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Are Serendipitous Romantic Encounters Returning?

A chance encounter with your soulmate beats online attempts.

Wikimedia Commons Source: Santeri Viinamäki
Smartphone dating
Source: Wikimedia Commons Source: Santeri Viinamäki

Most day-to-day incidents go right by us without notice. The other hundreds that we pass do bring on small or large emotions that, as I've written, "touches the psyche, alters body chemistry, and stirs a mood to contract muscles, shakes some emotions that constrict or enlarge some blood vessels in the brain are different.”

There is one special category of incidents that the psyche is built for, and that is accidental encounters with soulmates. For centuries, there were arranged marriages that took care of betrothals, and for those same centuries, people met their mates by chance. All that changed when speed dating technology got involved in the 1980s.

New research downplays dating apps. Lora Kelley writes in The Atlantic, “[T]hese days, the mood around dating apps has soured.”

Nothing beats the experience of just chance meetings. When I was eight years old, I asked one of my many uncles how I would meet the person I would marry. “You will never know,” he said. “When you least expect it, a beautiful, smart woman will cross your path, and then you will know.”

On October 15, 1969, a Wednesday, there were anti-war demonstrations in major cities across America. There, with over 100,000 other protesters in the Boston Commons, I met the woman my uncle described.

Call it destiny or chance, but I must say that it beats all the stories of online dating that are now beginning to fade in favor of those chance meetings that seem to have a mystically supreme depth. It is those incidents, the small range of far-fetched possibilities affording resounding connections and engage subconscious references that evoke experiences in the depths of one’s memory, that bring meaning to a partnership for life.

A decade ago, Millennials were wild about dating online for lasting relationships. Now, Gen Z’ers are moving back to seeking companionship in the real world. So, what’s going on?

Love in life rings its bells in coincidental meetings. Looking at a screen does distinguish cases, but not in ways that lead to lasting companionship. A screen image can never capture the essence of a person the way real eyes capture another's real eyes. We know that watching a screen for an hour is exhausting, unlike a face-to-face meeting at a café. Twenty-five years ago, speed dating was the rage, a real-live person-to-person experience that had some remarkable success. But dating has changed in this overwhelming techno-century.

People don’t really want love to be a totally solvable science, according to researchers Michael Rosenfeld and colleagues.

When love or companionship is found by chance—or better still by a highly rare coincidence—the experience brings with it “real life” easiness that helps the continued job of keeping a partnership going and growing. Perhaps the longing of old-world face-to-face happenstances is the cause of declining subscriptions to online dating apps.

Artificial intelligence can do just so much, but it is not good enough to substitute for the instincts of super-communication humans who can spot soulmates from the way the eyes, hands, and lips move and from the words said to bring romance. Dating apps can bring people together, but that’s it. The rest must come from character and who people are when they say those words to connect.

As dating app subscriptions decline, real-world encounters have grown. It’s not as if people are searching more for serendipitous encounters. They are not because, by definition, that is not possible without destroying the surprise meeting.


Rosenfeld, Michael J., Reuben J. Thomas, and Sonia Hausen. 2023. How Couples Meet and Stay Together 2017-2020-2022 combined dataset. [Computer files]. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Libraries.……

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