The Economics of Dating, OKCupid Edition

When I started dating again this fall, I thought it might be a little like Downton Abbey, in that I’d be Lady Mary and I’d have multiple eligible bachelors competing for my attentions.

I mean, I knew it wouldn’t really be like that; I’ve dipped my toe into online dating before, and I am well aware of that When Harry Met Sally scene where Carrie Fisher says “tell me I’ll never have to be out there again,” because my goodness out there is awful, but! I am charming and successful and dad-gum delightful, and I live in a city that has more eligible men than women, thanks to the tech industry.

In fact, the Pew Research Center lists Seattle as the fifth best city for women to find marriageable men. (The fact that they phrase it that way, as if all the single ladies were on a mission to find! marriageable! men! hints at the larger cultural issues in play here.)

So there is no reason why I shouldn’t have multiple eligible bachelors eating out of my hand. I carry snacks in my purse, after all.

I tried Tinder first, 100% because of the “you can’t message each other until both of you opt in” feature. Swiped through everyone in about two weeks, and every week or so I swipe through the handful of people who just joined. There’s nothing quite like looking at the screen that reads “there is no one new around you” and interpreting it as “sorry, we tried everyone we had, guess you will never find love.”

So then I signed up for OKCupid.

The City of Seattle sets its current population at 640,500. The Pew Research Center claims there are 175,626 single men in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

OKCupid says I might like 84 of them.

I’m not even particularly picky, at least in my initial sort. I gave OKC a 10-year age range to work from. Seattle has a large polyamorous community, so specifying that you are only looking for monogamous relationships is a pretty significant filter. I did sort for people who didn’t currently have children, for a very selfish reason: I want to have the conversation about “what do we want our lives together to be,” not the conversation about how many of the decisions are already made. (I’m probably one of a minority of people for which the dating profile note “I own my own house” is a turnoff. I don’t want to move into somebody else’s home.)

So OKCupid gives me 84 people that might be a 90–99% match, and 128 people if I’m willing to ride more than 40 minutes on the bus for a date.

But then, of those 84 people, some of them might have marked “yes” on the “Would the world be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce?” question — yes, that is an actual OKCupid question, and you can see how they answer — and I have to say “well, not you then.”

And yes, I’ve gone on dates with matches in the 80th percentile, and even chatted with people who might only be a 70 percent match. (Turns out that “y’all got issues” tab is telling the truth.) I’ve redone the searches with less stringent filters, considered whether I could help someone come to the realization that it might be okay for people with low scores on a biased intelligence test to have children, wondered what would happen if I shifted one standard or another.

But from an economic perspective, it’s fascinating to see how I look at all of this not as an array of wonderful possibilities, but as a scarcity of options. It’s like when you’re shopping for a coat on Amazon; you have this vision of what you hope you’ll find, and then you see that there are only 10 coats in your price range, and suddenly you don’t want any of them. Or you’re nervous that you’ll buy one and it won’t fit, and then you’ll have to return it, and you’ll still be cold.

I don’t want dating to be economic. I want the look. The across-a-crowded-room thing where, six months later, it turns out you’re perfectly thrilled to meet someone’s children or put your toothbrush in their home, the one that they own that you’ll never be able to help decorate but it’s okay because that doesn’t matter anymore.

I don’t want the infinite possibilities of love to be presented to me as a selection of 84 guys, plus or minus a handful, but that’s where we are. If you want to play the dating game, you have to deal with reality. With the actual other person who might be wonderful if you got to know him, or with the realization that there might not be anyone right for you right now, or, over time and process of elimination, a little of both.

Or I could just sign up for another online dating site.


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