I’ve spent a few days considering Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article “Tinder And The Dawn Of The Dating Apocalypse”.
In case you didn’t read it, the article kicked up a big storm for its harsh take-down of what it perceived to be the growing hit-it-and-quit-it hookup culture ushered in by dating apps like Tinder, which is now essentially considered the McDonald’s of internet dating – it’s fast, easy, and you tend to do it when you’re in a bit of a rush.
Sales argues that this kind of handy takeout delivery version of online dating is breeding a generation of lazy, uncaring, selfish bro-dudes who are getting so much sex-on-tap they no longer have any reason to commit to serious relationships.
Hence, Tinder is a game rigged in favour of the boys, but one that everyone ultimately loses.
The men miss out on any meaningful connection, the women miss out on relationships (but they do get dick pics, lots and lots of dick pics). Sound the trumpets! Take to the streets! The dating apocalypse cometh! etc..
Articles referring to doom and gloom in the dating landscape are nothing new. ‘Hookup culture’ is a term that’s been in the zeitgeist for some time, and since many of our mums have at least heard of Tinder, it’s now routinely thrown in with everything else that is supposed to be “ruining love” for all us old romantics out there.
I’ve not weighed in formally on these subjects in writing, but I feel it’s time.
At best I see much hyperbole in the points made, at worst a real lack of understanding of what is really going on.
There is a real aspect of truth in the Vanity Fair piece, but I would like to restore a little balance before coming to it. What saddened me most is that I felt it missed an opportunity to ask some of the most pressing and fundamental questions about this particular subject, which I’ll attempt to do here.
Let’s start with the bad:
Problem 1: It’s wrong about men
I think both men and women have cause to be upset by this article.
Let’s deal with men first. The piece has taken the word of a small handful of twenty-something guys in New York and made them the voice of men everywhere. This is wrong for a number of reasons.
Firstly, they are twenty somethings, and secondly, they live in New York. These are both major facts that need to be taken into account in everything they say.
The guys interviewed also make extreme claims about their sex lives.
As one of the guys (John) puts it: “I can go on my phone right now and no doubt I can find someone I can have sex with this evening, probably before midnight”.
Brian says “When it’s so easy, when it’s so available to you, and you can meet somebody and fuck them in 20 minutes, it’s very hard to contain yourself”.
Fellas. Please. Teach me your ways. Because neither me nor any of my successful guy friends have that experience, and we’re also young, and cool, and doing ok with our lives. (I also happen to live in New York and am single, yet I can’t find one friend who relates to these Dionysian tales of one-swipe sex on a nightly basis).
I suddenly have the same thought I had whilst at university: “Where is this fuck-fest everyone keeps talking about?”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not playing the violin for myself or my friends, but really?
In case I want to feel any more inadequate, there’s also Alex, who’s slept with “5 different women he met on tinder in the last eight days” and Marty who “Slept with 30-40 in the last year”.
The truth is, these men sound exactly like twenty-somethings. And I hate to say it, but they sound like twenty-somethings who are trying a little too hard to convince us of how much they are getting laid. Many of the guys I know who are actually good with women wouldn’t be caught dead quoting their numbers in this embarrassing way.
These men will likely talk differently when they are 35, at which point they may come to cringe at the way they used to talk the way many men will have cringed when they read their words in Vanity Fair.
In case anyone needed reminding, men are not all the same, and they don’t all just want casual hook ups all the time.
It also seems appropriate here to remind ourselves that neither are all places the same.
At one point a guy references: “It’s like ordering Seamless, But you’re ordering a person”. I couldn’t help but think that this line sums up the article. A reference to a food takeout site that most of America won’t relate to any more than the people across diverse parts of America will relate to the situation it’s being made analogous to.
I came away feeling like this whole article was a one-sided insight into one very small strata of society, at a very specific age, operating in a very ‘sceney’ part of New York.
And though New York may be considered the dating Mecca of North America for men who want plenty of options, the proportion of men who have anything like the experience being talked about by these young studs is ridiculously low.
Not only that, but it completely underplays the seductiveness of getting into a relationship for guys. The guilty secret about men is that despite their protestations that they want to be single, most have a hard time saying no to relationships when they meet someone they have a real connection with. Why? Because when they meet someone they like it feels good, they get close to them, and naturally they stop wanting to see the other people they have no connection with. Men constantly mock each other for their inability to stay single.
Do we really believe guys are meeting the would-be woman of their dreams on Tinder, having a one-night stand with her, then immediately pulling out their iPhone and finding someone new to replace her with, proceeding of course to delete said dream woman’s phone number and never call her again because they can click their fingers replace her with someone equally perfect the next night?
This is not only cynical, but ludicrous.
It’s a cartoon picture of men than even the most bro-saturated frat boy comedy would be embarrassed to uphold.
Problem 2: It absolves everyone of responsibility for their love lives
The second problem I had was on behalf of women. For a guy to have sex, a woman needs to say yes.
If women don’t like the behaviour they are getting from guys, they don’t have to sleep with them. It’s as simple as that.
When Amanda in the article says “There is no dating. There’s no relationships…you could have a fling that could last like seven, eight months and you could never actually call someone your ‘boyfriend’”, I think to myself, that’s your fault. You could have left 7 months ago, but you chose to go along with a situation which you settled for instead of being clear about what you wanted and promptly leaving if you didn’t get it.
When the young ladies are saying: “Who doesn’t want to have sex? But it feels bad when they’re like, ‘See ya’” I think, then wait at least wait one more date to discover the character of the guy before you sleep with him. By all means hook up immediately if you’re after a casual fling, but know that it’s unlikely he’ll turn into a consummate gentleman post-sex. It’s the same the other way around. When a guy in the VIP area of a club takes home a woman who started a conversation with, “Hey, how are you? Can we have some of your Champagne?” I would hope he’s not surprised when in the morning she isn’t going out to buy fresh croissants with him and start asking about his interests.
When did we get so awful at reading early signals in an age where everyone is so blatantly obvious with them? It takes me all of two drinks to know well-enough whether I want to wake up next to someone or not.
I remember an evening recently where my date didn’t ask me one question about myself the entire time, barely smiled, made comments like “why do they let so many people in here these days…”, and was periodically checking her phone. Within one drink I knew she had selfish tendencies, was elitist, rude, and had a pretty unpleasant demeanor. Maybe I just had her all wrong. But it was enough for me. I left.
Which does of course beg the question, what happened to my ‘do-anything-to-get-it-in-attitude’ that the article suggests us male zombies of the dating apocalypse have? Must have been an off day I guess. Or could it be perhaps that despite the apparent rise of the ‘fuckboy’ (a term that comes oddly close to reverse slut-shaming), many of us guys actually prefer do value the personality of the woman we’re spending time with.
The bottom line is this: women are responsible for the standards they accept from a man. Not only that, but the standards they expect from a man will determine the quality of men they attract.
I find the final line here from John very telling:
“I’ve gotten numbers on Tinder just by sending emojis, without actually having conversation – having conversation via emojis,” After having offered up the emojis for pizza and beer. “Now is that the kind of women I potentially want to marry? Probably not.”
In other words, the type of woman John wants to commit to one day is precisely the kind of woman who wouldn’t respond to this nonsense. How many women these days are not being taken seriously precisely because they reward a man for what he knows is idiotic behaviour?
While we are on the subject of taking responsibility, can we stop blaming Tinder (or any other app for that matter) for men’s lack of respect for women? It does a disservice to both sexes. No matter how many people I sleep with I can guarantee it will never make me intentionally unkind or disrespectful to women. I am in no way in denial about how disgusting men’s behaviour can be online, which makes it all the more important to ensure that they are made to take responsibility for the way they treat women. It’s unacceptable for men to shrug off this responsibility by saying “the app made me do it”.
If you are a shitty guy on Tinder, you’re a shitty person. Period.
Problem 3: Human nature isn’t suddenly changed by an app
I wanted to say to everyone in this article: “Your beef isn’t with Tinder, it’s with people”.
If Tinder is showing what many people are like when they think they have a lot of options, that’s a very different thing than saying it’s changing who people fundamentally are. These struggles with the bigger questions of settling down vs. playing the field are tired old questions.
The notion that men want lots of sex and that women are more likely to feel used by hookups is painfully obvious. Where exactly is the big revelation? Human beings were this way before apps came along. They’ve just found the technological liquor cabinet, that’s all.
In any case, let’s be careful of exaggeration. It’s simply not true that we now live in a world where it’s all meaningless and people don’t want relationships. Yes people still have issues with monogamy, they always will. But they still want relationships. Both can be true at the same time. Free love and ambivalence over the difficulties of traditional couplehood did not begin with Tinder. Let’s not fall into the trap of believing that people are evolving just as quickly as our technology. Human evolution takes place over millions of years. Our core desires haven’t changed, and Tinder hasn’t ushered in Huxley’s Brave New World overnight. Relax.
The truths of this article we have to wrestle with…
Increases in our perceived choice will always drive up our standards.
More choice = fussier people. We know this. But what’s wrong with that? We should be fussy in this area of our lives, and we mustn’t be afraid of our ‘perceived competition’. If the only reason we were right for our partners before was that they couldn’t get anyone else we must have been in some really sad relationships.
I choose to be a little more romantic than that. I believe that there are people in life with whom we truly connect, who make everyone else fade away. We choose them not because they are objectively the most special person in the world, but because we have something special with them. Relationships are not a game of top trumps.
The answer to seemingly complex problems is often simple. In this case, it’s following Steve Martin’s advice “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. Which brings me on to my final point…
Our social skills are getting worse
You may be reading my previous point about upping your game and feeling daunted by the prospect, but there’s great news for you: it’s easier to stand out these days than ever.
That is because although human needs and desires haven’t changed, their competence levels have. Competence is something that can change in a single generation, and this is a generation whose social skills are becoming stunted by social media.
If you are the 1 in 10 people in a bar, a café, a restaurant, who still knows how to start a conversation and put your best foot forward…You. Will. Win. Because as always, the way to stand out is not to play the same game everyone else is playing, and right now the most valuable commodities in the dating marketplace are authenticity and a backbone. This is not just true for men, but women too. The woman who will win is the one who is able to go out and subtly start a conversation with the guy whom other women aren’t meeting because he’s not running up to every woman in the room.
Our dear friend John, who sends pizza and beer emojis on Tinder, will one day have a real conversation with a woman who is smart, kind, sexy and interesting, and who expects the same from him. Then he’ll want a relationship with her, that is, if he still remembers how to talk to a woman at that point.
The bigger cultural question on my mind is not about Tinder, or the dating apocalypse. These things have a way of correcting themselves, so cover your ears to the noise in the meantime. Instead it’s this…
What has to happen now to ensure new generations don’t lose the fundamental people skills that are still essential to all of the best parts of life? Building friendships, crafting careers we love, strengthening our bonds with family, attracting the right partner, and finally being a great partner. Young people may not notice the pain of failing to develop these skills now, but they will, because their absence will be palpable later on. And it will cost them dearly.
For now, I suggest you do the same as I do. Take some selfish pleasure in the knowledge that while everyone else is eroding their social skills, you can choose to build yours in the real world. After all, as a guy it’s easier to compete with a bunch of emoji-sending twenty something’s than live in a world of real-life Don Drapers. Then I’d really never get laid.
Matthew Hussey is a New York Times Bestselling Author, a columnist for Cosmopolitan magazine, and the formal contributor to The Today Show on NBC.