Why I Care about the End of Dating

I’m not in Tinder’s demographic, so perhaps I can be forgiven for not understanding the app and it’s impact on the dating process. When I first heard about the ‘swiping’ app, my response was ho-hum. After all, I reasoned, how much can any technology change the awkwardness of dating? You still have to summon the necessary courage to put yourself out there and provide enough witty repartee to succeed in wooing, right?

Ohhhh, how wrong I was.

During my weekend foraging through new things to think about, I stumbled on an article in Vanity Fair called Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse. I don’t normally read Vanity Fair, and no reference to apocalypse feels worthy, but this article definitely struck more than a few cords with me. I would recommend a read, because given your age and lifestyle you may take away a different message than I did, but for a middle-aged serial monogamist and relationship-builder I came away with three things:

  • What does it mean if sex between consenting adults is easy, but doing so means a man is ‘sowing his oats’ and a woman is ‘not marriage material’?
  • How will people learn how to date — and through dating learn about compatibility and what they need from a relationship — if we reduce interactions to nights of hook-ups based on sexy pics?
  • What happens to population demographics if individuals put off (or are incapable of) forming relationships that result in children? What if they have children with no relationship?

Heavy stuff, I know. But reading the author share the Tinder scene in NY, where singles sit at bar tables leaning over their phones waiting for a *bing* like Pavlov’s dog because they both swiped right, freaked me out. No small talk? No banter? It’s getting all the instant gratification of sex without having any of the fear of rejection or worries about intimacy. Everyone gets to be big man on campus — and who the heck wouldn’t take that deal?

Ok, so maybe I should back up. Some people who are reading this — like me — may not know what Tinder is. To put it simply, Tinder is a location-based social media app. It shows you pictures from other users and if you find them attractive you swipe to the right. If you don’t find them attractive, you swipe to the left. If two users swipe right (*bing*) the app alerts you to a match and you can chat via text and potentially meet up in real life. I found a couple of sources that say there are a billion swipes a day by Tinder users. That’s billion. With a ‘b’. Lots of people saying basically, “Ooh, I like that.”

When I first heard about Tinder (old school, serial monogamist that I am) I thought, “Oh, isn’t that sweet? If I’m afraid to go up to that cute boy in Physics and say hi, I can just swipe him. If he doesn’t think I’m cute, no biggie. But if he does maybe we can get an ice cream down at the malt shop and chat.”

Again, not so much. Here’s a quote from the article.

Mobile dating went mainstream about five years ago; by 2012 it was overtaking online dating. In February, one study reported there were nearly 100 million people—perhaps 50 million on Tinder alone—using their phones as a sort of all-day, every-day, handheld singles club, where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida. “It’s like ordering Seamless,” says Dan, the investment banker, referring to the online food-delivery service. “But you’re ordering a person.”

Ordering a person? Did he say that out loud? To a reporter?

Part of the challenge for me in internalizing this whole thing is that I am not joking about being a serial monogamist. Even when I knew a relationship wasn’t serious or wouldn’t last, I took the point-in-time commitment seriously. For me, the idea of dating or being intimate with multiple people is completely foreign. Not because of any moral compunction (I have no judgement of individuals who have multiple romantic interests at any given time) but simply because it is not the way I am wired. I could no more date two people at the same time as I could cheat on my husband.

But let’s put that aside for a minute. The world isn’t made up of Mels, the world is made up of a fascinating variety of individuals who get energy and purpose in a lot of different ways. Some people are happy balancing a bevy of engaging partners —  with or without the strings of emotional entanglement. The problem is, when it comes to learning how to build relationships, I have yet to meet a person who had it all figured out. Most of us struggle. 

In fact, most of us can give examples of relationships where we thought we knew what we were doing and we didn’t. Or we thought we knew what we wanted and we were wrong. Where we failed to ask a critical question, or heard what we wanted to hear. Or maybe we just had to figure out how to ask for what we wanted, or be more assertive. But the point is, we didn’t get it right the first time. We got it wrong, but for most of us we stumbled around when we were young. We learned before the stakes became too high, and before the drop could be too significant.

What if we could have avoided the learning when we were young because we could just skip to the sex. Be honest, wouldn’t we have? If we think back to our 18-28 year old selves, wouldn’t we have just passed by the awkward? Be honest, we wouldn’t be any different than these guys:

“It’s instant gratification,” says Jason, 26, a Brooklyn photographer, “and a validation of your own attractiveness by just, like, swiping your thumb on an app. You see some pretty girl and you swipe and it’s, like, oh, she thinks you’re attractive too, so it’s really addicting, and you just find yourself mindlessly doing it.” “Sex has become so easy,” says John, 26, a marketing executive in New York. “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.”

In the end, I don’t have to worry about myself. I have the bumps and bruises from dating that helped me gain capabilities for building a good relationship. I learn new skills and techniques all the time. That good relationship has given me a solid foundation, for me and my kids. I’m not worried about whether or not I’m getting any right swipes and what it means. But, damn, I am still worried.

What am I going to tell my kids?

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