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Instead of offering real, human connection with a single swipe, Sales argued that dating apps were simply turning up the dial on hookup culture, and hetero women were once again left to work out the mental gymnastics to convince ourselves that, actually, this was good. A single mom in her 50s, she reported finding particular success on the apps with young men in their 20s, some of whom turned into exciting trysts, others awkward sexual partners, and one a life-altering heartbreak. In my interview with Sales, we talk about how dating apps make us feel terrible, and discuss some ideas on how to make the internet a more tolerable place for women.
Do you feel vindicated at all that in the six years since, people have been a lot less Why are dating sites bad to Big Tech? There has not been a reckoning at all in the way it needs to happen. One of the points you turn to a lot is that dating apps make people feel disposable and that they gamify dating.
What impact does that have on the way we date? But I also think that the app controls our behavior and makes us treat everybody as disposable. People who would normally not have had these thoughts in their he are doing this because of dating apps. The more you see year-old women or whatever — and [the apps] have fake bots, too — it gets your dopamine spiking.
At the time of the Tinder story, people accused you of creating a moral panic and of being a pearl-clutcher. I did my whole thesis on courtly love and feminism. But it really is nice to have somebody in your thrall, trying to make you feel special. That should be a goal on both sides, to make someone feel special. All this hedging that people do over dating apps is so tiresome to me. But just, like, could you just care a little bit? How did you see your own dating patterns change when you got on the apps? There used to be a lot more randomness. You read the book — in the past, a lot of bad things have happened to me.
But I do remember having a lot of fun, and the kind of fun that was about being an independent young woman in New York. It was random. It was a mystery. It was magic. Then I went on dating apps, and I felt like I was in service to the app.
It was labor. They also might be an incel. You might be having a good conversation but then they want to get a nude, or they want to come over right away and you say no, and they turn on a dime and turn abusive. I definitely met some interesting guys, and the reason why I was going out with younger guys was because I was trying to get over a heartbreak and it seemed like a fun thing to do to date a year-old for a minute as a nice distraction.
One of the moments in the book that stuck with me is the feeling of trying to explain to a male friend — someone who likely thinks of himself as a feminist — about sexism and watching his eyes just totally glaze over. As much as we are having a moment and are moving forward, I think this technology is exacerbating misogyny. In your documentary, you interview a psychologist who theorizes that the two biggest shifts in dating have been the agricultural revolution and the internet.
When we look back at early dating apps a few decades down the line, what do you think or hope we will have learned by then? That this was a dark age; that this was a period of acceptable and normalized brutality that encouraged things that are completely at odds with our health, our well-being, and our humanity.
We have companies that are actively blocking us from finding what we need under the guise of doing the opposite. I think that is so wrong. For those of us who know you mostly for your narrative reporting pieces, this book was strikingly personal. What was it like going from writing about other people to writing about yourself? I was very scared. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower through understanding. Financial contributions from our readers are a critical part of supporting our resource-intensive work and help us keep our journalism free for all.
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Dating apps are common, useful—and widely disliked