Dating Today: Your Tinderella is in Another Castle

Remember when you only had one or two friends on Tinder, and everyone was kind of fascinated with it? Like a foreign exchange student, or an exotic cat, or Ebola? Those were the days. Actually, I don’t think it was more than a few years ago. But hookup culture is the norm now. I think it’s obvious to even the most reluctant millennial. Every single person has their dating app of choice – Tinder, OKCupid, uh… Plenty of Fish? Does that still exist? I remember making an account for fun once and it looked like it was designed in the late '90s and left to collect dust in some sad server rack.

When I bring up hookup culture to older men, their reaction is often akin to hearing a first world problem – especially when you introduce the concept of an app like Tinder. To put it simply, imagine the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Just replace the jubilant apes with jubilant beer-bellied fortysomethings, and the giant black obelisk with a giant black iPhone 6 bearing the all-too-familiar fire icon we’ve all come to resent.

 "Did I hear someone complain about the booty?" VIA  Minnesota Pocket Journal

"Did I hear someone complain about the booty?" VIA Minnesota Pocket Journal

“We used to have to bust our asses to get laid,” they all say. “Go to bars, get shot down, and date a girl for weeks before she’d even consider putting out.” Misogyny aside, they do have a point. Serious relationships are far rarer than they used to be. It’s hard to quantify, as the US census only tracks married vs. non-married. But consider this: marriage rates have been declining steadily since the 1980s. In fact, a new study from Pew Research predicts that a whopping 25% of millennials will never get married. Now there’s something for your disapproving grandparents to spit-take at.

This data speaks volumes about the contemporary views of dating and marriage. But how do guys view this trend? Pop culture has always portrayed men as sex-crazed deviants, always lusting after the next hot woman to walk on-screen. Jack from Three’s Company, Barney from How I Met Your Mother, and the ubiquitous 007 – James Bond. Bond is the gold standard of classy masculinity for many a cinephile. He’s cool under fire, collected, never short a witty quip – and averages two sexual partners per film. Not every action hero is constantly surrounded by women, but they’re rarely in a committed relationship. If you’re the male lead in an action flick, odds are you’re either a womanizer, or a lone wolf in the same vein as John Rambo or Conan the Barbarian.

So, if you’re an avid consumer of entertainment, yeah, today’s hookup culture might seem like the ideal scenario. Some biologists would agree. We’ve propagated our species with males mating as much and as often as possible – much like other mammals. You could argue that the male embrace of the hookup norm is a perfect storm of the survival imperative ingrained deep in our DNA, and the rampant sexualization of mass media.

But I think the real answer is a bit more sinister; I don’t think there was an intentional step towards infidelity and anonymous sex.

Take a look at the pastimes embraced en masse by the internet generation. Video sharing apps, like Vine and Snapchat, have content capped out at ten seconds. No more are photos and art confined to museums and exhibitions – you can scroll through Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook and be bukkaked by a bunch of pretty images until your head pounds and your eyes bleed.

 Saturday Night Live/ NBC/ VIA Tumblr

Saturday Night Live/ NBC/ VIA Tumblr

Twitter, one of the most popular opinion broadcast networks out there, gives you a Spartan 140 characters to say whatever it is you need to say.

You begin to notice a theme here – brevity. None of the most popular apps are designed for long-form content. A lot of online news outlets are taking the easy road, too. Instead of think pieces that require comprehension and interpretation, I find my news feed congested with lists of superficial opinions. “10 Things Only Seniors Will Understand.” “7 Times We Literally Couldn’t Even.” “28 GIFs That Perfectly Describe My Winter Break In Cancun With The Guy From Weekend At Bernie’s.” We’ve all seen them, we’ve all clicked through them mindlessly, drooling on the keyboard like Orwellian zombies.

If we are indeed products of our environment, what about our environment encourages the commitment and hard work necessary for a healthy relationship? Why would you take the time to reconcile the fundamental differences you have with someone you care about, when the next semi-drunken encounter is a swipe and a few corny pickup lines away?

“But Jon!” you say to your computer screen, “a lot of people are on those apps for serious relationships.” OK, you’re right, but people with Tinder profiles reading “Serious Relationships Only” baffle the hell out of me. You go on the most Hedonistic, superficial matching service that has ever existed – one based solely off of looks and 200 characters – and expect The One to come swiping along. That’s like looking for Mr./Mrs. Right in a bar full of lunk-headed protohumans.

I digress.

The multitude of dating services available is a symptom of the times. But the question remains – how do guys feel about it? I can really only speak for myself and a few close friends who’ve dared to share “some real shit” with me (jokes on them, I’m publishing their closet skeletons in a women’s lifestyle magazine). A lot of guys – myself included – have burned their sexual partners, and been burned in turn. Some say it’s all part of the chase – the archaic leftover of our hunter-gatherer days – some say it makes them want to join a celibate monastery hidden in the misty mountaintops of Tibet. Others alternate between the ecstatic joy and suicidal despair of a long-term relationship, and don’t give a damn about our dating experiences unless their significant other decides to set us up with someone.

Truth be told, I think about the new norm a lot when I’m feeling lonely, wishing there was someone to share my feelings with, to eat junk food off of our stomachs together. Depending on the day, the hookup culture could be a Godsend, or literally Hitler, but usually, it’s ambivalence. There are some good byproducts (encouraging emotional independence, breaking down centuries-old and constricting social expectations for women, “teh sex”), and some bad (hurt feelings for both sexes, meaningless and empty sexual relations, STD epidemics).

The hookup culture, if you believe my theory, is another trend brought on by the information age over which we don’t collectively have any control. Just like the gradual automation of the workforce and globalization, being so connected to everyone and everything around us is going to break down old social constructs and build new ones. Sometimes it’s kind of terrifying, sometimes it’s awesome to think about the new society we’re creating. One thing’s for sure – never again am I going to write the word “Tinder” or “sex” so many times in under 1500 words. Unless there’s an orgy on top of a bonfire. Looking at you, Burning Man.

Feature photo by Cody Maldonado, @cxdy-david.