed by honesty. Just 5 per cent of men and 1.5 per cent of women rated looks.
The more people you meet, the better – This is particularly relevant to speed-dating. The internet is encouraging us to rate people. We are comparing our date not only with the others in the room but with millions of potential mates online. Seeing more people is not the answer; getting to know people better is what’s required. Market researchers in the U.S. interviewed women coming out of marriage licence bureaux. Twenty per cent had not liked their intended when they first met.
2) Problems with aiming to find a partner:
The whole idea of “finding a partner” is wrongheaded. If someone were to ask “Why do you want to have a relationship with this person?” dating encourages such responses as “They’re the most suitable I’ve met” “We get on well” or “We have a lot in common.” There’s only one acceptable response to that question, and that is “because I think they’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met.” Anything less is not enough.
Finding a partner is something that can only occur indirectly. It is something that you should not seek but should be open to and allow them to happen to you. C.S. Lewis: “Love makes a man really want not a woman, but one particular woman.” And as multiple pop groups have sung (see, for example, Everything But The Girl), “I didn’t know I was looking for love until I found you.”
Relationships and partners are not something we should be seeking to acquire. Alasdair Macintyre calls them “networks of giving and receiving”. Relationships must flow in both directions. If we go into a relationship primarily focused on what we’re going to get out of it, we’re doing something wrong. But the activity of “finding a partner” is a matter of acquisition, a calculation of costs and benefits. There’s no sense of giving to the other person. It’s as though “being with someone” – anyone – is more important than the intimacies of the relationship itself. Where’s love in that picture? People are more concerned with finding “a partner” than with taking the time and giving the necessary investment to create a wonderful, lasting love.
3) So what should we be doing?
Obvious as it sounds, we should be spending time with other people and mixing, getting to know people instead of looking for potential partners. We should focus on understanding people, making and developing friendships. We should be trying to deepen our friendships, to move them beyond the often superficial level. It is likely that, on occasion, ‘partnerships’ will flow from this, but that is an additional benefit and not the intention.
George Orwell wrote, “The essence of being human is that…one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.” There’s no place for this in dating, which reduces relationships to a cost/benefit analysis, so no place for dating in human life.