Dating Markets and Love Stories: Freedom and Fairness in the Pursuit of Intimacy and Love

Cultural Critique Vol. 95 (Winter 2017), pp. 162-196

33 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2017  

Nina Varsava

Stanford University

Date Written: 2017


Must love be reinvented today? And is love in the process of reinvention, regardless? When Jean–Luc Nancy wrote his extraordinary love treatise—“Shattered Love”—in 1986, he suggested that his time of writing demanded a return to thinking love because the very concept, or affect, was undergoing radical change. The second decade of the twenty–first century might be another such time, at least in Western societies; with the popularity of self–help literature on love and relationships, the prevalence of sex and relationship counseling, the rapid rise of online dating, and the normalization of Internet pornography and cybersex, much has changed even since the late–twentieth century.

This paper begins with a discussion of the way in which industry has harnessed the potential of information technology to facilitate dating. I suggest that philosopher Alain Badiou and other theorists who have argued that online dating substitutes rationality for intuition in partner selection, and that online dating is detrimental to love, are mistaken in their views. I argue instead that information technology facilitates a combination of rational, or calculative, and intuitive means to initiating and developing relationships, which in significant ways are preferable to the means available in “real life.” I show how modern dating tools enable dating and love especially in forms that lack adequate support in society at large; accordingly, these tools might make the pursuit of intimacy and love fairer or more just. To help support this claim, I conduct a review of empirical studies that have assessed the risks and rewards associated with online dating and the distribution of these risks and rewards across different demographic groups. Finally I turn to the intersection of love and doubt, or uncertainty; with reference to cultural representations of love, or “love stories,” and in conversation with several theorists of love, I suggest that persistent uncertainty, and its continual alleviation, are constitutive of the condition of love in the contemporary Western imagination, and that this is the case regardless of the dating medium.

Keywords: Feminist theory, Queer theory, Distributive justice, Rationality, Intuition, Love, Risk, Dating services, Dating markets, Online dating, LGBTQ

Suggested Citation

Varsava, Nina, Dating Markets and Love Stories: Freedom and Fairness in the Pursuit of Intimacy and Love (2017). Cultural Critique Vol. 95 (Winter 2017), pp. 162-196 . Available at SSRN:

Nina Varsava (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views