Moral panics over technology are a grand tradition—particularly if those technologies are perceived as giving men and women “too much” access to each other. The telephone, the bicycle, the postal service, the sofa: The emergence of all these conveniences created moral panics, mostly centered around fears that these inventions would enable women to have sex with caddish men, rendering those ladies unmarriageable.
Now, Nancy Jo Sales warns in Vanity Fair, it’s the smartphone that is creating a “dating apocalypse.” The technology is different, but the argument is reminiscent of warnings about phones and bicycles, which likewise marked the end of love and marriage and everything that is good and pure in this world.
Sales (who is best-known for reporting the source material for The Bling Ring, and for this immortal series of voicemails left for her by Pretty Wild’s Alexis Neiers) paints a bleak picture of modern dating, one where men not only loathe women but—because Tinder makes hooking up so easy—men no longer have to pretend to like women in order to get laid. There’s nothing new about her premise, which underlies books like The Rules and every moral panic over “hook-up culture”: Men hate women, women want relationships with them anyway, and therefore women need to use sex as bait.
“Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps,” she dramatically warns, “which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship.”
Sales’ interviews with single people she meets on the New York City bar scene do bear out her premise. The men largely brag about how much sex they have without having to do anything icky like act like they care about a woman.
But Marty, who prefers Hinge to Tinder (“Hinge is my thing”), is no slouch at “racking up girls.” He says he’s slept with 30 to 40 women in the last year: “I sort of play that I could be a boyfriend kind of guy,” in order to win them over, “but then they start wanting me to care more … and I just don’t.”
The women Sales speaks to express bitterness:
“New York guys, from our experience, they’re not really looking for girlfriends,” says the blonde named Reese. “They’re just looking for hit-it-and-quit-it on Tinder.”
“People send really creepy shit on it,” says Jane, the serious one.
“They start out with ‘Send me nudes,’ ” says Reese. “Or they say something like ‘I’m looking for something quick within the next 10 or 20 minutes—are you available?’ ‘O.K., you’re a mile away, tell me your location.’ It’s straight efficiency.”
“I think that iPhones and dating apps have really changed the way that dating happens for our generation,” says Stephanie, the one with an arm full of bracelets.
Sales is empathetic, and seems to think that phones are making men act like pigs. “Could the ready availability of sex provided by dating apps actually be making men respect women less?” she wonders, leaving no question about the answer. But last time I was single, there was no such thing as a smartphone, much less a dating app, and you could still find at least a few men who thought women were good for nothing but sex.
There’s also a danger in taking male braggadocio at face value.
“I hooked up with three girls, thanks to the Internet, off of Tinder, in the course of four nights, and I spent a total of $80 on all three girls,” Nick relays proudly. He goes on to describe each date, one of which he says began with the young woman asking him on Tinder to “ ‘come over and smoke [weed] and watch a movie.’ I know what that means,” he says, grinning.
“We talk for a total of maybe 10 to 15 minutes,” he says. “We hook up. Afterwards she goes, ‘Oh my God, I swear I wasn’t gonna have sex with you.’ And I was like, Well, you did a pretty shitty job of that one.”
Sales reports this unskeptically, noting that Nick is “neither rich nor tall; he also lives with his mom,” drawbacks that don’t “seem to have any effect on his ability to get rampantly laid.” Nick hasn’t had a girlfriend in many years, he says, because “I don’t want to have to deal with all that—stuff.”
It’s possible that Nick’s lack of a girlfriend is entirely voluntary. It’s also possible that Nick lacks a girlfriend because it’s hard to find a girl who’s into sexist guys who live with their moms. We might never know!
Gross dudes were not invented by apps. And of course most single people you talk to at a bar will have sad tales of dates and hook-ups that didn’t work out. (Most coupled people have those stories, too.) Single people on Tinder will never have reassuring stories about the dating scene for reporters to transcribe—if they did, they wouldn’t be single anymore.