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Feb 8 2016
Online matches put the pressure on us, while setups offer a sense of community support.

Married at First Sight is one of those extreme reality shows with a premise so far-fetched you can hardly believe it’s “reality,” yet there’s something about it that compels you to watch. As the title suggests, it features three couples who are matched by a panel of experts and agree to get married upon their initial meeting.

While these brave souls may be the exception in the dating world, the show’s popularity speaks to what may be a growing weariness with today’s dating process.

In his standup comedy and his relationship book Modern Romance, comedian Aziz Ansari likewise marvels at his own parents’ arranged marriage. He notes with some irony, “It was quicker for my dad to find a wife than it is for me to decide where to eat dinner.” Ansari contrasts the community-focused way his parents met with online dating, which relies heavily on personal preference … and is growing more specific and niche than ever.

It’s true, there’s a specialty site for nearly every demographic: FarmersOnly.com, EquestrianSingles.com, VeggieDate.org, and even MouseMingle.com for Disney Parks fans. At these sites, as well as major ones like eHarmony and Match, singles have thousands of potential dates at their fingertips, to the point that it’s difficult to know where to look and who to pick.

Dating portals put the responsibility on the individual to do the searching and selecting. This format is challenging because we’re on our own—outside the social context of meeting through friends and far from the conventions of community matchmaking or arranged marriages.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller describes how the cultural view of relationships has morphed over the years from being community-focused to individual-focused. “The Enlightenment privatized marriage,” he said, “taking it out of the public sphere, and redefined its purpose as individual gratification, not any ‘broader good.’”

According to a recent article on dating trends in New York, some singles are pushing back against dating sites after being burned by the impersonal, inorganic side of meeting people online. According to a Pew survey, only 38 percent of those who are “single and searching” are signed up for one; the majority of singles are looking for love another way.

I was in the 62 percent who avoided online dating. There wasn’t anything particularly noble or lofty about my decision. I have friends with online dating success stories, so I know it’s a good fit for some people. I just wasn’t convinced I was one of them.

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