A friend once lamented that finding a match was very inefficient. "Why can't we just meet, lay it all on the table right away, and get down to business?" she asked. Not coincidentally, my friend is an engineer.
In this era of smartphone apps and web sites that do everything but brush our teeth for us (and I'm sure Google is working on that problem), we've become used to well-designed and efficient tools. Our adoption of them has moved so fast that we sometimes forget that forming human connections is messy, inefficient and unpredictable. That's what makes it frustrating and rewarding at the same time.
- You don't know exactly who's going to be at the party.
- You don't know who will catch your eye.
- You don't know their mood, interest level, whether they just got a promotion at work or had an argument with their boss. That is, until you ask.
You have imperfect information. You can't put the party in to a spreadsheet, apply formulas, run analyses. Well, you could, but while you're doing that, your shy friend Roger over there by the bookshelf will be making headway with the Bolivian grad student who represents row 13 in your party matrix. In other words, if you spend too much time analyzing what's happening, you'll miss the experience of what's happening.
Online dating seems efficient one day, pointless the next
Meanwhile, if you return home from the party without a single phone number, don't despair. Online dating can seem very efficient by comparison. If you live in a sizeable city, you'll find hundreds or even thousands of potential matches. If you use OKCupid (my favorite site), you benefit from their serious data geeks. OKCupid tries to make forming human connections easier and more efficient.
On one level, it makes it easier to filter out potential deal-breakers (smoking, incompatible politics, religion, philosophy); it provides a more civilized option to noisy bars and clubs. Yet here, where men send about ten times as many messages as women, you're competing with a lot of other guys. And that narrows your options quite a bit.
OKCupid, for all its number crunching, can only make the introduction. Some weeks you could find yourself overwhelmed with positive responses to your messages, others with no response at all. Either way, don't expect efficiency, like booking a flight with Hipmunk or organizing your music with iTunes. The women you meet on online are exactly the same ones out there in your real world: the shy woman at the cooking supply store; the tall, tattooed one in your volleyball league; the book nerd at your campus library. You're still dealing with human beings, and we're unpredictable, flaky, moody, difficult, and also great fun.