There they sit. Singles surfing, about a dozen. Café Einstein, Kurfürstendamm. A last sip of cold latte macchiato in front of them, they stare at the screen. Now and again hectic fingering on their laptops, smartphones, tablets. “Find your dream partner!” It’s about news from the dating site, new personalized offers from the agency, it`s about a chat with the next possible sweetheart, sugar darling.
My God, you too?
One day humanity will have forgotten how to find and fall in love without computers and the internet. Matching algorithms and software engineering disempowering the „eternal mystery of love.“
You’re right, a hackneyed phrase, I know. But maybe I can try to describe that mystery in internet terms – let’s say: as a natural algorithm for love. Better yet, of course, a self-experiment. How about it? Would you like to take part in the offline experiment of „How to fall in love on Kudamm“? An experiment based on a true story. Listen, I`ll explain the main rules of that game to you and afterwards you can try it for yourself.
Twenty years ago, the digital age was still in its infancy, a man and a woman met on the sidewalk of Kurfürstendamm. Over there, on the corner of Ku’damm and Schlüterstraße, close to the old accordion player. See him? Probably a former professor of Bayan from somewhere in Eastern Europe, trying to animate passers-by with French chansons. The tune he’s playing always reminds me of „And never again I`ll go sailing „.
You too? No? Well, actually „forever yours“ is not part of the original.
Okay. The starting point of the experiment, which, as mentioned, is based on a real incident, is pure coincidence. As tens of millions of people at the same time, said man, said woman walked directly towards each other and dodged at the last moment. Suddenly, for a second, at most two, both look at each other from the side. A look into the strange face of the other, you see eyes, mouth, a hair strand on the forehead, and immediately their natural algorithm of love, which neither neuroscience nor computer science will ever demystify, sets to work.
Of course, at this one moment we register and check out more than just the face: we identify lean or strong shapes, the spirited movement of a leg. We even believe we can anticipate a mentality at this point, character traits, an emotional state from the volatile overall appearance of the other.
Oh, of course, you’re right. Professional computer scientists and algorithms for dating sites work with more substantial data. It’s also true that they work just as fast, if not faster with state-of-the-art processors. As to profile comparison between male and female candidates, they are miles ahead of us: height, weight, education, occupational status, income and property relations, leisure activities, eating habits – all of this is compared to our personal data on „possible partnership” options within milliseconds. Faster than we can think, the computer produces a profile of a person who supposedly matches us ideally. If you go by this, admittedly, you might save yourself a lot of trouble later on.
And yet, something is missing. Take, for example, the way we interpret a spontaneous smile, which is always an integral part of this experiment. He smiles, she smiles – who smiled first? Anyway, as soon as they walk past each other, something like affection or attraction has emerged from this in part shy, in part cheeky smile.
By the way, it is quite possible that this volatile, however positive perception of the other already includes a first sense of disconcertment, a slight irritation such as: „Striking nose“. But be that as it may, despite the generally sympathetic overall impression, both walk on, perhaps a little more awkwardly or puppet-like than before. Resisting a sharp impulse in their back and neck muscles, neither of them turns around to take another look.
Ridiculous! Let’s face it: the algorithm of love, shaped by cultural preferences and genetic dispositions, is already running hot. A neuron storm, even entire neuronal hurricanes are now whirling through synapses and transmitters: countless unconscious contrast images of other eyes, other mouths, other legs, comparisons with alternative mentalities and character traits are played through as quick as lightning. An instinctive comparison process with our own preferences and ideals.
What’s more, the associations and feelings released by this random encounter of our two passers-by don’t neccessarily have to be the same, but need to match to a certain degree: is it a meeting of two shipwrecked, broken lives; of two beastmen during the rutting season; or is it a meeting of two unworldly spirits of the air, ready for Platonic dialogues?
Apart from the question of their (usually similar) outfit, we can conclude: before we are able to know or evaluate a single social fact about the other, the algorithm of love has already drawn a psychological profile of him or her, to which we respond with emotions, with erotic attention, and with elementary physical responses such as altered motoric functions and the release of hormones.
In other words, compared to the algorithms of dating sites, the real algorithm of love is an adventurer. It tempts us to approach others based on vague feelings and without knowing anything about their social standing. And while it brings us together despite uncertainties, it also produces something new. For, precisely at this point of the experiment we are given the chance to start a great story of our life: the mystery of the first person plural. We are, we think, we feel – this is what we read in biographies, short stories or novels. One plus one equals one – it’s magic.
If you want to play it safe in matters of love and partner choice, you’re well advised to consult the internet. And although you don’t necessarily need to be a gambler or a tightrope artist on the Boulevard, nothing will happen if you don’t take a little risk or can’t stand emotional uncertainties. Unlike the computer: frequently entering family names or job titles or a Ph. D. will suffice to make it submit a veto. No Montague and no Capulet would ever have made it to top positions in the algorithmic matching of dating sites, let alone fall in love. Sure, I admit, it would have saved them the drama.
Our true story went on just as your self-experiment will: after five minutes, both the man and the woman blame themselves for having missed the opportunity. „Idiotic“, she thinks, „why didn`t I stop?“ He: „Coward. Why didn`t I speak to her?“ Allegations shattering the mind, leading to a dull ache on the left side of the chest a few minutes later. Heartache, wrote the old romantics. In any case, a state that allows us to end the endless loop of instinctive comparing and troubled deliberation.
Then, suddenly, it happens. She hesitates, he hesitates. She stops, he stops. Finally both turn around on their heels, and even with that first step back, pure coincidence releases the possibility that lays within it.
First a bit rushed, then with feigned nonchalance, the two approach the site of their first meeting, from opposite directions now. Having arrived there, miraculously almost at the same time, now it’s all-important not to stammer about the sun or the weather, about Charles Trenet, the clumsy American version of his song. And for heaven’s sake nothing people say about themselves on dating sites: „BMI 21.3“, „two-seater cabrio“, „eight inches“.
It’s best to say nothing at all. If anything, a very delicate „We?“ followed by a silent „Yes“, as in our true story. For here on the boulevard, to the sound of La Mer, as the possibility begins to turn into an undeniable desire, not a compulsion, a renewed smile with a slightly opened hand in our direction: „Coffee?“ will be sufficient.
Yes, that’s what it was like before the era of the dating industry, and you’ll see, it can still be like that today. Or similar, because, as every boulevard, Kurfürstendamm offers countless variations on the theme of how-to-fall-in-love.
Beg your pardon? You want to know what has become of the two?
Well, and they all lived happily ever after … no, I don`t want to kid you, the two people from our history have already separated, they’re divorced. As it has become customary, no matter how or where you found your love. Internet or boulevard, safe haven or open sea – unfortunately nothing and no-one guarantees everlasting love.
So watch out in particular for the nose when you go out next time. Possibly one of the two in this story didn’t take the first irritation seriously enough. –