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Why Millennials’ Obsession With Online Dating Is Changing Everything

Love

The Tinder Generation

I spent all last summer going on random dates with complete strangers. I mean, not totally random. I swiped, selected, chatted, and agreed to meet for drinks (in well-lighted public locations). My friends joked I had a type: doctors, because I once wanted to become one.

I met tons of new guys I’d never have met otherwise, thanks to my pocket matchmaking buddies, Tinder and Bumble. Coming of age in the age of technology and online dating, many of us millennials take for granted how easy it is to access other singles—and how relatively new this phenomenon is. According to a recent study published in October, online and app dating is shaking up society in profound ways, even as its rise has become something our generation has started to take for granted. 

And yet, for as common as online dating is, there’s still the persistent question about whether or not tech-based dating is a more effective method of meeting a long-term relationship partner. Claims about online’s superiority in creating incredible couples have been inconclusive at best. In researching my own book on relationships, the effect of app dating was the first thing most singles wanted to chat (vent?) about. It is an exhausting process, after all. 

Having so many romantic options can lead to an overabundance of choice; per psychologist Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, a few options increase our happiness, but too many can have the opposite effect. In online or app dating, you must swipe through hundreds of matches, read each profile, chat online, set up a date, and actually go—only to repeat the process over and over again, until you find a match with whom you have chemistry and who’s equally committed to forming a stable bond. 

Yep. It’s laborious. It can take a lot of matches to produce a “maybe.” This has led some daters to set up multiple dates in a week. Or sometimes, marathon dating can take place in one night. I remember one person with whom I spoke who detailed a Friday from which he went from happy hour to dinner to nightcap with three different women. It’s difficult to savor each date when you have so many of them, figuring how you feel both on the date and after the date to determine your actual level of interest in one person. You have to find a working strategy for your personality, which can take some trial and error.

All that said, app dating is not all bad. At all! The method has the potential to really rock our worlds in a positive way as tech expands us. In some ways, as researchers have pointed out, online dating is displacing traditional methods of meeting a partner, like through friends and family. While metropolitan areas may still have a bustling nightlife, I’ve often noted to friends how rapidly the mingling component of bars in my mid-sized Midwestern city has dwindled since the dawn of Tinder. Why get potentially rejected by a stranger in person, when you can probably meet the exact same person on an app if you mutually swipe right? We’d rather hang with our friends on a Friday, and keep our dating lives separate.

Using online dating, you also dramatically increase your prospect pool in a good way. Just like I seemed to filter for men in medicine over the summer, you can filter for whatever your heart desires, as well. But filtering via profile goes way beyond superficial qualities, too. App dating, coupled with the rise of women flooding education and the workforce, has led to a rise in assortative mating, aka pairing off with a partner who’s rather similar to yourself in a variety of ways that go beyond the superficial.

Consider Match.com opened the door to internet-based dating in 1995, followed by sites like OKCupid in the early 2000s, and finally Tinder to start the app boom in 2012. Before all that, you were limited to meeting your significant other in one of a few ways. Maybe family or friends, maybe church or work, maybe activities or hobbies, or perhaps in a bar or coffee shop if you were feeling bold and got a little lucky. But most people met within their “loose” social network. “While most people were unlikely to date one of their best friends, they were highly likely to date people who were linked with their group of friends—a friend of a friend, for example,” explains MIT Technology Review.  

Online dating has basically blown up all our social networks. If you meet an online or app dating prospect, you are far more likely to be meeting up with a complete stranger. And when a couple is formed via this tech-based method, you are drawing a new tie that didn’t exist before, thus completely changing the fabric of your social network.

As such, the researchers look at the rise of interracial marriage to prove their point that online dating is completely shaking up societal connections. I hadn’t really taken stock of these results IRL, before checking out this research, so peered around my own social circle for suggestive evidence; of my four closest friends, two of them are in interracial pairings. 

There are other potential reasons for an uptick in these matches, other than online dating, but not changes this major, say the study authors; we see spikes in interracial relationships just after each online dating boom. The most recent major jump was in 2014, just over a year after Tinder debuted.

Moving beyond race, the scientists also show evidence for stronger marriages in a society that’s fully embraced online and app dating. In the past, researchers have ID’d some reasons online dating might be a notably viable method of meeting a significant other, particularly because you can filter for perceived compatibility and you’re more likely to meet someone motivated to build a relationship. Both totally viable reasons to swipe, set up dates, and invest in meeting new people.

After interviewing tons of committed couples in this age of “options,” I’ve held the hope of stronger bonds for quite some time. Although online dating can be a bumpy ride—the swiping, the ghosting, the unknown—it can also expose you to tons of different “types.” 

Dating lots of different types, much of which is done via apps today, is now almost a modern-day rite of passage for many. If you’ve dated around, determined what you need and what you like, you can more easily tell when a relationship has the mettle to go the distance. Not to mention, you’re more likely to be confident of your decision to commit, which makes all those bad Tinder dates and ghosting episodes totally worth it.

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Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.