Looking for Love (In All the Virtual Places)

    After breaking up with his girlfriend, Wei-Li Tjong, a young New York attorney, set out to meet someone new. Instead of relying on introductions by friends or his professional contacts, Tjong did what increasing numbers of people his age are doing: He placed an Internet personal ad. Tjong's experience was chronicled in a recent article in The New York Times. His personal ad was posted, along with what he admits was a flattering photo, at one of the many Websites devoted to matchmaking. Within two months, Tjong went out with more than seventy women -- sometimes more than one a night. By his estimate, a third of these had "gone home with him," a euphemism for sex. Tjong's experience is hardly unique. One online dating site boasts more than 3 million ads. As the first generation of Americans who have grown up with e-mail and the Internet comes of age, those numbers can only go up. The spread of what the Times calls "hyperdating" is, according to Robert Rosenwein of Lehigh University, redefining our ideas about intimacy. Traditional dating was, in Rosenwein's words, "a very long process where you disclose things over time." Hyperdating speeds things up considerably, to say the least. Rosenwein's assessment is right on the mark, but the ability to do instant couple-matching and mating raises important questions. If the article is correct about the way that technology is shaping people's expectations, then we're trading something very important for the convenience provided by technology. For starters, notice how many of the girls Tjong hooked up with -- and, yes, sadly that's the right phrase -- had sex with him on their first and only date. Hyperdating may claim to be about relationships, but judging by the facts, it's largely about casual, meaningless sex. Even more troubling is how unromantic this kind of experience is. In the hyperdating world, people are commodities. It requires strategic planning, a flair for marketing, and cold calculation to stand out in the sea of personal ads. This is dehumanizing -- self as commodity -- and not that different from the way that we market consumer goods. It has nothing to do with building lasting relationships. And it certainly has nothing to do with intimacy. Hyperdating lacks the patience required to truly know a person. Because of this, hyperdating is a pale imitation of true romantic love, which, as C. S. Lewis wrote, is a foretaste of the love of God. In The Four Loves, Lewis wrote that, in romantic love, we place the other person's interest at the center of our being. We love that one special person as we love ourselves. But to do that requires an investment of ourselves, including our time, and that leaves us vulnerable. But as Lewis put it, "The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell" -- or, in this case, the hyperdating scene. It's not because the desire for companionship is wrong, but because the way in which it is pursued robs it of intimacy -- the very thing that makes companionship and dating desirable in the first place. For further reading: C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (Harvest Books, December 1971). Warren St. John, "Young, Single and Dating at Hyperspeed," The New York Times, 21 April 2002.


Chuck Colson


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