Online Dating Markets: Are They Inherently Toxic?

Although it may not sound romantic, Nobel Prize Winner economist Al Roth describes dating in quite intellectually stimulating terms: A two-sided matching market where two agents actively evaluate each other in the context of other people and match only if both agents mutually agree on it. 

As intriguing as this may sound to those who enjoy geeking out on social sciences, adoption of such a commodified understanding of dating by human agents themselves has the potential to be toxic. This is evident in today’s online dating scene where we, as human beings looking for love, become agents with market values attached to ourselves. We swipe through endless options and shop for love. When we buy into such a material notion, we start looking for ways to increase our value for matches that are considered higher in value in comparison to other agents. In a world where we put constant effort into bettering ourselves, we end up doing the same in our love lives. 

On one hand, this may be self-serving — striving for universally attractive qualities such as being good-looking, confident, and competent isn’t an inherently negative thing to do. On the other hand, adoption of such a mindset never ceases to remind us that we are not enough as we are. In the context of relationships, feelings of validation and acceptance are essential to the formation of intimacy and trust; however, such a reminder only makes things trickier for anyone that hopes to find love in online dating platforms.

The question, then, becomes whether it is possible to utilize this economic notion in a way that does not result in toxic outcomes and is more conducive to facilitating close relationships between people. Is it really possible to participate in a dating market yet avoid its toxicity? 

Imagine a scenario in which the market is capable of deciding who the best match for everyone is. This would be a scenario where, instead of shopping for love and constantly competing with others to maximize one’s own market value, all the participating agents would present themselves as they are and let the market tell them who they would be the most compatible with. 

This requires a thorough understanding of what makes one person more compatible with someone else, as well as an understanding of the cognitive & behavioral principles that are helpful to the formation of intimacy and attraction. This is the challenge that the Relationship Psychology Team at Marriage Pact is currently undertaking — Revolting against the toxicity of relationshopping with fun, insightful, and research-backed questions.