It's a Fish-Eat-Fish World: Bringing 'Courtship' into Online Dating

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Dating. There's an app for that.

Thousands of apps, actually. And it's not a new concept.

eHarmony's "A History of Online Dating" shows that online dating websites have existed for more than two decades—Match.com was the first, in 1995—and location-based dating apps exploded like tinder in 2012. Literally like Tinder: 2012 was that app's official launch.

Suddenly, the sea expanded, and it was stocked with plenty of fish.

Maybe too many fish.

With thousands of potential mates to choose from—at your very fingertips—first impressions gained entirely new importance. Deciding whether someone was worth your time became as simple as swiping right or left based on—at most—a few photos and a sprinkle of facts like "loves Taco Tuesday" and "gold medalist in Netflix binging" or something intimidating like "runs a marathon *at least* once a year."

The average user might approach online dating with an air of hope and expectation. It works for some people.

For others, it's a slog. Along with thousands of fish in the sea comes what psychology and business refer to as "the paradox of choice"—the idea that when there are too many options, people are more likely to choose nothing at all. In online dating, that might mean a year of unanswered messages or a year of first dates with 25 different people.

No wonder people don't take online dating seriously. And if they do, they probably don't for long. In the article "The Rise of Dating-App Fatigue," Julie Beck notes that one user once used the apps to find dates, but now only uses as a form of entertainment when he's bored or standing in lines.

Dating has never been easy. It is easy to romanticize the past, but even during the two-straws-in-a-milkshake days, finding and getting to know someone took time and effort. Bad dates, disappointment and rejection existed, then as they do now.

But today, with the rampant use of dating websites and apps, "something" has changed.

Kimberly Kanoza, Executive Director of Matchmaker Michigan, a personalized professional matchmaking service based in Grand Rapids, believes that "something" is courtship.

"We've lost it. We lost it a long time ago. I think so many people, because of our fast-paced lives, look for the quick fix. They don't want to spend time because it's too much work, because of fears of rejection. They're settling for a relationship of convenience."

Matchmaker Michigan has been serving Michigan for 30 years, longer than any matchmaking service. Its clients, ranging in age from 18 to 92, all have at least two things in common:

1. They say who they say they are.
2. They're looking for what they say they're looking for.

"Online, there's no accountability," Kanoza said. "You can be who you want to be. You can say what you want to say. You can behave how you want to behave. Statistics-wise, it's kind of a crapshoot."

All the online dating horror stories—lies about age, weight and shared interests; catfishing; ghosting after weeks of communication; rude dine-and-dashing; hidden agendas and one-night stands; "sorry, not sorry, I've been seeing five other people" conversations—don't exist with Matchmaker Michigan. For one, they have a personal investigator. Also, Kanoza and her staff sit down with each client in person, interview them for their emotional health, and ban the use of text and e-mail. Clients are paired with one match at a time, and must call before meeting in person.

In today's society, we may balk at the term "courtship." It sounds a bit stiff and old-school, and it definitely sounds like a lot of effort and commitment for something that may not work out in the end.

For Matchmaker Michigan, "courtship" really does mean reinstating "old-school" values. Kanoza stipulates that men are expected to make the first move and pick up the tab for the first few dates, but notes this doesn't mean women can't do the same.

We're living in the age of Fourth-Wave Feminism, after all. You do you. Just be your best you. Because when Kanoza hashes courtship out a bit more, it really comes down to respect.

Getting to know the other person. Asking questions and not just talking about one's self. Being honest, but not being reckless with a conversation by unloading past relationship drama or arguing about politics or religion. Sure, past relationships and politics and faith are important topics to touch on—although maybe not during a first date.

It means giving people your time and attention.

With so many fish in the sea, people seek a perfect match—which sometimes makes men and women feel they're competing. Dating services, including Matchmaker Michigan, can't produce an ideal mate.

"People aren't manufactured," Kanoza said. No matter how polished the profile or picture, people have flaws and will continue to change, develop and grow. It takes more than one conversation to get to know someone and understand their potential.

Bringing courtship into online dating, or dating in general, requires time and attention. People aren't just swipes on a phone screen or a number in a series of bad dates. A strong internet connection doesn't guarantee a personal connection at first swipe. Online dating, like so many potentially good things, requires time and effort. The internet is an invention of convenience, but relationships are rarely convenient.

Not, at least, the ones that matter.

 Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.

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