Men and women have complained about one another in public forums for centuries. These grievances may appear mature at first but often reduce to playground-level finger-pointing and bickering. The forums have morphed from books and poetry to music, movies, and talk shows. Now that so many of us live our lives via phones and social media, we are not only the audience, but also participants in these debates, distorting our realities and actions to disturbing degrees.
(For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to cis-het relationship dynamics, because this brand of dysfunction seems to be very specific to The Straights.)
With the advent of social media, we have the opportunity to cultivate a following that can be leveraged monetarily or for something equally (if not more) addictive: clout. It doesn’t matter if an opinionated tweeter actually maintains a personal standard of a $200 spending minimum for dates; what’s even more valuable is the endless debate such a declaration will incite.
The latest episode of relationship/gender clash is something I’ll call The Great Cheesecake Escape. On this date gone wrong, a gentleman took a woman out to The Cheesecake Factory. When he walked around to open her car door, she refused to exit the vehicle, scoffing and shaming him for the choice of location. They then had an awkward conversation through the window before he returned to the driver’s seat to continue talking for another five minutes before deciding to end the date prematurely. The reason for her refusal: She said she looked too good to eat at a chain restaurant.
How do we know the exact intimate details of their conversation? Well, earlier this month, she went live on social media, recorded the interaction, and posted it for her followers to see.
Without this obsession to go viral or perform for an audience, they could have had a respectful, private, productive conversation about dining preferences and options. But in the current age of clout, we tend to shirk our better judgment and act in the lowest iterations of ourselves because we need to do it for the ‘Gram. Additionally, much of what is considered a good restaurant is driven by online hype. The criteria is not necessarily the food, the chef, the history of the building, nor the wine list, but rather if the venue serves up expensive plates, drinks, decor, and views. If you can’t flex with photos from the date, apparently it’s not a good one.
In the current age of clout, we tend to shirk our better judgment and act in the lowest iterations of ourselves because we need to do it for the ‘Gram.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of how the internet has degraded modern dating is that so many interactions feel transactional by nature. Sure, men and women have always traded provisions and panties, but pre-Tinder, there was at least some form of a build-up. There was some degree of learning the other person, devoting time to them, and developing a human connection. Social media and dating apps essentially destroyed that. Men gained rapid access to women for casual sex, and women gained a cacophony of suitors willing to take them out, in some cases, to foreign cities. Societally, we supplanted soul with convenience. Men and women have been nothing more than free meals and easy lays ever since.
Case in point, the next show in this horrible line-up, I call Another 48 Oysters. A few weeks ago, a young man asked a woman out for drinks. She chose her favorite Atlanta seafood spot that regularly runs a special on oysters: one dozen for $15. While on the date, she ordered her entrée, several lemon drop drinks, and four dozen oysters. Yes, almost 50 shelled mollusks. (The manager even commented that she was impressed: "It had been a minute since I had a single female eat that many," she told Rolling Stone.) Before the check was dropped, the brotha said he was heading to the bathroom but changed plans, bounced, and headed home to text later that he would send her money for the cocktails, as they had allegedly agreed upon a drink date prior to meeting.
I assumed dude felt like she wasn’t there for him or for any kind of bonding, but instead wanted to run the check up at her favorite spot at no cost to her. This was an accurate assessment. We know she only went out because she was bored and available at the time. We also know although she would have normally availed herself of a great oyster special, she probably wouldn’t have gone that hard.
How do we know all of her inner thoughts and intentions? That’s right. She recorded and posted it, and the clip has since gone viral.
The convergence of the pursuit of clicks while engaging with people from whom we’re emotionally disconnected has transmuted men and women into wallets to be exhausted, bodies to be sexed, and potentially viral content to be made—an abysmal algorithm of aimless exploitation.
These aforementioned incidents were followed last week by a list of unacceptable first date spots that has circulated social media. National news headlines read that the list is sparking heated debate—but there’s no actual debate, just hateful arguments dripping with disdain, rage, hurt, and brutal contempt. This 28-entry list includes some practical guidance (i.e. “somewhere that requires a long drive” and “family functions”) but is dominated by the names of chain restaurants and activities like bowling and hookah. It’s all arbitrary as hell.
Much like the controversy that has recently surrounded Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, the continued arguments keep men and women on their “sides,” adding gasoline to the gender war. If these flames are not extinguished, modern dating will be nothing more than a pile of glowing embers amidst a mound of ashes, hashtags, and pithy clapbacks.
Within the chaos of all the online arguments, a mature few attempt to offer something constructive. They post about creative date ideas or budget-friendly options. Some have written sober, firm perspectives on dating, how and why we date, and what’s important in relationships. Other couples volunteer stories of their humble beginnings that became beautiful, long-lasting, loving marriages aiming to prove strong relationships don’t require extravagance. Though these contributions have been valuable and necessary, the majority are embedded with a subtext that those holding problematic opinions are in the minority.
But are they? I don’t think so.
People say the dating pool has pee in it, but that’s only abnormal for adults. They know you’re not supposed to pee in the pool. Social media has disconnected so many of us from manners, boundaries, consideration, and general decency that we’ve become like little kids. And little kids don’t see any issues peeing in the pool. This dysfunction in dating has become a norm to which we contribute yet continue to bemoan.
The internet and social media are inexorably tangled in all of our interactions, habits, behaviors, and, sadly, how we construct our ideas of the world and each other. The paradigm has completely flipped. The social media-obsessed are no longer the exceptions; they are the norm. And people without some type of social media presence or engagement have become breath-of-fresh-air outliers.
What if there were no social media following for which to perform? Maybe we could represent actual people and not transactions or fodder for content crafted for an audience of imaginary friends.
To avoid adding to the doom loop of dating, I offer one practical solution. Follow in the steps of every other movement that is desperately attempting to reconnect people to themselves, society, their environment, and to one another: Make like Badu and put the phone down. Not just the physical phone (because vapid stares at glowing screens at the dinner table are a sight far too common) but the concept of the phone. The camera it holds and the apps downloaded onto it that govern our lives.
Date as if social media apps don’t exist.
What if there were no quickly accessible cameras? Maybe we’d be present during a romantic outing and wouldn’t attempt to capture the moments to display and compare with others. What if there were no social media following for which to perform? Maybe we could represent actual people and not transactions or fodder for content crafted for an audience of imaginary friends. Maybe we could enjoy the moment and the person we’re with, look for connections and not clicks. We could get to know people and even find value in them.
Maybe we’d start actually liking one another. Imagine that.