The Economics of Modern Love

I remember in winter of 2017 I walking around Brooklyn with my friend Enya, an African-American beauty and a student taking her Master’s at NYU.

Our topic quickly shifted from our own affairs to others, and we talked about old friends and their new relationships. I recounted to her how two of my friends back in Asia, an Indian guy and a Chinese girl, are getting married this year through separate cases of arranged marriages.

“That’s horrible!” Enya responded almost instinctively. “Why would that still exist in today’s time? To rob individuals of their personal choice?”

It does sound horrible on the onset. In the west, it is universal for people to have the freedom to choose their partners. It is believed that people have enough common sense to choose who is best for them.

I begged to differ, and responded to my friend. “You know, maybe if my family chose my partner, I would’ve been better off.”

Enya looked at me absurdly like I was some imbecile stuck in the 19th century. I shrugged, because I really believed the seemingly unlimited choices is making me more miserable.

I am suddenly given the open space to see what’s out there and to make my own choices on who to date. However, I wasn’t better off in the love department; to the point of becoming cynical.

Dating in this modern era is suddenly a spectrum of labels that were once just black-and-white. There are now inexhaustible ways on how to define heterosexual partners who get together: casually dating, “just hanging out,” laissez-faire, FWBs, cuddle buddies, hotline blings, one-sided relationships, on-again, off-again, zip code affairs, and a recent favorite: “we’re-exes-but-still-live-together-because-rent-in-New-York-is-too-damn-expensive.”

Choices make us more miserable

Now we have more freedom to choose what we want. There are now millions of free apps to download, there are now a dozen variety of bananas to choose from, an endless pool of dates to kill time with.

1. Paradox of Choice

In 2000 a study was conducted where they displayed 24 jam varieties vs. 6 jam varieties in different tables. Results show that shoppers were more stressed out in making buying decisions with 24 varieties versus just six, and it showed in the sales: the 24 samples drew in a larger crowd, but only 3% of shoppers actually purchased the jam, while in the table with 6 jams, 30% of shoppers did.

Sounds like a first world problem, agreed. However, the study gave us a glimpse on the bigger problem at hand: choice makes us more miserable. More options are overwhelming, and psychologists have a term for it: the famous ‘paradox of choice’, resulting in choice paralysis.

I mean, how many times have we scanned movie titles on Netflix, only to declare, ‘There’s nothing to watch!

Modern dating has now become a seemingly endless conveyor belt of choice, but has it made us better decision makers? The supply has become so big and the incentive to choose has become so small.

2. Buyer’s Remorse

When one does match and hit it off with someone and *finally* decide to go on an actual date, one is hit with ‘buyer’s remorse’, even if the date ended up really well. In modern dating, everyone is aware that there are a lot of options waiting in queue.

We often end up thinking: ‘Sure, X seems great. But what if I can find someone better / hotter / richer? Maybe I should check Tinder again and find him!’

3. Social Costs (or lack thereof)

Manners have gone out the window because there are no more social costs. People are treated like commodities, where you can just dump them irregardless of their feelings.

Technology has created a blanket of security for people; the internet has given the impression that we are safe behind the screen to say whatever, do whatever, and be whatever.

Hence, ‘ghosting’ has become a popular phenomenon, because honesty can get messy and confrontations can get ugly. Plus, if there is little to no social costs, why deal with that?

He or she was just a Tinder match, anyway–one can always find a new one and open the app on the subway on the way back home.

What then?

In the lens of economics, Tinder and modern dating seem bad for society. The human brain is simply not capable of processing a vast array of choices. There’s just too much clutter out there, too much baggage from others that you have to handle.

Marie Kondo would be proud to see her cleaning philosophy applied to my relationship philosophy: Simplify. Throw out contacts you don’t need. Keep only the ones that spark joy in your life.

And that’s how you say Goodbye to Tinder.

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