Online Dating and the ‘Shop Around’ Mentality

tinderMy first foray into online dating came back in the fall of 2010, when I was working for the daily newspaper in Faribault, Minnesota.

After I complained to a friend about how spending so much time in the small southern Minnesota town had resulted in me basically retiring from romance, he suggested I check out a free dating site called OkCupid.

See also: Making a Move at the Uptown Diner

I did, and ended up signing up, though with little more than Northfield college students to choose from down there, I didn’t really use it to line up dates until I got a job in Minneapolis a few months later.

It’s been nearly five years since, and during that time — save for a couple 6-month relationships here and there — I’ve pretty much constantly had a profile on either OkCupid or Tinder. (But, strangely, never both at the same time. I started using Tinder early last year after breaking up with a woman I met on OkCupid and never went back. I prefer Tinder because it better approximates the experience of actually meeting somebody out and about, while OkCupid feels more like applying for jobs, but that’s a topic for another blog post…)

My college self would’ve read the preceding paragraphs while shaking his head. Back then, there was a stigma surrounding online dating. With so many young, attractive people around, who needs digital help to find dates? I, like many others at the time, thought online dating seemed vaguely pathetic and desperate, a personal failure.

But then I graduated and realized most of the world isn’t like a college campus. Most working adults aren’t lucky enough to be around young, attractive people all day long. Ultimately, online dating is a good way to meet people we probably wouldn’t otherwise meet, and what’s the shame in that?

Indeed, I have mostly good things to say about my years of OkCupding and Tindering. I’ve met many interesting people, had lots of enjoyable conversations, spent way too much money picking up tabs, made friends, found romance, broke hearts, and had mine broken more than once. It’s been a fun run.

But one thing complicating my exit strategy from online dating is the “shop around” mentality that’s so pervasive on there. In short, why cash out of the game and invest in dating someone when a single swipe on your smartphone can bring another, perhaps even more enticing prospect into the picture?

Now, I grant that for people who are adept at conversing, most first dates go well. It isn’t that challenging to grab a drink and chat somebody up about their interests while cracking a joke or two along the way for smiles and laughs. Of course, experiences of that sort don’t necessarily mean your date wants to date you — you can have fun and good conversation with someone while having no romantic connection with them.

But even when there is a connection, opportunity costs sometimes make it hard to deactivate the app and love the one you’re with, so to speak. Sure, last night’s date was promising, but what if the next one is even better?

I’ve been on both ends of that line of thinking, which makes sense in a world where the supply of possible dates is almost endless. The risk, however, is ending up in a situation where you feel like you’re chasing your tail — after all, most of us aren’t on OkCupid or Tinder because we want to go on a million first dates without really getting invested in anybody along the way.

So, five years later, I’m still on the online dating merry-go-round. Where it stops, nobody knows, but I’ll continue to enjoy the ride until it ends. And ultimately, being single for most of my 20s was probably for the best — dating continues to teach me a lot both about myself and about others, and it can be a lot of fun, at least until that day-after feeler text you sent with trepidation to the woman you enjoyed meeting last night receives no response. (I call this phenomenon getting “ghosted.”)

At that point, you can either nurse your bruised ego by deactivating the app and cashing out of the game, or you can keep on swiping in hopes things will turn our more favorably for you the next time.

I, for one, am a gambler. And while I still haven’t hit the jackpot, I at least have some good stories to share. Stay tuned!

Image credit: Chris Goldberg on Flickr


  1. Chuck says

    Sarah and I met via Ok Cupid 5 years ago and are still together….We’re both 45 (she is literally 2 days older than I)….I remember knowing about her profile but was a little put off by her photos, I was sitting at my favorite watering hole on a Saturday afternoon when I got the Iphone alert and smiled. I was single most of my 30’s just taking care of myself and enjoying life. When I got to 40, dating seemed to get easier, but I also had issues with people with technical insecurities (like getting broken up with via text with someone was not fun). But with work and the days getting shorter as you get older, online dating is fantastic, Without OKcupid, I would not have known that Sarah existed.

    P.S. There’s an interesting article on Ghosting in the New York Times…………

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