The Big Idea: Will McIntosh
The game of love has a different set of rules today than it did even a few years ago — or so Hugo-winning author Will McIntosh recently learned. How will this affect how the game of love is played in the future? McIntosh speculates in his book Love Minus Eighty, and also, here in this Big Idea piece.
In the future, single people will have access to databases containing millions of potential mates, complete with photo galleries and detailed information about their interests. Elaborate matching software will be available to assist in their search for suitable mates…
Wait. That’s the present.
When Orbit books expressed interest in seeing a proposal for a novel based on my short story, “Bridesicle”, they suggested I expand it by creating a larger vision of love and courtship in the future. Doing a little research, I quickly discovered that my ideas about love and courtship in the present were a little out of date. For one thing, I learned that people don’t go on dates any more–that the word date itself is dated. Now, I met my wife a mere six years ago, so it’s not that I’ve been out of the dating pool for very long. Evidently even when I was dating, I was an out-of-touch throwback. I asked my wife for her input on this, and she confirmed that she felt like she’d been whisked back a few decades when we first met, what with me calling on the phone to ask her to go to dinner, and offering to pick her up and all that.
So I dug in and learned what I could about modern dating, with an eye toward how this might affect courtship in the future.
Evidently the modern approach to courtship is indirect. Men don’t call women they’re interested in–they text them. And in those texts, they don’t directly express interest in the woman, they just ask if she wants to hang out with him and his friends. This allows men to avoid the sting of rejection.
There was also a recent article in The Atlantic about a guy who bounces from relationship to relationship, utterly incapable of settling on one woman, because there are just too many single women online to choose from. The article concluded that online dating is destroying commitment and intimacy. This is a fairly common SF idea, often depicted in the form of marriage contracts with time limits.
I’m not convinced we’re really headed in that direction, and this is reflected in my novel. There have always been people who are uneasy with commitment, and people who thrive in a committed relationship. I think online dating will make single people choosier, not necessarily more reluctant to commit. Online dating offers people the opportunity to customize. If you want a partner who loves Elvis Presley and exploring abandoned buildings, doesn’t want children, is a Methodist but not a churchgoer, and plays the trombone, you can locate her in under a minute. The thing is, she likely doesn’t live anywhere near you, so those who are easily mobile have an advantage.
If you’re not sure who you’re looking for, don’t worry–dating professionals are always working on more precise algorithms to help you find the perfect match. In the future, those algorithms may become scary accurate, because dating sites are doing a ton of research. For example, want to improve your odds of getting a reply from that person you’re convinced is your soul mate? Crunching millions of initial messages and response rates, dating sites have very specific advice for you. First of all, use an unusual greeting, like Howdy, or How’s it going, instead of the stale and overused standard, Hi. Don’t compliment your future soul-mate’s physical appearance. Make a joke at your own expense. Be an atheist (seriously, that was one of their findings). And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t misspell words.
If you’re not a good speller, there’s more good news: there are people out there who will write your profile for you, for a fee. In Love Minus Eighty, I extrapolated this trend, creating dating coaches who feed you lines as you interact with your date (I just can’t figure out how to avoid using that word), so you can make a good impression by being funny in a self-deprecating way while resisting the temptation to mention what a great butt your future soul-mate has.
When it comes to the future of love and courtship, I’m betting the big changes won’t come from advances in information technology. We’re reaching a saturation point in terms of connectivity. Yes, one day soon we’ll be able to interact with 3-D projections of people from the other side of the planet, but really, how different is that from what’s available today? I think the real action will come in biotechnology. Imagine how different things will be for people seeking romantic partners when brain imaging advances to the point where you can tell whether someone is feeling love or lust, when extremely reliable lie detection is not only possible, but cheap, and when you are in possession of your entire genome, and are expected to share that information with potential romantic partners.
I incorporated some of these truly futuristic elements into Love Minus Eighty, but in the end, the heart of the novel became as much about love in the present as in the future. Maybe that’s because I feel as if I’m already living in the future when it comes to love, and how we go about finding it.