I want to talk about Vanity Fair’s “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse” article, today. Because it’s the latest in a series of commentary on twentysomething dating culture and, as a twentysomething, I feel like I have an obligation to address the issues it brought up.
The author makes some interesting points and she’s certainly done her homework by reaching out to researchers for quotes and doing some field work interviews on the app’s users. But I don’t agree with everything this article says or at least not all of what it’s implying about the way people my age interact with one another. I also think the interview research was significantly lacking in diversity. Just because you spoke to a few guys in New York City and a handful of girls at University of Delaware, that doesn’t mean you’ve gotten the full picture of an app’s usefulness.
In general, the author uses quotes and commentary to prop up the idea that Tinder and other similar apps are destroying dating culture amongst millennials and changing the behavior of twentysomethings. She argues that we’re treating each other like sex objects and failing to make meaningful connections because the dynamics between partners have changed from in person conversations to binary exchanges. Its no longer, “I met this nice guy/girl, let’s commit.” Now the apps tell us that, “Hey, there are a ton of singles in a 20 mile radius from me, so there’s probably someone better.”
I don’t entirely disagree with that sentiment. I’ve got a stash of inappropriate text messages and screenshots to prove how awful some people on Tinder can be and the swiping does get a bit addictive. But what the article fails to point out is that most of the people who use the apps in that “see how many notches on the bedpost I can get” way are the same guys who, ten years ago, would have been like How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson at the bar. App or not, they still wouldn’t be ready to commit; the app just makes their jobs easier.
However, what it does do is give them the impression that their sleeping arrangements are normative behavior. No one watching How I Met Your Mother thinks Barney’s playboy routine is healthy for him or any of the girls he lures into bed. So they cheer when he finally settles down with Robin and point out the fact that, under everything he was a good guy the whole time, a guy who was just trying to find the right girl to settle down with. But these apps basically say to their users, “If everyone from Sally Homebody to Dungeons and Dragons Danny is on the app, then that must mean that they’re all looking for/doing the same thing as me.”And that’s not necessarily true; it’s just the perceived reputation of the app.
I’ve been using Tinder on and off for about a year now. I’ve talked to a few dozen people for varying lengths of time (sometimes multiple at once) and met up with a few guys for drinks in person. And I have to say that my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Have I met the man of my dreams? No. But I think it’s pretty easy to tell from someone’s profile what kind of person they are and I’ve gotten good at weeding out the weirdos. The situations described by the men interviewed in this article – the thrice weekly hookups or 100 + partners a year – are easily avoidable if you’re good at reading people. (They’re also easily achievable, too if that is what you happen to be looking for. Some people genuinely are and that’s A-OK, too.)
I also feel compelled to point out that I do actually know a few people who’ve begun relationships through apps. Does it happen for everyone? No, of course not. But it’s entirely plausible that the app’s “personality” changes in different locations. The boys quoted in the article were all from New York City, a place with a higher population and a higher density of young people than my own hometown. It’s also a city historically known for a rough dating scene. So isn’t it possible that the pool of datable people in my town has a different personality than those in New York City, that their wants, needs, and dating agendas might be a bit different? I think so.
I don’t discredit the experiences of those quoted in the article and I think that the author did a great job of highlighting what is an ongoing cultural shift. I just don’t think that it captured the full picture or acknowledged the influence of specific personalities within the app environment. And I don’t think that dating apps are solely responsible for the shift, either. There are plenty of other contributing factors, including one brought up by The Washington Post. According to them, dating apps just highlight a socioeconomic and educational imbalance that increases the availability of single women. And so the Post asks: if there are more women in the field than men, and men are more aware of it than ever thanks to Tinder, then what’s to encourage any man to settle down? Read it here!
Let me know what you think in the comments down below. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, especially if you’re a twentysomething.