The Tragedy of the Dating App

Tech that could've democratized love now embraces it's most traditional shortcomings.

There was a time, however brief, where things were good. For most of America, this era is probably the postwar period, where we established ourselves as a world superpower, something that was hilariously (and tragically) reversed with the last Presidential administration. I’m guessing for a more radical segment of America, the stretch of things being “good” goes back much farther, to a time most of us were not around for. Not before World War II, not before the founding of the state in 1776, not even before my grandfather figured out what Skype was. I am, of course, talking about the Garden of Eden.

What an incredible sight it must have to been, to be a part of something like the Garden of Eden. Two people, surrounded by only natural beauty, blessed by a God who seemed like a pretty chill dude at first. Endless pleasures, except of course, for one- the fruit of the tree of knowledge. In an act that would cement the human race as one that was defined by free will, Eve, one half of the pair, defied the rule and ate, vigorously. Translations differ on the specifics, but all agree on one thing: she did not regret it.

Not much after, Eve, and her companion, Adam, were expelled from the Garden. God was quite furious, not unlike your landlord after they find out you’ve been burning incense in that studio you pay $1750 a month for. In short, they had to go their own way. Paradise was no longer something they could reach. Instead, they were left with the scraps, and to spend their days fending for themselves, with a God who would occasionally step in to help.

4000 years later, and we have evolved. Gone are the archaic restrictions of our ancestors, both cultural and geographical. People drive cars running on electricity. Men confidently don shapewear. We feed CBD to our dogs, who have no clue of the struggle we went through to buy weed in highschool from a particular shady guy hanging around the yeshiva. Most of all, we are all interconnected on a world wide exchange of information that is always on. We are all online, on the internet, logging on and off, often in a fervor. What was once worlds away is now in our hands, simply a keystroke away.

In the early days of any online service, there is a honeymoon period, a hyper specific golden age within it’s internet based microcosm. A space, purely virtual, that is for a time, it’s own Garden of Eden.

But of course, it cannot last. The dating app enjoyed it’s garden for many years, which can be considered a millennia in the chronology of the internet. But much like Eve, the companies behind these apps have chosen greed. And can we blame them? In a system that operates squarely within the late stages of capitalism, it is no wonder why they would so aggressively monetize meeting people- especially right now, in a time where human connection is perhaps the most in demand product of all.

That is the real tragedy here, a synthesis of capital coming in to poison the well of simply being a person: human connection is now something that you can, and should, shell out good money for. One can argue that it has always been this way: go out to a bar, sign up for a class, meet someone at work, find a hobby. And while these are all good things, they require an investment that always goes beyond simply spending a bit of time on something: capital. A drink here, an activities fee there. An entire myriad of industry has cropped up to act as the middle man for simply engaging in human connection.

What the dating apps could have done was democratize all this. No money necessary, just an email, maybe a bit of ID, a few photos, and a clever line or two for the blurb at the bottom.

But no, the executives cried out. What is promised is a much more capital-driven hellscape filled with transactions to more easily wade through girls with “just a pam looking for her jim” in their profile. Instead of democratizing preference and combability, the companies have hidden them as features behind a monthly paywall.

If you are saying to yourself that “It’s only 3 bucks for 6 months of Tinder Plus!” Then you are probably under 30, and not realizing that it could just be free.

And to that first point, you also have to realize that Tinder is for some reason creating a weird price gap between those under and over 30. Further fanning the culture wars, or just needlessly perpetuating the myth that there are less options as you get older? Either way, it’s a bit gross.

Although Tinder is not alone here. Hinge, Bumble, and truly dozens of other dating apps have tiers to their products, creating a class divide between their users. Some even take this class divide and turn that itself into a feature- most notably The League, Raya, and, tragically, Lox Club, an exclusive Jewish dating app for people who don’t want to waste their time.

The worst part? It absolutely works. The only one I’ve tried out of those three is Lox Club, an app that you have to apply for to download. Once I got in, I literally shouted ‘YES!’ at the top of my lungs. It was absolutely mental to be part of an exclusive club, but I promptly uninstalled after it asked me whether I preferred the annual plan at $96, or the quarterly one at $36.

In the moment, I felt incredible about getting in. But quickly after, I realized that Lox Club, as up my alley as it was, represented the antithesis of what these platforms should, and more importantly, could be doing.

That is where, at it’s core, the tragedy lies. The most heartbreaking words in the English language, have always stood out as “what could have been.”

With the dating app, we will never know. In the world of late stage capitalism, it is clear what paths people must go down to operate within the system. Yet, there is a certain melancholy when thinking of that in the context of services like Tinder, Hinge, and Lox Club, all modern products designed to help us find the most primordial need of all, human connection.

These days, I tend to stay off the apps. Perhaps respond to a message or two when it comes my way, mindlessly scroll when my commute is particularly boring. Send a funny screenshot when I spot a friend.

A s cliché as it sounds, when things open back up, I hope we do as well. It’s much more gratifying than contemplating a $14.99 subscription while sitting on the toilet.