Roach: From the Pill to Tinder

Not since the Pill has something changed the...
Roach: From the Pill to Tinder
Roach: From the Pill to Tinder

The scene is a family wedding. The young and old are gathered to wish the happy couple the very best.

At the lively reception–a whirlwind of emotion, sound and joy–the conversation at our table turns to the love lives of the single young adults seated with us.

And the big question seems to be: Tinder or Match.com?

All of the twenty- and thirty-somethings here have dabbled in online dating, a modern phenomenon alien to many of the previous generations. Some have found sweethearts. Many of their friends have found marriage partners.

Not since the Pill has something changed the American romantic landscape in such stunning fashion.

Lest we forget, the birth control pill was truly revolutionary (even for Catholics). With the simple daily ingestion of this miracle drug, the likelihood and willingness to become pregnant could now be managed. By women.

This small pill has had astounding ramifications. First, it boldly presented the notion that women might want to have sex for reasons other than procreation.

Imagine that.

The Pill also profoundly changed marriage. Women could now delay childbearing and pursue careers. Women developed careers so successful or necessary it sent many of them back to work after childbirth, thus changing the way we raise our kids.

And the Pill made families smaller. In the near-west-side Madison neighborhood in which I was raised, there were families with eight, eleven and thirteen children. Kids had astounding independence simply because there were too many of us to monitor. A “helicopter parent” meant your dad was a pilot.

Today, families of that size are nearly extinct.

And now comes another revolution in mating in the form of digital dating. Rather than meeting at school, work, church or in a bar, young singles, and more adventurous older ones, can meet on their computers, phones and iPads via dating sites, augmented by texting, Snapchat, FaceTime and just about any app that lets people communicate.

What are we to think of this? On the plus side, the web allows you to research your dates. You can run CCAP reports to see if there are any felonies in their past. You can check them out via Facebook and Twitter to make sure they aren’t married. You can add qualifiers to your potential mates on the dating apps, thus reducing the number you want to audition, all while casting a much wider net than you could in your town a generation ago.

And then after meeting via app, texting and FaceTime, you can actually rendezvous in a physical place and stand in actual proximity to this person to determine if this real human being is anything like the virtual one you presume to know.

It is easy for an older generation to be cynical about such things, but I know too many young people who have found love this way to scoff at it. And why should we?

Why should the unrelenting drive for most humans to engage in pair bonding be limited to the people who just so happen to live in your town, go to your school or work at the same place as you? From a purely scientific standpoint, this old model severely limits how many you choose to swim with in the gene pool.

But what is most striking is the issue of control. In the past, true love seemed like happenstance–a lightning bolt, parental wishes or simple comfort over time. But now it is a thoughtful, exacting search, with specific criteria communicated to the world as to who might interest you.

And it causes you to ponder, as Aziz Ansari has done in his book, Modern Romance, that Millennial singles may now have too many options, paralyzing romance for a generation.

Of course, there will always be those who will want to kick it old school by quaffing three beers and mustering the courage to wander up to that cute one and start a conversation.

But no matter the method, it is remarkable, even beautiful, to see how humans work so hard to invent so many intriguing ways that just might allow them to meet the person they can love.

For we all are driven, not just to procreate, but to find that someone to share our bed each night, perhaps forever, as we seek shelter from the storm.

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