Swipe Fatigue: How online dating is failing us
Jasmine Sachar
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OK. Great problem. Romance in neoliberalism is fraught with blocked routes and social media fills in for what we assume are richer experiences from the past. The desire to blame the medium is ancient. Plato has Socrates demonize writing in the Phaedrus. What was the charge? Corruption of deep values and youth not hooking up because writing kills the authentic by installing illusions. Sound familiar? Media mediate. They create an image of a reality that is NEVER that reality. So the claim is ancient and uninteresting. Looking at apps and convenience for an explanation of missed connections is a reasonable place to look but a brief trot through the history of betrothal, courtship, marriage, dating and sex shows us folks moved at just a quick pace in many instances and often faster. Mass weddings. Blind dates. Speed dates. Marriage fairs. Bride exchanges. Contract unions. Etc. The issue to me is the notion of Romance as it exists in popular culture. It’s bogus. It’s a nostalgic mythology of a simpler time that never was. Dating is first and foremost about mastering basic social interactions well enough not to get dumped at day 1. Hookups are sex trysts that until recently think the sixties onward most people did not have as a formal activity. The tail end of the sexual revolution has bound up in neoliberal social fractionation and Millennials are left with a sort of culture of sexual liberation and institutions and work income disposable income that make it near impossible to emancipate or change society. No one knew if it was a date or a hookup in youth culture when rock concerts, film fairs, nightclubs and festivals and raves were the spaces of young romance. You figured it out, often badly. But unlike the dating app date which promises a fast track to the union you seek, these spaces were rich, transformative and intoxicating. The kinds of random meets were made momentous by environment. Usually deliberately. Trying to find intimacy by lists of criteria creating random meets through a dating app is simply using the medium wrong and expecting too much. Intimacy is about affect. Emotion. The so called ‘spark' is not a passive process but an active one. Both parties must be engaged with opening a dialogue about the self that isn’t based in materialist concerns. Most especially for Millennials whose concerns are grave due to the collapse of the middle class under neoliberalism. Yet the career goals in this gamed landscape are not commensurate with intimacy a deep connection or a romantic epic. They in fact operate to make it almost impossible to find happiness. This too is nothing new. The system has been conspiring against star crossed lovers as far back as Romeo and Juliet. See the concerns. Similar to those expressed here. So why do I care? Because I came of age in a period of cultural jouissance that made us believe in love and in magic and in romance. The relationships built are still strong. I was there to see the random awkward meetings of chance. But the context of feeling like you are changing the world and being on the margin means casting off convention being accepting of newness and open to change. This heady brew is the memory shared by a couple forged in it of the best time of their lives and that is pretty darn romantic. So if you use dating apps, populate them with breadcrumbs easy and hard. Use words to speak to your values and needs not abilities and skills. The fish that come in to see an odd, cryptic and idiosyncratic profile are the fish who swim differently. Some will be weird. Some banal. Some magical. I have three LTR from internet dating and hookups. Each was exceptional. Romantic. Transforming. All three dates started and ended with sex. Gay men have a slight advantage here. I went with no expectations and no reservations. In each case something outstanding emerged in the dialogue before during and after. When I get outstanding social experiences I always tell the person I expect a new friend at least. What is exceptional? Manners and humorous but clever structure of courtship on text message. The unexpected addessing of my deepest fears and problems by a man I had only just met followed by a hug and great sex. The perfection of the art of genuine flattery. These skills are emotional and communicative. They do not relate to body type or employment or interests. They speak to a long experience of being with other humans well. I had no clue when I was 18. How could you? But in between 18 and 35 for Millennials there is precious little time for the walkabout or the spiritual quest or even the road less travelled. Social Media is again a symptom but not a cause. The cause is political and economic. The class Millennials are trying to enter has been emptied out. It is a system of credit and artifice. The real wealth moved up. Housing education and retirement are not financially possible for most of what was middle class without heavy borrowing. One fault and it’s gone. This is not the space of Romance and self discovery. It’s the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Yet the mediascape offers images of possible attainable reasonable and filled with intimate connections and wild success. THIS is the illusion. Social isolation is multicausal but smaller families moving far and working long hours has exacerbated it. We’re lonely because our pre agrarian social groups were 100. That is a family so to speak who worked together to build community. Now, work is not social or intimate. Public space is transitional not transformative. Families are tiny, and adults starting out may live alone or with strangers. You are feeling a real thing here. It’s just much more systemic. My social group from the Rave years was 100 easily. We were like a family. The touching hugging dancing crying and tripping were transformational. We all learned life skills but also got close physical emotional and other support from each other. We were never lonely. But the first steps were unknown. Scary. Alienating. Alone. We all came to it because it was new and the parties had a magic none had seen. I met all of these people being shy stunned and ecstatic. Invariably in the unfamiliar everything you would see another human with one of those expressions. Feeling out of place but also enraptured you just went and spoke to the feeling shared. Bond made. New friend. Night one. By night 80 we were 100. You might find love and romance in a career path. Or on the street. But loneliness due to social isolation is not cured by sex or romance. It’s cured by touching others and getting close to people you know well enough to trust. It’s not drinks at a fancy bar or a date to see a fading rock star read memoirs. Intimate social space is almost inexistent. It does exist in some yoga studios, nightclubs, social groups, faith communities, artistic groups, etc. One place where the values of fairness openness care support interest reciprocity etc can be shared and supported is on social media. Change the content. Change the rules. Change the outcome. The expectation that one person is going to fill the void left by 100 is the most dangerous lie of neoliberal social gospel. Of course your soul mate can’t be an entire support system. Neither can you. This is engineered failure. Designed to hide what’s gone by suggesting a shiny future. Go on dates to make friends. Build connections based on interst in sharing novelty and mystery. Fun and surprise. Self growth without the money or the woo. No spark here. Shared values and desire to see more of the other. Love comes to you from you first but you can’t make it out of nothing. Low level social intimacy makes the brain see the world in brighter terms. More general happiness. More ability to see opportunity depression or isolation masks. More going out of the way. New people in a new context not professional economic political or sexualized means meeting folks for other reasons. Meetup can help with that.

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