As a sex therapist I spend a lot of time counseling single people about how to find good partners. That’s gotten a lot easier since online dating has radically increased the number of people to choose from. But online dating has its disadvantages. It’s great if you’re just looking for a hookup or casual fling. You know no one in common, so you don’t have to worry about hurting your reputation if things don’t work out. You go your separate ways afterwards, and there’s no collateral damage to either of your social networks. It’s also great if like many people in sex therapy you’re worried about your sexual performance. If the sex is a disappointment, no one else will find out.
But if you’re looking for a more serious relationship, the disconnect between your social networks becomes a disadvantage. Since you know no one in common, you lack a context for your relationship. There’s no social “glue” to hold you together. As I tell my patients in the office, relationships are the fruit of community. Community is the tree that grows the fruit. Online dating delivers the fruit without the tree. Trust is a hard thing in any relationship. But it’s harder to trust someone if you don’t really know or understand the world they come from. The subtle signals that people in the same community give each other are often lost or misperceived by a stranger. What would really be valuable is an online dating platform that taps into a community of people you know and trust.
The new app LinkedUp! does just that using your professional business network on LinkedIn. Using API key technology (the same technology you use for example to share photos from Flickr to your Facebook), LinkedUp! mines your LinkedIn network for other LinkedUp! users and offers them for your consideration. At first glance, this might seem a dubious idea. Aren’t we supposed to avoid mixing business and pleasure that way? Aren’t we warned against office romances? I suggest we turn that idea on its head: The reason those warnings are necessary is that ordinarily the people we meet during the workday are exactly the people we’d like to date. We know people in common, and we have similar struggles. So we have lots to talk about. We share the tree of community, so there’s some foundation of trust. When people have similar experiences and common interests, deep feelings can develop. That’s why people tend to fall in love with their co-workers.
Today when most of the people I know in Manhattan work at least 12 hour days, the person who most understands you is likely to be someone in your office. That person is also way more likely to share your interests and values than someone from a radically different walk of life. In the 21st Century, when for most people traditional sources of community like neighborhoods and religious groups have faded away, our work worlds may be all that’s left from which to build the tree of community so essential for relationships to flourish.
As a sex therapist, I’m glad there are now options. For someone looking for a fling or to build their sexual confidence, I’ll still suggest Tinder or OKCupid. But for someone looking for lasting love, I’m starting to inquire whether LinkedUp! might be appropriate. There are certainly risks to merging business and personal, so LinkedUp! won’t be for everyone. Power relationships in business change over time; someone who seems safe to date now may someday become your boss. But those kinds of risks are inherent in any group activity. I’ll be interested to see if LinkedUp! lives up to its promise — making the business world into a tree of community that grows the fruit of loving relationships. I’ll let you know.