The idea of the dating market is appealing because a market is something a person can understand and try to manipulate. But fiddling with the inputs—by sending more messages, going on more dates, toggling and re-toggling search parameters, or even moving to a city with a better ratio—isn’t necessarily going to help anybody succeed on that market in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Last year, researchers at Ohio State University examined the link between loneliness and compulsive use of dating apps—interviewing college students who spent above-average time swiping—and found a terrible feedback loop: The lonelier you are, the more doggedly you will seek out a partner, and the more negative outcomes you’re likely to be faced with, and the more alienated from other people you will feel. This happens to men and women in the same way.
“We found no statistically significant differences for gender at all,” the lead author, Katy Coduto, said in an email. “Like, not even marginally significant.”
There may always have been a dating market, but today people’s belief that they can see it and describe it and control their place in it is much stronger. And the way we speak becomes the way we think, as well as a glaze to disguise the way we feel. Someone who refers to looking for a partner as a numbers game will sound coolly aware and pragmatic, and guide themselves to a more odds-based approach to dating. But they may also suppress any honest expression of the unbearably human loneliness or desire that makes them keep doing the math.