FORTUNE — It was iconic ’80s rocker singer Pat Benatar who popularized the phrase “love is a battlefield.” But it has been the ubiquity of the mobile Internet that realized it.
A few weeks ago, I had coffee with a twenty-something entrepreneur. One of the topics that came up was dating in the age of Facebook (FB), OkCupid, and the myriad of other digital services floating out there. A handsome, self-assured guy, he found online actually made dating harder and, in at least one case, impossible. When he asked out a cute girl at a party, she Facebook friended him before the date — not uncommon — and he accepted.
Once he did, he had access to a trove of information: her favorite bands, movies, TV shows, and recent vacation photos. This might seem like valuable ammunition. The more information one has about the other, the better … right? But after a few minutes perusing her profile, he nuked the idea of a date. “What were we going to talk about? I felt like I already knew all the answers to the questions I would ask her during coffee,” he explained. (He never met up with her.)
His clearly wasn’t a case of “true love” or even lust. But here’s the point: Just as Facebook (which has made it easier for everyone to keep in touch and now, apparently, “bang“) bred its own unique brand of narcissistic etiquette. Online and mobile services have given rise to a pick-and-choose shopping behavior that prioritizes looks more than ever before. Log onto Match.com, and it’s a near-endless grid of faces and ages. Sign into the gay mobile app Grindr, and half the photos of guys closest to you may be shots of anonymous torsos. In the case of the former, it’s only after you click on someone’s profile that you learn more about them. In the case of the latter, I guess words are window dressing.
Even worse, online services enable a downright Seinfeld-ian level of superficial nitpickiness. Don’t like the fact one guy’s hair is thinning? Next. Think a girl could stand to lose a few pounds? Next. Hate that so-called “beauty mark” on their cheek? Next, next, next! Why? Because we think we can do better, that someone hotter, smarter, and funnier awaits us in tomorrow’s OkCupid email filled with matches, or literally around the corner thanks to apps like Tinder that surface nearby prospects. And because of that, we’re more likely to shop around and make snap judgments about the people we’re dating. Have I been guilty of this? Sure. But I’ve also been on the other side, too. One guy I dated tossed me overboard via text. The cause? He’d met someone else online while I was away on a four-day trip, and things — as nascent as they were — were “going well.” Ouch.
When people can browse potential dates online like items in a catalog, geo-locate hook-ups on an exercise bike just seven feet away, arrange a spontaneous group date with the app Grouper or arrange a bevy of blind dates in succession with Crazy Blind Date, it makes me wonder if all this newfound technological convenience has, in fact, made romance that much more elusive. Now, we may be more concerned with what someone isn’t rather than what they are. And as that twenty-something entrepreneur reminded me over coffee, services like OkCupid, and even Facebook, sap a lot of the mystique out of those first few dates. So, sure, it may be easier than ever to score a date, but what kind of date will it really be?