This morning I read an amazing piece in the Huffpo which literally blew my mind. I honestly feel compelled to write the author, send her gifts and promise her the proceeds of my estate after I am gone (aka 1 x 9.5 ft chesterfield sofa and one slightly stinky dog). She not only encapsulated the trouble with dating online in a novel and unique way, but it caused me to think about why I’ve really struggled to date in the US and honestly whether what I’m doing is actually worth it.
The essence of her piece is jam. Yes, jam. Not a product I’ve usually associated with dating (sex on the other hand…?) but it works. Ok, its actually about the paradox of choice, but I like the jam analogy which goes as follows;
“Science now tells us that if you put out 24 jams for people to sample, rather than 6, people will buy less jam. The presentation of more choice essentially leads us to believe that somewhere, out there, exists the perfect jam for us..so we find it really difficult to choose and often just walk away.” – Barry Schwartz
Transitioning from jam to men.. and the perp roll that is Match.com and suddenly, the last 7 years is completely explained. There are simply too many men out there to choose one.. at least beyond a first or second or third date. And they keep coming up with more flavors.
I recently updated my profile and posted what is probably the best photo I’ve had taken in the last 30 years. The result has been a lot of email. Ok, largely from the over 55 crowd (why? why?) but still, facing 30 emails in my inbox is daunting. This guy is the right age but he has a really big head. This one has 3 kids (yikes) but sounds really thoughtful and writes beautifully. This guy, wayyy too old, that one Hmmmm.. seems good but he sounds a little hung up on the ex. Result? I ignore all of them. And yet, from those emails, there is probably at least 1 or 2 I would really enjoy spending time with. But finding them amongst the noise of 30 emails?
Now back in the UK in the 1990s, we were still (mainly) unconnected via internet and cellphones were for phone conversations. You met people through friends, through work or people you met while waiting for the bus. Your ‘jam’ selection was pretty limited. So you reviewed your options, discarded the mentally challenged, the drunks, the partnered and were probably left with 2 or 3 options who found you attractive and who you could picture naked without getting grossed out. Which made dating really easy. You picked one and if that one didn’t work out – his hobbies included lining up the tins in the cupboard, he had his head up his butt – you had another 2 to work with. And today, even though there’s Match.co.uk and texting and all of the crap we have in the US, .. there’s still less jam to choose from.
Fast forward to today. I now live in a metro area of roughly 2 million people (and that’s not even a big city for the US) of which maybe a third are single. Of those, maybe a third are on some kind of dating site. Ruling out the terminally obese, the socially awkward and those in AARP, that’s still a heck of a lot of jam. Add in people who live outside that area – even just 30 or 50 miles – and the jam selection gets even bigger. No wonder online dating is a mess.. its like a warehouse of jam.
So as you wander the aisles of this jam warehouse, pick something that looks interesting, you can’t ever forget that there’s eleventy million other people out there who might also be interesting.. and a few of them are actively shouting at you to buy them. Which can make you suddenly very selective about that jam you’re buying.
‘Maybe its too sweet?’
‘I think its a little too pricey for my taste’
‘I love it, but god, its really drippy on toast’
‘I’m sort of craving raspberry but I know I get bored of it after a while’
‘I’m a Nutella girl all the way.. only Nutella.. where’s the Nutella?’
Now I’m old enough to know that I don’t need or want the perfect jam and I certainly am not willing to spend the rest of my life researching jams to find it.. but it is starting to feel that way sometimes. Even when I’m looking really hard, there’s just too much on the shelf. Some of its dusty (but might be really yummy), some of it sounds awful (bilberry?) but would really blow my mind and some is just Smuckers Strawberry. Which to be honest, I will eat and enjoy every time. They all have their positive attributes.. so how do you ever pick one?
Which is to say, I’m not sure that reviewing profiles or assessing attributes over these last few months on Match.com has actually landed me anywhere. I still can’t pick a jam I like, no matter how much I try new things, use different selection criteria or give it a go. I might automatically disregard that jam with the backwards baseball cap in his photo or the 3 kids and be totally missing a gem. Just because it says organic and sugar free doesn’t mean I’m going to like the taste after a few weeks. If only there were less to choose from.
So today I probably just should approach the next friendly looking guy I meet (without a wedding ring) and ask him out. He might be Smuckers, he might be Organic Apricot and Walnut.. but he’s still jam and my toast needs something on it. And I am over shopping for damn jam.