"Bigger Better" Syndrome: Is the Internet Turning Men into Serial Dating Machines?

Digital DatingDigital DatingBy Justin Rocket Silverman for HowAboutWe

Commitment is impossible for me.

Why commit, when the world of online dating offers a constant and appealing array of potential ladies? It's like a high-quality buffet in Vegas, with no penalty for discarding one dish in favor of another, hotter entrée. I might even be eyeing the other options before I've really gotten know the one I just put on my plate.

Or so says The Atlantic, in a well-titled story called "A Million First Dates." Online dating, the story asserts, is turning men into dating-monsters, who use their internet connection to date, and subsequently discard, as many women as possible.

In the story we meet "Jacob," who demonstrates the sheer impossibility of caring too deeply for any one relationship, especially when there are so many women vying for his attention on the computer screen. Never mind that his main activities in life appear to be watching sports and going to bars. As we are quick to learn, he doesn't really mind if his girlfriends think of him as "lazy, aimless, and irresponsible with money." He isn't afraid of being dumped. Because when he gets the boot, (as he does, twice in the first 10 paragraphs), he knows he can just fire up his dating profile and be back in the game that very night.

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"Did online dating change my perception of permanence?" Jacob asks in the story. "No doubt. When I sensed the breakup coming, I was okay with it. It didn't seem like there was going to be much of a mourning period, where you stare at your wall thinking you're destined to be alone and all that. I was eager to see what else was out there."

Good for you, Jake. Get right back into the game. Whatever you do, don't ask yourself why it is your second girlfriend in 10 paragraphs decided she was better off without you.

There's a cliché among men in New York City that when a woman tells you she has a boyfriend, what she's really saying is that she's waiting for something better to come along. It's the Bigger-Better Syndrome (BBS), and men (including Jacob) are clearly not immune.

But here's the rub: BBS isn't caused by online dating. The latter merely enables the former. The Atlantic story is essentially about one person who doesn't see the value in putting forth effort to make relationships last. But it misses the fact that BBS was around before the Internet was even a twinkle in Al Gore's eye.

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Online dating certainly does make it easier, or even possible, for us to line up romance without getting off the couch. So what serves as a valuable tool for many could be a trap, or enabling tool, for some. But serial dating is hardly an irresistible force that good men are powerless to resist.

As one wise and experienced online dater, an author named Alan, pointed out to me, "You're not going to become an alcoholic just because there is a bar next door. You have to already have the tendency."

There was a time when I flirted free and easy, online and off, regardless of whether I was dating someone or not. (In my case living around dozens of bars was actually one of the problems, but not because I was going there to drink.) Now, things have changed.

For one, I've realized that the big attraction to many women, whether as photos on a dating profile or as strangers at a bar, is that I didn't know them. And they didn't know me. Sure, I could have become a Jacob, and spent my time getting to know these women just well enough to not be attracted anymore. But at some point my own role in the pattern becomes impossible to ignore.

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Another longtime online dater, a doctor named Alex, observed that "by the end of your 20's, you've gone on 100 or 200 first dates. So when you meet someone whom you like and value, it makes it easier to realize how special that person is, and to commit to them."

Alex is a good guy, and has been with the same woman for years now. I'm a good guy too, it just took me a little longer to act like one. But finally, after enough dates, I'm beginning to understand just what I'm trying to escape when I run from a loving relationship and into the arms of a stranger. It has little to do with the boundless choices of the Internet, and everything to do with the guy who's surfing them.

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