I Just Figured Out Why Online Dating Doesn’t Work

Jennie Young
6 min readFeb 11, 2019

Basically, we’re doing it wrong. We’re all being selfish.

Photo by David Suarez on Unsplash

For my day job, I analyze rhetoric. I even wrote a textbook on “critical discourse analysis,” and if you don’t think THAT’s a great topic for chatting up the guys on eHarmony, well . . . you’d be correct.

I signed up more out of curiosity than anything else; it was 50% peer pressure from my girlfriends and 50% academic inquiry. I’m not opposed to meeting someone, but I also wanted to mine the rhetoric so that I could create an “online dating decoder key” for other women (as in, “I’m looking for a woman who is passionate and giving” really just means “I want sex.” Decoder key to be published in an upcoming article).

I immediately ran into the typical crazies and the so-cliched-it’s-boring chauvinists (“I’m looking for a slim and trim woman who keeps a beautiful home.” That’s an actual quote. From 2019), but for the most part, I ran into a bunch of normal-seeming men who wanted to tell me all about themselves and their jobs and their hobbies and their hopes and their dreams and yet never seemed to even wonder about any of these things as they might relate to me. Weird.

At first, I was merely annoyed by this. I mean, it’s a cultural refrain, right? Men like to talk about themselves. But it was nearly ALL of them. I know a lot of men in real life, and yes, there are a few who present in person the ways these guys present online, but it’s certainly not anywhere close to one hundred percent of the men I know.

So I’ve been thinking about this, from an analytical perspective, and I think I’ve got it.

When we encounter someone in real life to whom we are attracted, the connection is sparked by something about them. It could be purely physical appearance, but often it’s something more. It’s a collection of mannerisms, or a display of kindness, or an air of mystery, or a killer sense of humor. Our curiosity is piqued by that one thing, and then we want to know more, so we ask. And so it begins.

When we join an online dating platform, we come at it from an entirely selfish position: I’m lonely, I’m bored, I’m broke, I want this and this and this and this . . .

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Jennie Young

Professor and humor writer in Green Bay. McSweeney’s, The Independent, HuffPost, Ms. Mag, Education Week, Inside Higher Ed, Slackjaw, Weekly Humorist, others.