Online Dating, Where The Modern Self Goes To Die
You swipe until your fingers are sore, seeing the same poses over and over again, the same buzzwords and backgrounds. Online dating feels so hopeless because it has killed any notion of individuality.
BERLIN — One dating app used by millions of people asks users to complete a series of standard sentences, in order to impress potential partners with their witty offerings. One of these sentences begins: “My worst nightmare is…” Usually it is followed by harmless, childish suggestions such as “eating nothing but blue moon ice cream for the rest of my life” or “going to a Taylor Swift concert with my parents.”
The truth is that, if they were being honest, anyone who hasn’t yet waved goodbye to all their common sense and self-worth would have to write: a dating app like this one.
Dating apps are a nightmare. Of course that is an exaggeration: everyone knows that there are truly terrible existential problems in the world. But setting these aside for a moment, there is nothing worse than scrolling through tens of thousands of profiles that are all trying to be as personal and individual as possible and yet all end up looking the same.
Adults who are willing to turn the exciting game of flirtation into such a charmless process often also have to endure all kinds of aesthetically and politically objectionable content. “Abandon hope” is all there is to say to those who have ended up trapped in the nightmare of online dating.
They swipe until their fingers are sore and their brains are numb, seeing the same poses over and over again, the same buzzwords, the same backgrounds, the same faces. Postmodern individuality follows a template. The Instagram generation usually just include a link to their Instagram account, where the reams of photos offer some insight into how they like to present themselves. They range from grainy, arty photos and bright snaps of parties, weddings, beach trips or their work life, to free publicity for restaurants in the local area.
A woman taking a selfie at the gym.
SUNDAY II SUNDAY via Unsplash
Working out is sexy
The possibilities for self-representation are endless – and all equally terrible. Every cluster of emojis used in a profile sounds a death knoll for aesthetics. Every pet captured in a photo is an affront to good taste. Every implied claim that "I am always in a good mood and love meeting new people" offends our common sense. We could go on. It is almost refreshingly honest when someone unsubtly shows off their cleavage or includes a bottle of alcohol in the frame. Although that isn’t exactly charming either.
Looking for: a gym buddy. No, thank you!
In John Carpenter’s cult film They Live, beautiful, brightly colored adverts conceal messages designed to brainwash the populace. The same is true of dating apps, where each profile sends an unsubtle message to users that they need to work on themselves. To become the best version of themselves. All the time, without a break and with no end in sight. Users proudly post photos and clips of themselves hanging off various gym machines or doing exercises. Always well framed and shot, as if directed by a professional, with the camera swooping up from underneath the rock-hard body. Hobbies: gym, running, yoga. Looking for: a gym buddy. No, thank you!
And users are not only expected to work on their bodies, but also on their minds. Keywords such as self-reflection, mindfulness and authenticity are bandied about like a new kind of cryptocurrency on the dating market. That is also a way of working on yourself, and it also has to be advertised. Users write about their positive experiences of therapy, and expect to see proof that potential partners are making similar efforts. Therapy is sexy now. In old Woody Allen films, the protagonists are always spouting off to their psychoanalysts, but back then it was seen as a neurotic eccentricity, not as an imperative on the dating scene.
A man taking a selfie in the street.
maxx ❄ via Unsplash
Society has crushed the individual
The more proof you can show that you’re caving to societal pressures, from gym selfies to stints on the therapy couch, the more attractive you are. That is the one hard and fast rule of online dating. Or, in other words, nothing is as attractive as working hard to fit in. Being fit means fitting in, both physically and mentally.
That is more depressing than sexy.
In the past, it was sexy to resist the pressure to conform, but nowadays that is viewed with suspicion, as if it is a contagious disease. Society has crushed the individual, and now individuals need therapy so that they can compete for matches with others, who are by no means having a better time of it. That is more depressing than sexy.
The people who do well on dating apps – highly educated, with better careers, cultured and progressive – do not show off by posing with fancy cars or yachts. Probably because they don’t have the money to do so. The only option they have left is to put themselves on the market, and to prove how obsessively they are working on themselves, their body, their skills and their mental health. However, no one wants to see people work hard, it’s the biggest vibe-killer. And that is precisely what makes dating apps such a nightmare. Or, as Adorno said: There is no true dating within a false life.
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