Marriage and commitment being disrupted

Typically we speak about disruption when discussing technology companies, but two incumbents that we wouldn't typically associate with disruption may be under assault: commitment and marriage.

The fascinating essay A Million First Dates in the Atlantic explores the thesis that online dating is making meeting people so simple and efficient that people are less likely to commit to marriage or even long-term relationships that hit a bit of rocky waters.

After two years, when Rachel informed Jacob that she was moving out, he logged on to the same day. His old profile was still up. Messages had even come in from people who couldn’t tell he was no longer active. The site had improved in the two years he’d been away. It was sleeker, faster, more efficient. And the population of online daters in Portland seemed to have tripled. He’d never imagined that so many single people were out there.

“I’m about 95 percent certain,” he says, “that if I’d met Rachel offline, and if I’d never done online dating, I would’ve married her. At that point in my life, I would’ve overlooked everything else and done whatever it took to make things work. Did online dating change my perception of permanence? 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.”

The positive aspects of online dating are clear: the Internet makes it easier for single people to meet other single people with whom they might be compatible, raising the bar for what they consider a good relationship. But what if online dating makes it too easy to meet someone new? What if it raises the bar for a good relationship too high? What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?

The article is intriguing throughout. Another choice excerpt:

In 2011, Mark Brooks, a consultant to online-dating companies, published the results of an industry survey titled “How Has Internet Dating Changed Society?” The survey responses, from 39 executives, produced the following conclusions:

“Internet dating has made people more disposable.”

“Internet dating may be partly responsible for a rise in the divorce rates.”

“Low quality, unhappy and unsatisfying marriages are being destroyed as people drift to Internet dating sites.”

“The market is hugely more efficient … People expect to—and this will be increasingly the case over time—access people anywhere, anytime, based on complex search requests … Such a feeling of access affects our pursuit of love … the whole world (versus, say, the city we live in) will, increasingly, feel like the market for our partner(s). Our pickiness will probably increase.”

“Above all, Internet dating has helped people of all ages realize that there’s no need to settle for a mediocre relationship.”

The ideal economic model of online dating sites wants to work well enough to attract customers but not so well that you find a lifelong mate and stop subscribing to their services, so a model of lifelong casual dating might end up being the perfect world for them, if not society. The article includes an interesting analysis of why couples who meet online are more likely to hook up earlier than in the past.

Disruption, as those who study the topic tend to know, usually comes from the low-end. It's not surprising, then, that marriage and commitment is being disrupted at the low end, where bad marriages and relationships reside. Divorce might be seen as a healthy thing if it were not so costly: I have not seen statistics on this, but based on this article I'd predict we've seen a healthy rise in pre-nuptial agreements this past decade.