“If you didn’t talk about poo, that would be a great start.” That was the recommendation of one woman to her dinner companion on the British hit show, “First Dates,” which is coming to the US on Friday. Produced by Ellen DeGeneres and narrated by Drew Barrymore, the show films couples in a restaurant — all on blind dates — and then later asks them about their experiences and whether they would like to go out again.
Some of these dates are funny, some are cute, but most are simply painful to watch — as was the case with the former Army guy who couldn’t stop swearing, wondering aloud about the color of his date’s hair (the ones not on her head) and discussing how the taste of semolina reminds him of, well, poo. These dates are not just a reminder that people can be obnoxious, but also that we have wildly different standards for how to behave on a date. It also illuminates how hard it really is to find the right person. Dating today is hard, and it’s getting harder.
While the folks orchestrating “First Dates” may have a devilish streak, for the most part they actually put together people of similar ages and similar socioeconomic backgrounds, even a few with similar interests. In other words, it sure beats trying to meet someone at a bar. Online dating might seem like it would work better, but it’s actually worse.
While the latter seems to open up a whole new world of possibilities — just think of all the people you can swipe through in a few minutes compared to how long it would take to encounter each of them in person — the truth is it gives the impression that there are always other (read, better) fish in the sea.
According to a 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center, about one in 10 Americans has tried online dating. But “even among Americans who have been with their spouse or partner for five years or less, fully 88 percent say that they met their partner off-line — without the help of a dating site.”
Some people complain that the problem with online dating is that it’s superficial, which is why so many people lie in their profile or put up pictures that are a decade old.
But the real problem with meeting people online is actually the same as meeting people in a bar — there is no context. As Beth, now married to someone she met through former work colleagues, told me about her past online experience: “It was hard to start from simply “we’re both single” as the only common ground.
There’s no background. So in addition to “could I see myself with this person?” you’re also asking “Is this person a criminal?” She recalls once going out with a professional poker player. “I think he liked me, and I might have liked him if I knew his sister or a friend of a friend. As it was, ‘professional gambler’ raised red flags.”
We used to meet potential romantic partners at school, in our home communities or at our religious institutions. (Ann Landers’ rules for “husband hunting” began with “You probably won’t find Mr. Right in a bar. Try grocery stores, church, where you work or through a friend.”) But now, as we are marrying later, we are less likely to meet our mate in college (let alone high school), in our hometown grocery store or in our faith communities (the older we are when we get married, the more likely we are to marry someone of another religion).
And what do we know about someone we meet on Tinder or eHarmony? The problem is not that he or she might be a serial killer. The problem is that we have a completely different perspective from one another. We have wildly inconsistent expectations, and without any context it’s hard to sort people out.
Every morning, the radio station 95.5 WPLJ plays a game called “Blown Off,” in which the hosts call a person who has “gone ghost” after a date, leaving the other person bewildered about the reasons why things didn’t work out. (Usually, the people have met online or in a bar.) Putting aside the absurd idea that getting them on the radio is going to resolve the situation happily, these calls are actually very instructive.
In one episode a man didn’t want to see a woman again because he found out on the date that she was married (but had an open relationship). In another, a woman decided against seeing a guy who was 30 years old and had never paid taxes or had a bank account. A man couldn’t imagine going on a second date after he heard the woman in question make racist remarks. There was even a gay man who decided he didn’t want to continue the relationship after the other man suggested they get a room in the hotel where they had met for drinks. He told the hosts: “I don’t do that on the first date!”
It all makes for great radio and entertaining television. But as a way to find a real relationship, modern dating leaves much to be desired.