There are more singles meeting and first dates happening than ever before. Tinder alone boasts of initiating 1.3 million dates a week. However, a higher quantity of dates means they vary widely in quality: For every story of a Tinder match resulting in marriage, there are many more Tinder nightmares. Where is the sense of luck in there? The meet-cute in online dating often goes like this: He stood out by seeming normal and not-creepy; we had a lot in common; we fell in love; the end. In other words: Lucky me, this person I met on the Internet wasn’t garbage. The outcome is positive, but the sense of awe is absent.
This ex and I didn’t meet online. We met briefly at an event but didn’t get a chance to exchange information. A few weeks later his boss happened to set us up after hearing each of us express, independently, that we were looking to meet someone. It’s the kind of meet-cute that feels rare in a swipe-right world.
After we broke up, I wondered: Would we have felt lucky to have met if an algorithm — rather than a circumstance plus a person — had put us in front of each other?
I like to think the answer is yes. That the relationship would’ve felt just as special and rare if we’d matched in a sea of singles rather than a mutual acquaintance’s Rolodex. That we would have treated each other, in the relationship and during the breakup, with the same amount of respect. After all, we are the same people regardless of how we met.
But my experience with online dating, and recent research about online vs. offline couples, indicates otherwise. A 2014 study, for example, found that couples meeting online are more likely to break up than those who were connected in real life. And then there’s the lack of accountability that anonymity enables: One of the most egregious breakups-by-email I’ve experienced was with someone I met online, with whom I had zero friends in common. Which also meant there was less social pressure to end things in a considerate way.
Though it didn’t work out with this most recent guy, did we try harder than we would have if we’d met online? Dating coach Laurie Davis says that online daters can be less willing to work through conflict. “Sometimes people try to make it work much less than they used to because of the quantity [of singles on dating apps and sites]. People see flaws and run.”
When she hears people mention the L-word, usually it’s along the lines of: “I feel so lucky to have met my husband before online dating.”
Or they feel lucky because, after a lot of trial and error that feels fruitless, they have some success. “Sometimes singles feel like they’re putting a ton of effort in and not getting a lot out of it,” Davis says, “then suddenly they meet someone and it feels easy and they call it luck.”
Davis thinks this isn’t luck so much as it is the product of hard work, of singles creating momentum in their dating lives. She likens dating momentum to the process of losing weight. “It’s easy to say ‘I want to lose 10 pounds,’ ” she says. “But you’re not creating any momentum until you get off the couch, prepare your meals rather than eat out and get to the gym.”
Singles might join a dating app or two; take new photos; read up on dating; go out with bad matches just to get practice getting out there. Most important, Davis says, is for singles to focus on the relationship they have with themselves.
“Sometimes I think that luck is often the culmination of the momentum that might not have been conscious momentum that you tried to create, but you did. So it feels like luck.”