Like the Beautiful, love occurs in unexpected places, often not where it is being sought

Like the Beautiful, love occurs in unexpected places, often not where it is being sought

But we have been “test driving” something: a new, technological method of courtship. And although it is too soon to deliver a final verdict, it is clear that it is a method prone to serious problems. The efficiency of our new techniques and their tendency to focus on people as products leaves us at risk of understanding ourselves this way, too – like products with certain malfunctioning parts and particular assets. But products must be constantly improved upon and marketed. In the pursuit of love, and in a world where multiple partners are sampled before one is selected, this fuels a hectic culture of self-improvement – honing the witty summary of one’s most desirable traits for placement in personal advertisements is only the beginning.

Successful relationships are not immune to the over-sharing impulse, either; a plethora of wedding websites such as SharetheMoments and TheKnot offer up the intimate details of couples‘ wedding planning and ceremonies – right down to the brand of tie worn by the groom and the “intimate” vows exchanged by the couple

Our new technological methods of courtship also elevate efficient communication over personal communication. Ironically, the Internet, which offers many opportunities to meet and communicate with new people, robs us of the ability to deploy one of our greatest charms – nonverbal communication. The emoticon is a weak substitute for a coy gesture or a lusty wink. More fundamentally, our technologies encourage a misunderstanding of what courtship should be. Real courtship is about persuasion, not marketing, and the techniques of the laboratory cannot help us translate the motivations of the heart.

Today, men and women convene focus groups of former lovers to gain critical insights into their behavior so as to avoid future failure; and the perfection of appearance through surgical and non-surgical means occupies an increasing amount of people’s time and energy

The response is not to retreat into Luddism, of course. In a world where technology allows us to meet, date, marry, and even divorce online, there is no returning to the innocence of an earlier time. What we need is a better understanding of the risks of these new technologies and a willingness to exercise restraint in using them. For better or worse, we are now a society of sexually liberated individuals seeking “soul mates” – yet the privacy, gradualism, and boundaries that are necessary for separating the romantic wheat from the chaff still elude us.

Perhaps, in our technologically saturated age, we would do better to rediscover an earlier science: alchemy. Not alchemy in its original meaning – a branch of speculative philosophy whose devotees attempted to create gold from base metals and hence cure disease and prolong life – but alchemy in its secondary definition: “a power or process of transforming something common into something precious.” From our daily, common interactions with other people might spring something precious – but only if we have the patience to let it flourish. Technology and science often conspire against such patience. Goethe wrote, “We should do our utmost to encourage the Beautiful, for the Useful encourages itself.” There is an eminent usefulness to many of our technologies – e-mail and cell phones allow us to span great distances to communicate with family, friends, and lovers, and the Internet connects us to worlds unknown. But they are less successful at como vocГЄ consegue uma noiva por correspondГЄncia sem ir para o paГ­s encouraging the flourishing of the lasting and beautiful. It can flourish only if we accept that our technologies and our science can never fully explain it.

More thoughtful chroniclers of the institution’s demise have noted the cultural and technological forces that challenged courtship in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, eroding the power of human chaperones, once its most effective guardians. As Leon Kass persuasively argued in an essay in The Public Interest, the obstacles to courtship “spring from the very heart of liberal democratic society and of modernity altogether.” The automobile did more for unsupervised sexual exploration than many technologies in use today, for example, and by twentieth century’s end, the ease and availability of effective contraceptive devices, especially the birth control pill, had freed men and women to pursue sexual experience without the risk of pregnancy. With technical advances came a shift in social mores. As historian Jacques Barzun has noted, strict manners gave way to informality, “for etiquette is a barrier, the casual style an invitation.”

That is – not reliable at all. What Google and other Internet search engines provide is a quick glimpse – a best and worst list – of a person, not a fully drawn portrait. In fact, the transparency promised by technologies such as Internet search engines is a convenient substitute for something we used to assume would develop over time, but which fewer people today seem willing to cultivate patiently: trust. As the single Manhattanite writing in the Observer noted, “You never know. He seemed nice that night, but he could be anyone from a rapist or murderer to a brilliant author or championship swimmer.”

And, if things go awry, there are an increasing number of revenge websites such as BadXPartners, which offers people who’ve been dumped an opportunity for petty revenge. “Create a comical case file of your BadXPartners for the whole world to see!” the website urges. Like the impulse to Google, the site plays on people’s fears of being misled, encouraging people to search the database for stories of bad exes: “Just met someone new? Think they are just the one for you? Well remember, they are probably someone else’s X…. Find out about Bill from Birmingham’s strange habits or Tracy from Texas‘ suspect hygiene. Better safe than sorry!”

One woman I interviewed, an attractive, successful consultant, tried online dating because her hectic work schedule left her little time to meet new people. She went to Match, entered her zip code, and began perusing profiles. She quickly decided to post her own. “When you first put your profile on Match,” she said, “it’s like walking into a kennel with a pork chop around your neck. You’re bombarded with e-mails from men.” She received well over one hundred solicitations. She responded to a few with a “wink,” an electronic gesture that allows another person to know you’ve seen their profile and are interested – but not interested enough to commit to sending an e-mail message. More alluring profiles garnered an e-mail introduction.

EHarmony’s insistence that the search for true love is no realm for amateurs is, of course, absurdly self-justifying. “You should realize,” their website admonishes, after outlining the “29 dimensions” of personality their compatibility software examines, “that it is still next to impossible to correctly evaluate them on your own with each person you think may be right for you.” Instead you must pay eHarmony to do it for you. As you read the “scientific” proof, the reassuring sales pitch washes over you: “Let eHarmony make sure that the next time you fall in love, it’s with the right person.”