The time between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day are the most popular weeks for online dating sites, with traffic spiking 25 to 30 percent on Match.com. In fact, there’s even a day known for a rise in new users on the quest for someone to share their lives with. But after reading Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject by Dan Jones, I have to ask: Are we doing it all wrong?
Jones, who’s edited the weekly Modern Love column in The New York Times for 10 years, receives at least 100 submissions from strangers every week about their personal lives, reads each one, and responds personally to most. In his new book, he shares what these thousands of stories have taught him about love.
He jokes in his introduction that he was once interviewed and referred to as the male Carrie Bradshaw (whom he didn’t know of at the time). And while he’s not very much like Carrie in the way we know her on Sex and the City, he’s just as hopelessly in love with the idea of romanticism as she was—and just as slow to adapt to technology, at least when it comes to dating. (Can you imagine Carrie Bradshaw on OKCupid?)
“Online dating sites don’t alleviate [the] insecurities” of love in real life, Jones writes. He argues that seeking out a specific type online (at least 6-foot, never married, athletic build, etc.) can cause us to pass over people we may have fallen for had we not been so selective about what we thought we wanted.
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Jones says the majority of people he hears from are finding love “in person, whether by accident or referral, without having to brainstorm about more aggressive strategies.” He equates looking for love online as work, which we can all agree it certainly is. Online dating “is a seemingly limitless supply for eligible partners,” he writes. It opens up what seems like an infinite world containing all the promising potential we’ve always wanted. But the way we look and work for it—strategizing and analyzing and selecting only certain people to message or respond to—narrows down that vast playing field. From Jones’ perspective, for every glance you give your phone at the bar to reject another guy on Tinder, there could be someone else trying to make eye contact with you in real life. [Tweet this insight!]
Jones promises to explore the mystifying topic of love, not solve it. Through chapters on destiny, communication, trust, and practicality, he asks questions about our ideas of love, romance, fate, and choice: How do you know when you’re in love? How do you know if someone really loves you? What happens when the person you promised to love no longer seems to be the person you’re married to? And while he doesn’t give a definite answer to these questions, he is clear on one thing: There isn’t one.
The book wraps up with a chapter about wisdom, a thesis of sorts, concluding what Jones learned from writing Love Illuminated. “You might think, as I sometimes do, that we ought to just leave love alone...we seem to be stuck in neutral when it comes to improving love, still plagued by the same doubts and dilemmas that Shakespeare wrestled with nearly 500 years ago.”
Jones doesn’t reveal the secret to solving singledom—in fact, you’ll likely be more mystified after thinking so hard about the subject. But his book is a sort of confidant, a coach who doesn’t quite know the secret to winning the game but who can root you on and give you confidence along the way, who knows that everyone else out there is trying to figure it out too, and that the winners and losers will find their way eventually.