My parents had an arranged marriage. I am perpetually dating someone who just got out of a relationship about even the most mundane things, and I couldn’t imagine navigating such a huge life decision so quickly.
I asked my dad about this experience, and here’s how he described it: he told his parents he was ready to get married, so his family arranged meetings with three neighboring families. Then he met my mom. They decided it would work. A week later, they were married.
And they still are, 35 years later. Happily so—and probably more so than most people I know who had nonarranged marriages. That’s how my dad decided on the person with whom he was going to spend the rest of his life. Let’s look at how I do things, maybe with a slightly less important decision, like the time I had to pick where to eat dinner in Seattle when I was on tour last year.
First I texted four friends who travel and eat out a lot and whose judgment I trust. I checked the website Eater for its Heat Map, which includes new, tasty restaurants in the city. And GQ’s online guide to Seattle. Finally I made my selection: Il Corvo, an Italian place that sounded amazing. At that point I had run out of time because I had a show to do, so I ended up making a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich on the bus.
The stunning fact remained: it was quicker for my dad to find a wife than it is for me to decide where to eat dinner. This kind of rigor goes into a lot of my decisionmaking. Whether it’s where I’m eating, where I’m traveling or, God forbid, something I’m buying, like a lot of people in my generation—those in their 20s and 30s—I feel compelled to do a ton of research to make sure I’m getting every option and then making the best choice. The question nagged at me—not least because of my own experiences watching promising relationships peter out over text message—so I set out on a mission.
I read dozens of studies about love, how people connect and why they do or don’t stay together. I quizzed the crowds at my stand-up comedy shows about their own love lives. People even let me into the private world of their phones to read their romantic texts aloud onstage. I conducted focus groups with hundreds of people across the country and around the world, grilling participants on the most intimate details of how they look for love and why they’ve had trouble finding it.
Throw in the fact that people now get married later in life than ever before, turning their early 20s into a relentless hunt for more romantic options than previous generations could have ever imagined, and you have a recipe for romance gone haywire. In the course of our research, I also discovered something surprising: the winding road from the classified section of yore to Tinder has taken an unexpected turn. Our phones and texts and apps might just be bringing us full circle, back to an old-fashioned version of courting that is closer to what my own parents experienced than you might guess. Today, if you own a smartphone, you’re carrying a 24-7 singles bar in your pocket. Almost a quarter of online daters find a spouse or long-term partner that way. It’s easy to see why online dating has taken off.
It provides you with a seemingly endless supply of people who are single and looking to date. Let’s say you’re a woman who wants a 28-year-old man who’s 5 ft. Brooklyn, is a member of the Baha’i faith and loves the music of Naughty by Nature. Before online dating, this would have been a fruitless quest, but now, at any time of the day, no matter where you are, you are just a few screens away from sending a message to your very specific dream man. There are downsides with online dating, of course. Throughout all our interviews—and in research on the subject—this is a consistent finding: in online dating, women get a ton more attention than men. Even a guy at the highest end of attractiveness barely receives the number of messages almost all women get.
But that doesn’t mean that men end up standing alone in the corner of the online bar. On the Internet, there are no lonely corners. What I’m about to say is going to sound very mean, but Derek is a pretty boring guy. Oh, there’s a white guy.