Why does finding a partner seem impossible these days?

As real-life dating appears to wane, many are resorting to apps or agencies that offer services such as matchmaking and coaching

One of the important obstacles in the endeavor of attracting love is the fear of appearing vulnerable or needy.
One of the important obstacles in the endeavor of attracting love is the fear of appearing vulnerable or needy.Malte Mueller (Getty Images/fStop)

Until recently, finding a romantic partner was a normal part of life, something that occurred naturally at one point without too much fuss, unless you were particularly strange or special. But lately, it seems to have become some kind of outsourced service. Unfortunately, when this happens, quality suffers, waiting lists grow and people feel forced to resort to dating apps or modern marriage agencies that offer services such as matchmaking, couples coaching or personality tests.

It is not only older people who are seeing their expectations of finding love fade like mirages on the horizon; many young people also long for the days of their parents, an analog universe where people talked face to face and where clubs were used for more than dancing, drinking or taking pills.

Montaña Vázquez is the founder and director of Tu Pareja Perfecta (Your Perfect Match), a matchmaking agency based in Madrid, Spain, as well as the author of Match: Cómo encontrar pareja en la posmodernidad (Match: How to Find a Partner in Postmodernity), where she writes: “We are nomads of love with little capacity for emotional entrepreneurship. We have turned a universal sentiment into a commodity.” Those who go to the agency are, she explains, “people who have already tried by other means without success, people who have given up on dating apps, due to exhaustion or bad experiences, and people who value their privacy and don’t want to be exposed on social media.”

“Or people who don’t have time,” she adds, “because seriously searching for a partner can require as much effort as looking for a job. Although I would replace the word ‘search’ with ‘attract,’ which seems more appropriate to me, since searching out of necessity or urgency never brings anything good.”

One of the important obstacles in the difficult endeavor of attracting love is the fear of appearing vulnerable or needy. “Nobody wants to show their vulnerability for fear of suffering or being rejected, and of course, without that, authentic relationships cannot be created,” says Vázquez. Sexologist Santiago Frago agrees: “In the times of Bauman’s Liquid Love, not many want to sign up for commitment. Relationships are fragile because, among other things, few are willing to strip down emotionally and to put in the dedication and perseverance required by this task.”

There is a basic premise for a romantic relationship. According to Francisca Molero, gynecologist, sexologist, director of the Ibero-American Institute of Sexology and president of the Spanish Federation of Sexology Societies, the key ingredient is showing interest, because that is what will give the other person the opportunity to get closer. “Knowing you are an object of attraction is very erotic. If you want something or like something, show it and ask for what you want respectfully. That is the first step in seduction, showing interest, but this comes with the risk of the interest not being reciprocated, of feeling hurt or rejected, which is why we avoid it,” she explains.

The “I can do better” syndrome is a product of the internet and the immediacy of the digital age, but it is futile and unproductive. In the olden days, people looked for a partner at the Sunday dance, or at the club that played the music they liked. Now the scope is infinitely bigger. Who says that our perfect match is not raising ostriches in Australia? When the offer is so disproportionately large (Tinder, Meetic, Badoo, Grindr, OkCupid, to name a few) the opposite effect occurs. We can’t choose for fear of missing out on something better.

Spaces intended for encounters or seduction cannot always compete with the digital world, where it seems that anything is possible. Ana, 49, originally from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, looks for a partner mainly on dating apps because, she admits: “I don’t like clubs, and the possibility of picking someone up in a restaurant or a bar, when you go with friends, is quite limited.” Refusing to use the new technologies in this field is, for Ana, like ignoring the computer and continuing to use a typewriter. “Not everyone on Tinder is crazy or frustrated. There are many normal people who are worth it, and I have even made friends with people whom I’ve never had an intimate relationship. But sure, flirting is a job that takes time and not losing hope. I move a lot and have lived in different countries and, for me, the easiest things have always been, in this order: finding a job, then a house and then a partner. But I keep at it, waiting for someone who is available and willing to invest in me.”

“We have become more and more individualistic, and common spaces have shrunk,” says Molero. “Now, many people only have time for direct family and very close friends. I feel like spaces used to be shared more. Parties were thrown and friends were invited, and they brought companions, and you always ended up meeting someone new. I think that in this sense we have withdrawn a lot, thus preventing new connections from taking place.” Montaña Vázquez, however, does not believe that cyberspace is incompatible with real life: “It’s like when TV first arrived and people thought that radio would die. Most people mix the digital world with the real one. And above all, after the pandemic, there is a desire to return to face-to-face interactions.”

For the creator of Tu Pareja Perfecta, men are quite lost, and many do not know how to approach a woman. “They don’t know if they are going too far or falling short. It would seem like it’s the woman who should always give her permission to start, but that would place all the responsibility on women. We are losing very interesting aspects and nuances of human relations. I’m talking about ‘I look at you and you look at me and if something happens, so be it.’”

“There is a fear about making the other feel overwhelmed, disturbed. And, in the case of men, of falling into sexist behaviors, because some things that used to be tolerated are not anymore. This is heightened in social media, which give rise to many misunderstandings,” says Santiago Frago.

According to Francisca Molero, “seduction is taken for manipulation and there are many susceptibilities close to the surface, which kills the spontaneity.” She adds: “There are two very powerful weapons of seduction: confidence (real, not fake) and optimism. And I am afraid that the current times don’t favor them.”

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS