I’m not sure that dating has ever been easy – but it sure seems to have gotten harder during our lifetime.

Blame who you want, but I can’t help but notice a correlation between the dating scene getting exponentially worse and the ubiquity of smartphones. I could wax poetic, but instead I’ll just whine economic: In the dating pool, like in anything else, an increase in supply causes equilibrium price to fall.

In other words: When the sexual supply chain is flooded, it cheapens the product. And unfortunately in this case study, the product is human hearts.

Dating Apps and the Paradox of Choice

Between dating apps, social media, and the availability of online pornography, there are endless options for immediate sexual, emotional, and social gratification. While you might think that the excess of options provides total freedom and even empowers daters to make the best romantic selections, it actually leads to something researchers call “the paradox of choice”.

There are a number of studies by psychologists and economists on why having too many choices debilitates us. The most famous is a 2000 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark Lepper entitled ”When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?”

Basically, the researchers set up their experiment in a grocery store. On the first day, they arranged a very attractive offering of twenty-four jams and on the second day, they offered a much more humble display of only six jams. While the twenty-four jam display attracted more traffic and overall attention than the six jam display, those who had stopped by the big display only purchased one-tenth of the jams purchased by those who saw the smaller display.

The researchers concluded that while options are exciting and enticing, they actually prevent us from purchasing. An excess of options also often leads to a lower level of satisfaction – even if we do make a purchase – because we can’t help but wonder if we left something better on the shelf.

From Endless Options to Exhaustion

I wonder if you’ve already experienced this first hand in the world of dating apps – because I sure have. Maybe your story went something like this:

You got your heart broken and downloaded a dating app. It was fun for about 20 minutes. A quick hit of dopamine came from realizing that strangers find you attractive (that’ll show your ex!) and then – the high faded. And you’re stuck in the romantic multiverse, where you could choose to date any one or two or two-hundred of an endless number of strangers. That’s the part when you became overwhelmed, exhausted, and honestly a little turned off. 

You jumped in the online dating pool, splashed around for a second, and then drowned in all your options.

Have Dating Apps Made Dating More Difficult?

None of this is meant to negate or deny the many beautiful, successful relationships that started on dating apps. I’m not suggesting that their destination is any less beautiful than the next couple’s. What I am saying is that, as a society and a culture, our attempt at a dating shortcut might be adding unnecessary difficulty to our journey.

Because screens aren’t really that sexy, are they? Even a swipe from the hottest of internet strangers can’t hold up to that magic coffee shop moment when an actual human chances eye contact and a smile at you before nervously looking back down at their laptop.

Not to take the romance out of it, but that feeling in your tummy when you see your coffee shop crush start to pack up their bags and get ready to leave the coffee shop – that feeling of, “Should I ask for their number?” isn’t butterflies.

That’s supply and demand doing what it’s supposed to do: Allowing scarcity to act as a motivator, and thus increasing the perceived worth of your latte lover.

Clare McCallan

Clare McCallan is a spoken word artist whose work focuses on the intersection of virtue and adventure. She has completed two North American poetry tours, performing at universities, churches, and community centers. She is the author of two books, “STATIONS” and “MANGERS”. In 2022, she began co-hosting CatholicTV’s morning show, “This is the Day” and the Bleav Network’s “Crushed The Podcast”. She has been selected for and completed two artist residencies, at the Grunewald Guild (Washington, 2020) and Gamli Skoli (Iceland, 2022). Clare is currently serving as the Creative Director of St. Joseph’s Home for Artisans, a Catholic artist residency in the North End of Boston.

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