Femini Online: On Dating Apps
Originally pubished on Femini online
I’ve been wondering lately, how much of the dating hell we experience in 2018 has to do with how much the dating world has changed with the internet?
When I was 13 you’d go out with a boy for two weeks, snog once, speak exactly 5 sentences to each other and then dump them by text - and it went downhill from there in direct correlation with the rise of social media. Spurred I’m sure from chronic hiding behind machines and lack of face to face communication, the term ‘Ghosting’ has become a part of any given young person’s vocabulary. We don’t dump anymore if we can help it, we just ignore the other person until they get the message. It’s cowardly (and yes, I’ve done it too.) At it’s worst, ghosting leaves you stranded in love land, without closure, confused, and full of shame. When it happens it’s usually something to do with the person who did the ghosting, but the person whose self-esteem takes a hit is the person who is on the receiving end. Basically we’re all awful and should go back to ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ chats, a cliche for a reason I think.
Another term is sharking: failing to communicate anything directly to a person but dropping hints by liking their photos on Instagram or Facebook. This usually occurs with exes and doesn’t necessarily mean anything, it’s often a short release for people who had some what-if feelings but never intended to do anything about them. This I haven’t done, but I’m sure I’ve accidentally liked a photograph of a guy when I’ve been stalking him into the depths of his Instagram.
And there’s another thing: we don’t even need to see each other in real life anymore. Forget dating apps, if you’re on social media AT ALL then there’s no mystery. This is, essentially, quite useful, but still potentially harmful. I’ve had to block exes because I couldn’t get them out of my head and didn’t want to see how bloody (seemingly) great their lives were, and I’ve been blocked, and received abuse from scorned exes who would never had said those things to me face to face.
Now let’s remember dating apps. They are good because if you really want a date you can get one. They are good because lots of couples have met on them and been very happy. They are not good because they give us the ultimate excuse not to talk to and interacting with people in public.
We don’t talk to people anymore, and in London that means we’ve gone from keeping our head down on the tube to cornering ourselves off in bars and scowling at people who ask us for lighters. I can’t remember the last time I had a friendly chat with a woman in the toilets of a nightclub, probably because I don’t go clubbing anymore and no one is drunk enough in the toilets of The Tate Modern to make friendly banter in the queue. If an advance does happen with a stranger on the street, and it’s a genuine advance not a man cat calling you, it’s so rare that you’re often left in shock - wondering if it’s genuine or if you’re actually just being peddled to buy one of those beauty photoshoot packages, or cocaine.
Is it really worth it when you can just go home and only talk to people who have pre-approved your face as being datable? Also the choice is at times overwhelming. Back in the day you’d marry the man who was roughly your age from the neighbouring village, and if you were lucky you’d get to pick the best looking of 3. Now it’s like when we used to go to Videobox and argue over one or two VHS's until you finally settled on a nice compromise that provided you with a good balance for the mood, and now we spend hours on Netflix, overwhelmed with options, until the food arrives and we stop to eat it, get drowsy from the wine, watch a couple of episodes of Bojack Horseman and go to bed. I appreciate, love and resent having so much choice.
Tinder is full of seemingly decent men, with nice smiley photos, a good sense of humour and seemingly above average intelligence, right? I had a string of matches who, after talking to me from between 2 to 10 minutes, asked me either if I’d like to share my entire sexual history with them, if I'd like to meet them for a 2pm shag or if I would like to participate in group cyber mastibation with them. This is not something I've experienced when meeting people at parties, but perhaps I've been going to the wrong parties.
Bumble seemed more promising. A feminist friendly app where the women speak first, and one where many real life couples I know started. I gave up on this after a week, when a man who lived down the road from me sent me a picture of his bum without me asking. It wasn’t a cock shot, and it wasn’t a bad bum, but (especially after my Tinder trauma) I still wasn’t happy about it. Perhaps a large percentage of men have always thought that sending dick picks to strangers is a way of getting a date, and dating apps have just allowed them to do it safely behind the protection of their smart phones. But why do men feel like it’s OK to send us unsolicited pictures of their nether regions or make outrageously offensive comments? Is it supposed to be sexy or do they hate us? How come most of the men who use dating apps haven’t figured out that this is part of the problem? How loud do we have to shout to be heard here? And are there actually any women who want to be sent them? Because the men keep doing it in spite of what I can only assume is a zero percent success rate.
Finally I downloaded Hinge, which fared a lot better. It’s designed to make the conversations flow and not to focus so much of aesthetics. I actually found myself apologising to people for not messaging back, like you supposedly would in real life. I cannot recommend this app enough for people who actually intend to follow through on dates and not flake at the last minute (again we all do it - call it what you like, meeting a complete stranger for a drink is in no ones comfort zone). I met a really nice guy who I was talking to for days, and I genuinely believed I might have hit something with this one. Then he sent me a video of a man in a New Years Eve costume as a bandit pretending to rape a lady. Though my inner angry feminist reeled it’s head, I considered meeting up with him anyway. Why? Because we’re in the middle of a huge shift in social-consciousness for every single person, regardless of gender, and as a result of this we’re an entire generation of work-in-progresses. We’re all learning, and we’re all wrong, a lot. The question isn’t ‘Is he a misogynist’ it’s ‘How much, and is he prepared to listen and learn when you call him out on it?’. I really believe that in most cases people want to listen and learn, and people want to be better, and people’s backs will eventually go down if you have the patience to wait.
I want to blame the numerous dating apps that have made it impossible to meet people in the real world because everyone is too busy swiping on their phones, but I feel I need to acknowledge the huge changes happening to dating because of Me Too. The nasty tinder messages that reveal the true colours of otherwise seemingly normal men, the conversations where you find out your male friend refuses to listen or acknowledge the imbalances of power that still exist, to name a few examples - these moments have made the list of options a lot smaller than it was before. Don’t even get me started on the exes we look back on and realise they violated us physically or emotionally and we never even realised because it was just normal. Maybe it’s the Me Too movement, or maybe I’m just more educated in general now, but when I look back at the behaviour of some of my exes I feel ashamed I didn't say anything, and that in itself is a whole other problem.
I have a friend who works for a company that trains men to be better with women. She takes them out to bars and coaches them as they approach women, and then debriefs. She told me it was complete proof for her that the Patriarchy has screwed up men as much as it’s screwed up women. She said she was touched by the sheer number of men lacking in confidence or understanding, messing things up and getting defensive, and completely cut off from their complex emotions: from Men-don’t-feel-painers to Eton Disorders, no one seems to have lived in society unscathed. Also, men often don’t have the close friendships that women have, they don’t get the sort of support and talk time that women provide for each other, and many of the older men my friend has worked with have gone their entire lives without noticing or changing any of their behavioural patterns.
Change is good, but at the moment it's a bit of a mess to navigate, and it's not like we can wait a decade for things to settle into a healthier groove. I have many friends in their late 30s who still haven't managed to settle down: good people, with many amiable qualities - catches if you will. Maybe it’s time to start processing this stuff. Millennials are the in-between generation who have been hit by the sad reality of all being around the age of 30 and in a dating world that doesn’t function the same way it did when they were growing up. Being a single person at 30 always has it’s pressures, but being a single person at 30 now is like restarting your career in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or understand it’s customs. The dating world is going through some growing pains, and that is without a doubt a fantastic thing, but as I stared into the Thames, phone in hand with dating apps up, electric cigarette ablaze, I couldn’t help but wonder…Are we a sacrificial lamb of a generation, doomed to be single into our late 40s, or are we just so overloaded with choice that the fear of making the wrong one ultimately outweighs the desire to make one at all?