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Online Dating and the Oxytocin Gap

3676763773_f91c2089de_mA thought-provoking and disturbing article by Dan Slater on TheAtlantic.com posits that online dating sites make it so easy to meet new people that committed relationships fade away.

Slater, author of Love in the Age of Algorithms, uses anecdotes and interviews with the heads of online dating services to make the case that people won't bother to go through the hard work of forging a deep relationship when they know that they can just log on and date someone new.

In my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I discuss the differences between romance and love. Romance, fueled by dopamine and adrenaline, is an exciting but inevitably fading state that keeps us working to win a mate. Once we win him or her and begin having sex, oxytocin kicks in, leading us into the calmer state of committed love.

This progression was crucial in prehistoric times, when sex led to babies and a man and woman had to cooperate to keep their offspring alive. Nowadays, sex has been decoupled from procreation. And, unfortunately, our culture focuses on romance and teaches us that it's more important than simple mated love.

Slater quotes Greg Blatt,  CEO of Match.com’s parent company: "Relationships have been billed as ‘hard’ because, historically, commitment has been the goal. You could say online dating is simply changing people’s ideas about whether commitment itself is a life value."

Here's Niccolò Formai, the head of social-media marketing at Badoo, a meeting-and-dating app: "It’s exhilarating to connect with new people ... Over time you’ll expect that constant flow. People always said that the need for stability would keep commitment alive. But that thinking was based on a world in which you didn’t meet that many people."

Unfortunately, people still have a wired-in need for stability, in the form of trusting relationships. That doesn't need to come from a monogamous sexual relationship. But for most people, marriage of some kind is the primary oxytocin bond, along with children.

Our oxytocin bonds are what keep us healthy and reasonably sane. I worry about generations of singles bouncing from one unfulfilling relationship to another. How will they raise children who are capable of trust and love?

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Photo by he(art)geek