Why The Modern Dating Scene Is A Nightmare

We’re at the point where a quarter of Americans have never been married by the time they reach the age of 40.

Justin Case. Getty Images. intense portrait of a thoughtful woman
Justin Case. Getty Images.

In what has become something of a monthly tradition on social media, two videos have gone viral featuring young women distraught over their inability to find a man who they consider worthy.

A week ago it was this woman, expressing her deep frustrations. Listen: 

Even though I may be, infamously, a Grinch whose heart is three times too small, even I will say that I feel truly bad for this young lady and the loneliness she’s experiencing. You’d have to be a sociopath to not feel bad for her, and despite popular misconceptions, I am not actually a sociopath. It is a sad story, as this woman discovers that it is hard to be happy — impossible, really — if you do not have someone to share your happiness with. 

She says that she’s worked on herself and done everything she can to make herself desirable. Part of the problem, of course, is that some of the things she highlights will have no effect, either way, on making her more desirable to men. For instance, no man cares whether a woman is successful or “independent.” There has never been a man in the history of the world who has left a first date and said, “Wow, she’s great. She’s so successful and so independent.” Those are not the characteristics that a man is looking for. They certainly won’t be at the top of the list. I don’t point this out to pick on her. There’s a point here that we’ll return to in a moment. 

First let’s watch a snippet of the next video with the same theme. This is a woman named Anya who is also lonely and looking for love, so far unsuccessfully:


That’s the beginning and end of the video. In the middle Anya tells a truly mortifying story about showing up to an event at a comedy club where there’s supposed to be other singles that she can meet. She sits all the way in the front row where the other singles are supposed to be. But to her horror, no one else shows up. The rest of the crowd is made up of groups and couples, all sitting several rows back. She’s now alone in the front, with every comic who comes on stage pointing out that she’s alone and in the front. The event ends with the MC handing her a gift bag to congratulate her for being brave. Really the worst case scenario when you show up to a place like that by yourself.

I can remember once when I was single many years ago going to see a movie by myself. Part of me worried that the theater manager would come into the room, stop the film, point to me and say, “Attention everyone. This guy here is alone. Look at this alone guy please and feel sorry for him.”

That didn’t happen, and probably was never very likely to happen. But something like that really did happen to this poor woman. For that she has all of our sympathy. Doubly so in this case, because she is actually trying to meet someone outside of the dating apps. She is attempting to form a connection out in the real physical world. And this is how it worked out.

It’s not just women having these problems, obviously. In fact, one guy replied to this video with his own story. He posted:

“My app experience: I’m 6’2, 205 pounds. All my hair/teeth. Fit; decently ok looking. Retired veteran with full benefits. My own place at the beach. My own business. In 3 years on dating apps i matched w/tons of chicks. Maybe 3 willing to meet in person. Never went anywhere. I love doing outdoors activities; mountains/oceans. wasn’t into texting endlessly. I’d match and say hello and ask if they wanted to grab a drink. 90% of the time I’d never even hear back; including the ones who liked me first.”

So, a financially stable man in good physical shape. Yet he’s meeting on average one woman a year, and none of those connections have led to anything. On paper, there’s no reason why he should struggle this much to find a woman. Just as, on paper, there’s no reason the women in those videos should struggle to find men. But here they are. And here are so many other young people (and not so young people) in similar situations.

By now, we are all familiar with the statistics. Fewer young adults are in relationships, fewer are getting married and fewer are having kids. More of them are remaining single than ever before. While people of all ages report record levels of loneliness. People of all ages are also struggling to meet romantic partners.

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A Pew analysis published in 2021 found that nearly 40% of adults between the ages of 25 and and 54 are “unpartnered” — meaning they are living without a spouse or live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. That’s a 10% increase just from 1990. And the trend has only continued over the past three years. We’re at the point where a quarter of Americans have never been married by the time they reach the age of 40.

Many other statistics, which we’ve discussed many times on this show, bear this out. These are not just the anecdotal experiences of random people on TikTok. This is a real culture-wide phenomenon that they have found themselves caught up in.

So, what’s going on? There are several major factors. Some of them I’ve discussed before, but let’s lay them out again in one list.

First, many people are waiting too long to get serious about getting married. The lie that my generation was sold, and that the generation right after mine was also sold, is that your 20s — the first decade of adulthood — is a time to be aimless and lazy and selfish and focused primarily on recreation and pleasure. This is totally backwards. That stage of life, if it comes at all, should be on the back-end, not the front. That’s what your 70s can be about, not your 20s. It’s never good to live a selfish life. But if you work hard and have success and manage to retire comfortably, then in your 70s and 80s you can live a life of leisure where every day is focused mostly on recreation. Young adulthood should be a time where your youthful energy is directed towards building the foundations of a happy and successful life. For most people, marriage should be a part of that foundation. It should be the cornerstone, not the capstone, of adulthood.

But most people waste that time, and reject anything that reeks of responsibility, and then they get into their 30s and start to look around and realize that they haven’t even begun to build a life for themselves yet. Meanwhile the younger people who actually want to get married and start families have trouble finding someone their age willing and suited for it, because most of their peers have bought into the idea that young adulthood is not a time for that sort of thing.

Second, there are too many choices. For the people struggling to find someone, it feels like the problem is the opposite of that. They certainly don’t feel like they have a surplus of options. But the truth is that you can go on a dating app and potentially connect with thousands of different people. Everyone is swimming in this pool where the options — in theory anyway — are basically infinite. This lowers the value of any one particular individual and creates a sort of paralysis by analysis. Potential suitors are weeded out quickly, without much thought, and for often frivolous reasons. On the dating app you are just one face and name and profile in an endless stream of very similar ones.

Third, at a much deeper level, people are very confused. We’ve lost the basic understand of what dating is for, in the first place. Worse, we’ve lost any understanding of what men and women are for, and what our roles are supposed to be. A man and a woman pair up and go on a date, but they don’t have any idea of what the goal of dating is supposed to be, or why they’re doing it, or how they’re supposed to interact with each other, or what the other is looking for.

Think, again, about the woman in the first video highlighting her professional achievements. If she understood what men wanted, she would instead highlight herself as a kind and caring and affectionate woman who knows how to cook and take care of her man. There would be men lining up for miles to present themselves as suitors to a woman who looks how she looks, and has that kind of attitude.

But many single people can’t be expected to understand what the other is looking for because they barely understand what they themselves are looking for. This is a very new problem. For most of human history, and in most cultures, a young man and a young woman went through some sort of courtship process, while knowing exactly what the goal of the courtship was, and exactly what the rules and parameters were, and exactly what role the man is supposed to play and what role the woman is supposed to play. There was little confusion about any of these basic concepts. Now there is nothing but confusion.

Fourth, this may be the biggest factor. The institutions that once facilitated match-making have completely broken down, been mostly abandoned, or have simply stopped performing these functions.

How were people matched up in the past? For most of history, families would arrange the matches. That is no longer the case, at least in the West. If not the family, churches would play a major role in connecting young people with each other. But most young people don’t even go to church regularly, so that no longer happens. If not the family or church, then who is helping single people find each other?

The workplace was never the best place to facilitate romantic relationships, and now it’s even worse. HR regulations make it a risky proposition for a man to try to initiate any kind of romantic relationship with a co-worker, and with more and more people working at home, your co-workers may be thousands of miles away in any case. Is it any wonder that single people are feeling stuck? They have no help. No direction. No reliable guidance. And nowhere to go.

How do we solve this problem? Well, we can start by actually acknowledging that this is the problem. It’s going to take a massive societal and cultural shift to change this grim picture, but there’s no hope of that shift happening until a critical mass of people admit that it should happen.

In the meantime, on an individual level, I would recommend that single people simplify their standards. I don’t say lower them necessarily, but clarify and simplify them.

The woman in the second video says she just wants to find a man who is “worth her time.” A lot is contained in those three words — “worth her time.” And I suspect that part of the problem is the way she judges what her time is worth, and who is worth it. I would also suspect that she has found men worth her time, but she didn’t recognize them, or she did, but the relationship treaded water for too long, and fell apart for basically frivolous reasons.

So this is what your standard should be. It is really as simple as this: you want a person you are physically attracted to, who you trust, and who shares your fundamental values. If you find that, then you’ve passed the first big test. Or they have.

You can now move to the next phase of your relationship, which is the phase that we used to call courtship. Now you can start looking for more specific qualities, and the desirable qualities will be different for men and women. If you’re a woman, you want to know if the man is a good provider and protector. If you’re a man, you want to know if the woman is caring and kind and has maternal qualities.

Even if you’re a woman and you think you want to work outside the home when you’re married, you still want a man with the qualities of a provider and protector. And if you’re a man and you don’t think you want kids right away, you still want a woman with maternal qualities. As a man, if you look at a woman and say, “I’m attracted to her and I like her, but she would make a terrible mother,” then that speaks to deep defects in the woman that should disqualify her from consideration. And if you are a woman and you look at a man and say, “He’s nice and attractive but if we ever had to depend on him financially, we’d be screwed,” then again, there are profound defects that should cross him off the list.

If you don’t notice those kinds of defects, and you find that you are both attracted to each other and share the same basic fundamental values, then that’s all you need to know. You have all the raw material to build a life together. The only logical next step is marriage. The rest you’ll figure out as you go.

I don’t mean to imply that finding someone who meets these basic qualifications is easy. It isn’t easy. But it is simple — or at least much simpler than our culture makes it seem. And if you know what you’re looking for and what matters then at least if you are still single it won’t be because of your own indecision and confusion. Which will automatically put you far ahead of the competition.

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