“Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship,” Nancy Jo Sales explains in her recent Vanity Fair article entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse.’” I don’t know about you, but for me, following the travails of the modern dating scene in Sales’ exposé was a bit like driving past a car crash; I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.
In her much-hyped article, Sales, like a fly on the wall, offers a firsthand account of what dating—if you could even call it that—has become thanks to technology and especially Tinder. She quotes men such as John, 26, who says, “Sex has become so easy. 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.” She quotes women such as Amanda, who says, “There is no dating. [There are] no relationships,” and even, “You can have a fling that could last like seven, eight months, and you could never actually call someone your ‘boyfriend.’” An apocalypse, indeed.
Being a single man myself, I have skin in this game. So hearing the stories of how prolifically men have been taking advantage of women, along with how disillusioned women have become as a result, was particularly disheartening to me. Frankly, it pissed me off. I was fully prepared to write a scathing response to the errors of our time directed squarely at the culprits responsible for this whole mess. You know, kick some ass, and take some names.
The problem was, the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that the number one offender—the individual I should first and foremost come out against with guns a’ blazin’—was the one staring back at me, ever so smugly, in the mirror.
Who’s to blame for the so-called “dating apocalypse” that Sales describes? Well, I guess I am. And I’ll tell you why.
It started out innocently enough. I joined my first online dating website about three and a half years ago. My ex had moved on before me, and I wasn’t happy about that. I didn’t like the idea of online dating because I thought that it meant I couldn’t find somebody on my own—like it was an admission of defeat. I got over that about as quickly as I was able to see how many attractive females were available to me now with just the click of a mouse. It seemed too good to be true.
My first online date, Cynthia, was cute enough and personable enough but nothing to write home about. Plus, she gave me a little too much hell for being late, and that was all the excuse I needed to move on. After all, there were plenty more women to “wink” at.
And so I began to casually date for the first time in my life. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti–casual dating, and I’ll even vouch for it if done with the right intentions. Like I said, I was just coming out of a long-term relationship, so I wasn’t ready for anything serious. But after time I realized that my intentions weren’t always as pure as I wanted to admit.
If I didn’t like a girl, I’d find some menial fault in her so that I could move on with a clear conscience to another one. I’d become physically intimate with women before taking the time to consider whether I intended to have any future with them. And if ever that conscience of mine were to suggest that I wasn’t practicing what I preached as far as gentlemanliness goes, I was quick to compare myself favorably to my peers and had no trouble convincing myself that I wasn’t so bad after all. Sure, I wasn’t doing anything that would make the average grown man blush, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t mean a whole lot these days.
It’d be easy for me to blame such behavior on online dating. We all know how easy Tinder and similar apps have made it to begin and end vain “relationships.” But are they to blame for the so-called dating apocalypse that Vanity Fair describes? I certainly can’t blame them for the apocalyptic aftermath that aptly describes my dating life from time to time. But Tinder’s not to blame for my problems; I’m to blame for my problems.
I’m not proud to admit that I find myself defaulting to self-absorbed, self-important, and self-seeking behavior. And if ever I find my dating life in shambles, it’s because I picked up my phone and started swiping—not to find myself a woman to love but because I felt bored or lonely or worse. These apps might be the vehicles, but I’m the driver. When I choose to engage in that world, I’m letting myself behave a certain way. I begin to think of women as “swipeable” rather than respectable and worthy of my commitment. I don’t think enough of her or of myself to decline an invitation to nothing more than one night. My desire for a real relationship with someone is overruled by my sex drive. And I’m all too happy to oblige.
The fact is, if I want the dating landscape to improve—hell, if I want my own life to improve—I ought to look in that mirror of mine and decide it’s time to change. Perhaps it’s just my ego talking again, but I know I can be better. I know what I’m capable of.
My sense is that there are a lot of people who came across that Vanity Fair article and didn’t like what they read. Even many of those described in the article expressed their discontent with the status quo:
“I think to an extent it is, like, sinister.”
“Do you think this culture is misogynistic?”
“No one gets hurt—well, not on the surface.”
“It is sad.”
“It should not be like that at all.”
“It is a problem.”
I’m sure that some of them—and some who read about them—concede that, unfortunately, this is just the way it is and will be. Or, at the very least, they don’t have the slightest idea how to change. For being a relatively new phenomenon, Tinder-style dating has really dug its claws into us and doesn’t seem likely to let up anytime soon.
But I think that there are people who, like me, know that it doesn’t have to be that way—people who know what it takes to date with a purpose. And we need to spend less time complaining about the sad state of dating and more time actually doing something about it.
What does that mean? Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But for me that means showing more respect to the women I come across, whether it be at the farmers market, in a downtown cocktail lounge, or on the latest greatest dating app. It also means making better choices when it comes to interacting with those women. I have to limit my interactions with women whom I know I only see as a potential hookup. Conversely, I have to give those I might call “relationship-quality” legitimate consideration before moving on to the next opportunity. And I have to avoid physical intimacy if its purpose is merely scratching an itch or filling a void as opposed to genuinely expressing affection.
Of course, all of those things are easier said than done. What makes dating apps so scintillating is how quickly and easily you can find someone to flirt with. And anybody who has spent any significant length of time can relate to how addicting it can be to have so many options at your fingertips at any given time. Stepping away from that, or even trying to be more discerning with its use, can be a great exercise in self-control.
I know I have a strong temptation to accept modern dating on its own terms. There is definitely an appeal to the instant gratification that it provides. But I fear that in the modern dating game, there’s no room for straightforward communication, intentional commitment, and thoughtful intimacy. I worry that if I put too much emphasis on those virtues, I’ll turn people off. But of course, when I come to my senses, I wonder why in the Sam hell I would want to be with someone who would be turned off by those things?
That’s what I think it really comes down to here. Am I willing to suffer some rejection, a few more lonely nights than I’d prefer, and indefinite singleness with the hope that I’ll eventually find the real thing? I haven’t always been, but I’m working on it.
And while it might not stave off a worldwide dating apocalypse, I think it’s worth a try.