We talked to Scott Valdez, the founder of an online dating consultancy, about finding love in a world of calculated algorithms, the hyper-competition of meeting people online, and the high expectations it creates.
Scott Valdez founded Vida Select in 2009 as a ‘done-for-you’ online dating & profile writing service. He launched it three years before Tinder came out, and right as the online dating scene was first beginning to take off. Fast forward to today, and dozens of similar services have sprouted up across the US and Europe. Each promising to help make the online dating process easier and more successful for single people.
Scott, your company is all about helping people find love online. Why do you think people feel like they need professional help?
Getting in touch with today’s dating scene requires a large learning curve. As online dating has become less stigmatized and more mainstream, it’s also become more competitive. The more seriously that people take it, the more effort they put into it and the more time they put into their profile, their pictures, and the amount of hours they put in per week. For a lot of our clients who are recently out of a long relationship, they don’t want to deal with the frustration of figuring out that learning curve themselves. They don’t want to have to be experts at online dating, they just want to meet the right person.
How has online dating changed the modern dating landscape?
I think people now, because they have such an abundance of options, have become more check-list driven. They are more stringent about certain criteria than ever before, so they end up making decisions online that they wouldn’t necessarily make in person. Online, if you’re a year older or an inch shorter than someone would like, you instantly get weeded out. It doesn’t happen like that in person. But now that you can access hundreds, if not thousands, of local potential matches, you have buyers remorse the instant you meet someone that you like. So people have become really selective online and in person. Whether or not that’s a good thing or bad thing, it’s hard to say. It has certainly made dating more difficult.
Has this impacted the way we meet people in real life?
One interesting shift that we’ve seen, is that it’s now less common for men to approach women, or vice versa, in real life. We have become so comfortable with swiping, that the idea of leaping out of that comfort zone to actually approach someone scares us. Why do that when you can just sit there, swipe, have a match, and not have to take any risk to your ego?
A lot of people have referred to the services Vida Select offers its clients as ‘outsourcing’ dating. Is that a fair assessment?
I don’t have a problem with the term itself. Hiring someone to do your love-search for you is a form of outsourcing. We are living in a really competitive time and age. We have to be efficient in all areas of our lives to be effective. I don’t know that any people said at any point they wanted a more ‘efficient’ dating market. I think the market just delivered what people needed because of their current realities.
What does this mean for romance? Is it alive, dead, somewhere in-between?
I think in a way we are losing touch with romantic everyday encounters. The reality is that because of these check lists we are often foregoing the opportunity to meet someone amazing. When we are online, we tend to focus on more superficial attributes that don’t have any correlation with compatibility. One of the ways that we help our clients is to get a better perspective on what is really important to them in a long term relationship. Is being one inch shorter really a deal breaker? Or maybe, is it more important that they share certain values with you?
Do you think companies like Vida Select are making the world a more or less romantic place?
The drive for efficiency in dating is something that I believe was inevitably going to happen, and I don’t think it’s taken the romance out of dating. I think that today the romantic part just starts a little bit later than it did 10 years ago. Maybe it’s not as romantic to meet someone amazing on Hinge, but I don’t think that the romance has dissipated. I think it’s just a desire for more efficiency to find that one person. Once you find that one person, that’s when the romance begins.
Where do you think the future of online dating is headed?
Tinder is what brought online dating into the mainstream around the world, but I think that as the dating market matures we are going to see a shift away from gamification. I think it was necessary to plant the seed of mass adoption, but there’s going to be movement towards more sophisticated dating applications than ‘swipe-swipe-swipe’. At the end of the day, dating is an information game. In the future we are going to see people taking this more seriously than they do today.
How sophisticated do you think we’ll take it?
I do think there will be a point where these algorithms are strong enough to predict who is going to be a long term fit. Where dating platforms are given enough faith by users that the suggestion for two people to meet will be enough, and they won’t even have to send a witty line to one another. It’s very possible that my children will have a dating platform that they sign up for, and that they will meet each person that it recommends. I think that is the future. But I don’t think that’s in the next 5-10 years. I’d probably put that in the 10-20 range.
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