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Has Tinder Really Sparked a Dating Apocalypse?

Stashed in: Young Americans, Awesome, Pickup Lines, Tinder, Tinder!, Social Norms

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The best thing about mass-media dreck about dating -- especially dating mediated by technology -- is that they INVARIABLY confirm all your suspicions about how awful it is. Who wants to read an article about how someone went on 10 carefully-screened and respectful dates with people chosen from a website or app, and then had a 2 year relationship with one of them before parting with sweet sorrow for career reasons? That is more boring than life itself! Articles about the horror of online dating can be especially great for those who are NOT the target market -- long-married middle-aged people -- because then they can congratulate themselves about how their marriages are better than dating! It's like cheap marriage counseling, and what's better than that?

But what if the writers of these articles ignore social science and inject quite a bit of slut-shaming? What if it turns out that the tiny fraction of the huge Millennial generation who are the most well-to-do, physically attractive, sex-positive or sex-addicted, and willing to put time into hunting for casual sex are made to stand in for all of their generation -- and potentially all people who will date in the future! Meanwhile, the VAST MAJORITY of people who do not meet these criteria end up learning nothing about the dating world but a lot about sensationalistic media versus longitudinal social science.

well said!  

Okay, but the Vanity Fair article really does talk about some truly detestable hookup artists:

I do agree that writing about hookup culture is a genre unto itself now:

The traditional methods of dating and courtship are out; endlessly jumping from fling to fling is in. And women, despite the supposed benefits of sexual liberation, are coming out losers in this hurried new sexual landscape — used, then discarded in a pile of dick pics. For the article, Sales conducted “interviews with more than 50 young women in New York, Indiana, and Delaware, aged 19 to 29,” as well as many men, and it adds up to a series of sleazy, depressing stories. And she’s hardly the first journalist to raise this alarm: Over the last few years, reports on  “hookup culture” — some focusing on alcohol and campus culture, some on technology, and some on both — have become a thriving genre.

I also agree with the NYMag's main premise, which is that online dating just reinforces the user’s preexisting preferences.

Number one: to a first approximation all men lie about these things. Douchier men lie more.

Number two: so of all these 40 ladies he's banging per year, not a SINGLE ONE was worth an encore? Violates the first rule of sales, which is that it should be a lot easier to sell a second product to a previous customer... if they were satisfied with the first product. Maybe just maybe HE is the one who couldn't get a second date after his first performance? You know what they say: if you have one disappointing sex partner, you just had a disappointing sex partner... but if EVERYONE you're banging is a disappointing sex partner, YOU ARE THE LAME-O.

Number three: hate to break it to the scandalized Vanity Fair writer, but "hookup culture" was not unknown to previous generations. Young people, hormones, endless possibilities... I don't think it was a Millennial who said you gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.

"... because then they can congratulate themselves about how their marriages are better than dating!"  Well, maybe BEFORE the Ashley Madison debacle (the follow-up of which has been interestingly quiet).

But back to Tinder.  

Aren't most of the women on Ashley Madison basically professional escorts? Not exactly "dating" in my book :p

Yes, and a source of infinite comfort for marrieds everywhere.  :)

Not everyone on Ashley Madison is an escort:

But I can believe that many of the women on Ashley Madison are escorts.

Tinder's claim of many users meets mockery online:

42% of Tinder users aren't single.

I'm still amazed by how much Tinder freaked out about the Vanity Fair article, in their Twitter tweets:

Yes, this escalated quickly:

Although Sales pins her case on online dating in general, she’s mostly focused on Tinder, whose “swipe” function she sees as the epitome of quick and easy shopping for sex. Tinder did not like this, and 30 ill-advised tweets ensued, first questioning Sales’ reporting, escalating to claiming that Tinder is bringing people in China and North Korea together, and culminating in the grand pronouncement that “Generation Tinder” is changing the world.

I think this is right:

There are still millions of young people muddling through relatively “traditional” experiences of dating (and romantic deprivation).

If anyone is equipped to answer these questions about dating and sexual mores in a more rigorous way, it’s the social scientists who use national surveys to study attitudes and behavior change over time. In her piece, Sales cites the research of Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Twenge is the co-author, with Ryne Sherman of Florida Atlantic University, of a study released earlier this year in which the pair analyzed the results of the General Social Survey, a (mostly) annual, nationally representative survey that’s been administered for decades, between 1972 and 2012. The data, culled from between about 27,000 and 33,000 Americans (there were different numbers of responses available for different questions and years), showed that millennials appear to be having sex with fewer partners than the last couple generations were — specifically, “Number of sexual partners increased steadily between the G.I.s and 1960s-born Gen X’ers and then dipped among Millennials to return to Boomer levels.”

If dating culture were in fact imploding into a sticky morass of one-night-stands in any meaningful way, it would likely show up in this sort of data. But Sales addressed this study solely to brush it aside in a parenthetical paragraph noting that the authors told her “their analysis was based partly on projections derived from a statistical model, not entirely from direct side-by-side comparisons of numbers of sex partners reported by respondents.” Well, no — there are plenty of side-by-side comparisons in Twenge and Sherman’s research, since the study is based on a survey in which the same question is asked in the same way over the years. As for the “projections,” that just refers to the fact that the authors can’t provide lifetime numbers of sexual partners for millennials who are still very much alive, so they projected that one category. It doesn’t bear on the overall finding that there’s no sign of an explosion in promiscuity. (To be fair, the paper’s data ends in 2012, which was pre-Tinder, but well into the era of OKCupid and other online dating services that opened up a whole new world of sex and dating partners.)

Twenge told me that when she spoke with Sales, the journalist seemed to have arrived with some preconceived notions of what the real story was here, and was therefore very skeptical of Twenge’s data.


Taking a moral-panic approach to something like mobile online dating makes for a good story, but it also drowns out the opportunity for a richer conversation, and hardens certain false notions about millennial culture. Online dating clearly is changing how many people meet other people and date and have sex. But it’s probably changing their behavior in all sorts of different, sometimes conflicting ways. In some cases, it’s probably helping people find husbands and wives sooner, leading them to have fewer sex partners. In others, it probably does lead to some decision paralysis and frustration with dating. In many cases, it probably just reinforces the user’s preexisting preferences — pro- or anti-promiscuity, pro– or anti–finding someone to settle down with.

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