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How to lose a conversation

It all started with a boring night when I felt alone and wanted to explore the online dating market of fine young men. First, put the most attractive pictures of mine. Then created some witty jokes to impress people with my humor. Finally, threw some prompts to match people of similar interests. Done! Now, I am one of the commodities on the competitive dating and mating market.

Dating apps, such as Tinder and Bumble, are deemed to be unromanticizing love and relationships without the serendipitous encounters and with the myriad market-like pool of options. Everything there is transactional. The supply of potential catches has to reciprocate with the interests and standards of those who demand. In-real life, dating has to gain trust, matches only happen with mutual interests, and conversations require back and forth replies. 

The paradox of choice identifies the situations in which overwhelming presentation of choices confuses the choosers, which explains dating behaviors on online dating apps. Baffled with myriad options and incentivized to maximize gains, people can only make decisions based on comparable attributes such as good looks, flirty and catchy bios and sometimes one-word prompts of interests that seem impossible to be compressed into frugal descriptions. People’s dating tendencies nowadays are shaped by the hustling culture and crave for convenience and effortless perfection that are characteristic in commodity markets.

1. Red-flag picking and resistance

Smoking, mental issues, unemployment. All these traits, to particular users, seem to be huge red flags that would be exaggerated to destroy other positive traits, and just only one trait can have exorbitant deal-breaking power. Through just some photos and sayings, we can decide whether he will be a real catch or a scam prince charming. An article gives a litany of red flags for relationship seekers to notify, including asking too little or too many questions and having seemingly unrealistic dates. In the context of the tinder-swindle dating world, one cannot help but rely on their past-experience intuition and socially agreed notion of red flags. However, the stigmatization of universal red flags illustrates the commodification of relationships in which the imperfections of a human are now equated as the production errors that will make a product unsellable or harder to market.

2. Dependence on external characteristics

Let someone know your music taste so he or she can have a sense of who you are, and this somehow creates a prediction of a person’s personality. If you like old-vibe jazz, you probably are a museum connoisseur. If you listen to lo-fi music on Soundcloud, you must have a vintage decorated house. Dating app users become options to be placed on the stall among other alternatives and be picked up if the choosers and the potential catches “vibe.” The sense of “vibe” and “match” all depends on the first impression of occupations, humor or hobbies, which are often erroneous indicators of relationship compatibility. Among a thousand profiles, these comparable traits are the only tool for one to stand out, yet they only partially reflect their characters. Romantically speaking, shared political orientation does not ensure a relationship full of thought-provoking conversations if couples just want to reinforce their argument against each other. Economically speaking, the fact that people of similar socioeconomic background often date and marry each other worsens social inequalities. It is nothing wrong that we look for people in the same cluster, but that imposes a constraint on the already low possibility of picking a really fit partner that some crave on the hectic swiping tendencies of dating apps.

3. Focus on instant chemistry

The hustle and bustle culture creates a world revolving around instant love that transforms relationships into selecting and scouring for fine matches, which glorifies the effortlessness of “spark” chemistry that can cure every relationship issue. Displaying the most comparable, showable and impressionable traits of a person such as hobbies and occupations, the market of online dating drives people towards pivoting their love life around trivialities. Whether they are sexy and not too needy enough to spark the physique attraction. Whether they get the jokes and reply wittily with flirtatiousness. Whether they share similar perspectives on inequality and politics of minorities. Users are piqued by and focus more on immediately available cues that help create an illusory relationship based solely on chemistry. The mindset of now-or-never romantic captivation largely originates from the romanticized belief of true love, soulmate, the one that one is born for one and only one. But the expectation of an effortless, instantaneously hooked bond will deny people of the fine matches that are seemingly unworkable.

4. Fear of confrontation

The misgiving to one fine option arises from the variety of options presented by dating apps, prompting the question, “Will this be the best choice I can settle with?” Ghosting seems to be a common norm of the online dating culture. The term “ghosting” refers to when a person completely disappears amid ongoing expectation of the other about their response. In an attempt to avoid the responsibility of consoling the recipients’ emotional hardships, the ghosters decide to ignore uncomfortable feelings and shun confrontation, leaving the matches in ambiguity and insecurity. The context of online, without-face-to-face contact facilitates the process of come-and-go matching, including ghosting as a technique to do this. But the briefly bland relationships that have to end in an unnoticeable yet unexpected way characterize people as disposable, emotionless items in the market. The fear of confrontation now costs emotional uncertainty and the humiliation of the-one-to-be.


In the search for a promptly sparking, effortlessly working romance, we objectify people, and that will in return objectify us. No wonder why relationships are becoming ephemeral and idealized. Even though we are advanced with our Theory of Mind, we are, after all, not mind readers. Dating apps that promote instant matching exacerbates our ability to generate hypotheses of inner characters from the outward characteristics which are already heavily biased. How to lose a conversation is how social media, the mechanism of dating apps and people’s heuristic behavior are undermining the potential daters as mere items expected to perform their functions.

Chi Nghiem is a Duke Kunshan University second-year. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.

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