Sorry Vanity Fair, but online dating didn’t invent a hook-up culture any more than it killed romance.
Word on the street is that Twitter and the rest of the social media stratosphere is suddenly abuzz with the shocking article by Nancy Jo Sales for Vanity Fair which states that Millennial men and women have been forced into a horrifying dating quandary by the most devious app of all time—Tinder.
According to Sales, it seems that Tinder has put 20-something men and women into the precarious position of having too many people of the opposite (or same) sex to meet, thereby sending these young men’s brains into cave-man mode and causing them to desire only casual sex, while at the same time forcing their female contemporaries into the subservient role of sex objects who have no choice but to be used or die an old maid.
I call bullshit.
Maybe the 20-somethings quoted in this piece have been watching too many reruns of “Friends” to take a look at my generation’s classic movies “Singles” and “Reality Bites.” Or maybe all of the education budget cuts in public schools over the past decade mean they stopped teaching that cave-man thinking goes back to, you know, cave-man times.
In other words, none of the behaviors described here are all that new, and neither online dating nor Tinder are responsible.
As someone who works every day with individuals and couples who are either thinking about getting divorced, getting divorced or recovering from divorce, I find this article and those of it’s online-dating-blaming-ilk to be scapegoating at its worst, and here’s why.
1. It perpetuates tired stereotyping about what men and women want and how they can or cannot get it.
The piece first introduces the reader to a group of snarky Millennial women snorting at and then left-swiping a bunch of men who don’t meet their standards. Yet these women are not the ones about to be taken to task for their behavior.
Instead, the reader then meets a group of men of the same age and financial status. These men are sorting through women on the exact same app. Their commentary about the women they swipe is in no way nobler than that made by the women. And that is my point.
Can someone please explain to me how a young woman who rules a man out for his “Dad bod” has not just clearly objectified that man? She is no less guilty of selecting her dates based on material and superficial criteria then these men are.
This is not first generation of men and women in history to select mates based on physical attraction. Men compare notes on their strategies for bedding women, as women compare notes on how men have tried to bed them (again, please see my reference to “Singles,” and then add “When Harry Met Sally,” and “Grease,” and on and on).
The implication here is that in today’s dating arena, “a lack of an intimate knowledge of [potential sex partners] never presents [an] obstacle to physical intimacy,” simply because of the magically seductive powers of text messaging.
I cannot say this too strongly. A good man will be a good man on or off of dating apps, and vice versa. A good woman will respond and treat that good man in kind. No text, app notification or blaring siren from the ether can make you behave otherwise.
2. It makes grandiose statements about how much easier dating apps have made it to have sex without convincing evidence to prove that they also damage relationships.
My apologies to the 29-year-old woman who labeled this “The Dating Apocalypse,” but did you actually date anyone prior to the invention of online dating? I did, and guess what—back then there were men who just wanted sex and men who wanted relationships. Just like there were women who just wanted sex and women who wanted relationships. All of those same men and women are out there now, in the flesh and online.
Sales quotes a Kinsey Institute researcher, which sounds like an impressive credential to me, but all he says is that “We are in unchartered territory.” Agreed. Does unchartered necessarily imply negative? I thought it just meant that we don’t know a whole lot about it.
Again, this article uses fragmented information to jump to sweeping conclusions. Yes, some immature men choose to send text messages as basic as “Wanna fuck?” I am not condoning that behavior. I am simply stating that there were immature men prior to the development of online dating, and those guys were just as happy to say it to women’s faces. Or behind their back in grocery stores, which may or may not have happened to me.
3. It blames the swipe as “comparison shopping” instead of taking an honest look at human dating behavior.
I have long held that Tinder’s design is actually genius, as I believe it more accurately mimics the way human attraction rituals play out in real life than those dating site requiring that users compose multiple essays that no one really wants to read or write anyway.
Here are the parallels as I see them:
- You see someone in a bar (profile picture).
- You decide in a split second whether or not you find them attractive and you either try to make eye contact (swipe right) or don’t (swipe left).
- They do the same and either return eye contact (“it’s a match!”) or don’t (you never hear anything and quickly forget you saw them).
- One of you starts talking to the other (first message sent) or not (they linger in your silent list of matches).
- Conversation strikes up, interest develops, and you either plan to meet up or you don’t.
- All is romance and jelly beans and you live happily ever after, or you don’t.
Once again, if you have ever tried to date anyone at any point in your life, this simply is not an innovative procedure, and there is definitely nothing sinister about it.
4. It perpetuates tired stereotyping of why marriages end.
Next the reader gets to hear from a fancy expert from the University of Texas at Austin who states that dating apps create a perception that men have a surplus of women to choose from, and as a result “the whole mating system tends to shift towards short-term dating. Marriages become unstable. Divorces increase. Men don’t have to commit, so they pursue a short-term mating strategy, and… women are forced to go along with it in order to mate at all.”
To begin with, not one marriage I have ever worked with became unstable because of either online dating or a surplus of females. Marriages suffer because of poor communication, lack of sex, lack of intimacy, financial troubles, addiction issues, mental health issues, and much more. If a married man or woman ends up looking elsewhere online, I can promise you that the issues delve far deeper than a friend of a friend mentioning some hot bod they saw online.
Secondly, the divorce rate is not actually increasing. Back in December of 2014 the New York Times ran a piece lamenting the fact that even though divorce rates have been decreasing steadily over the past twenty years, the popular the myth that divorce numbers are rising persists. Everyone likes a scary story, right? Not only has the current divorce rate dipped to somewhere around 44%, but want to hear something even more shocking? Somewhere between 75 – 90% of all divorces are initiated by the wife, not the husband. The surplus of females doesn’t seem to be bothering them much.
Thirdly, WTF does this man mean when he says that “women are forced to go along with it in order to mate at all’? It is as though the women in question have no free will. It is as if he trying to imply an issue of non-consent. Please don’t get started down that slippery slope, sir.
Finally, I have never heard of short-term dating actually helping a woman to mate, so I can’t begin to comprehend all of the flawed logic contained in one sentence like this. Worse, does he believe that women have such a need to have a mate that they’ll take anything they can get rather than be alone? To say that he doesn’t seem give women much credit is an understatement.
5. It promotes the kind of double-standard double-talk that is the true barrier to emotional and physical intimacy.
It has become a standard of coolness for smart, attractive women to speak of sex in blatantly raunchy terms. Women quoted throughout this article glibly toss out salacious terms as “pussy affluenza” and “fuckboys.” They bemoan the poor sexual technique of the men they have been with, and they complain that the men of their generation have the highest incidence yet of erectile dysfunction at a young age without actually caring about how devastating that must be for the men themselves.
When discussing the issue of erectile dysfunction, one young woman says, “I have to say, that happens a lot, they just act like it’s the end of the world,” while yet another commiserates by adding, “this guy was so upset, and I was like, Dude, I’ll just go to fucking sleep—it’s O.K.,” followed by yet another friend’s statement that “When I see limp dicks coming at me I’m like, Oh my God.”
These women laugh, and quickly launch into a rant about the ways in which porn has “skewed” these guys view of sex, making them not so great in bed.
Whoa, there cowgirls! As a mental health professional I feel it is my duty to share with you that the stuff you just said about these men’s sexual performance, and about the subsequent physiological manifestations of their anxiety, is what we here refer to as some fucked up bullshit!
Tinder does not create a barrier to emotional intimacy. Laughing at or chastising a man for difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection does. Big time.
We have worked hard, and rightfully so, over the past few decades to teach girls that masturbation is good and sexual satisfaction is just as important for a woman’s well-being as it is for a man’s. All of that is positive and vital. We have also been working hard to let men know that we want them to be men, in the varied glorious ways they choose to do so.
Now we need to start teaching integration. Blaming dating apps, pornography, technology or anything other than the realities of what makes for meaningful human interactions and relationships may make for a sexy cover stories, but leaves us absolutely nowhere.
Photo: Getty Images