In 1967, Love sang “I could be in love with almost everyone” and rather more recently a certain somebody proclaimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. A pit stop survey of the dating landscape, however, is enough to convince anyone that, at least in matters of love, both claims are quite untrue. Yesterday’s dating world, both real and televised, revolved around the heady chemistry-forming triumvirate of personality (Blind Date, First Dates), financial prowess (Millionaire Matchmaker), and relative hotness (Take Me Out). This was the Fairy Godmother (or father) era of romance where somebody convinced you that a mere wave of their love wand would be sufficient to find you the one.
However, of late, the dating world and the programmes created around it have undergone an intriguing metamorphosis. The ‘gamification’ of romance has given way to its ‘(pseudo)scientification’. Recall Naked Attraction, a show that claimed to return to the evolutionary building blocks of attraction with incontrovertible scientific evidence, or rather Freudesque post-hoc rationalisations of attraction, One contestant commented on female genitalia “that’s where I came from, and that’s where I wanna be”.
Married at First Sight takes the scientification trend further with a whole panel of experts including psychologists, anthropologists and even clergymen who undertake a novel social experiment. Their hypothesis? That science can do a better job of finding your one true bae than you can. The potential lovers undergo DNA, personality and attractiveness tests and limbs are measured, irises analysed and finger prints matched in order to whittle down applicants from 1500 to an intriguingly odd, 15.
Online dating platforms also contribute to this trend, E-Harmony describe themselves as the “brains behind the butterflies”, emphasising their 29 Dimension Compatibility Matching System. The brand’s latest advert wittily underlines their own scientific approach while undermining competitors. It features Jenny and her “foodie” boar date and stresses that accurate matching and enjoyable dates require comprehensive analysis and algorithms.
And why are we seeing this shift? It feels somewhat unintuitive that in a so-called peer to peer world where people are eschewing top down communications and privileging the opinions and experiences of their fellow humans, that people are seeking textbook expertise in this way. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that romance, like leaving school, arriving at university, buying your first home is a societal marker, a maturity occasion, and in an era when these traditional sign posts and paths to success are being eroded (increasing university fees, uncertain employment market, generation rent), perhaps people are now seeking an authoritative panacea for love. A facet of life which was once left to chance, to family or to an artful Fairy Godmother figure is becoming increasingly stratified and measured. It will be fascinating to observe how this thirst for rules, this anti laissez-faire tendency, will play out in realms beyond the dating world.