I have a confession. Throughout college my most frequent response to the question, “How did you two meet?” has been, “on Tinder” — or some lie which concealed this fact. This is not something I am proud of, but it is a reality upon which I have spent the last three years reflecting. In hindsight, I see the ways I rationalized using Tinder when faced with stigma surrounding online dating. Most of this rationalization was a way for me to avoid admitting my own loneliness and need for authentic relationships.
When I began using Tinder at the end of my freshman year the whole process seemed like a game. This game however, was not so foreign. After all, romance in the “real world” is filled with its own games. This was just a shiny, new, digital playing field. After using the app for a short period and having dated and formed relationships via this new medium, I was introduced to the stigma surrounding the app. From both friends and family I was questioned why I couldn’t meet someone nice in “real life?"
Upon reflection and conversation I have developed a radical critique of dating apps like Tinder that was initially hard to articulate. The problem with dating apps is that they prey on loneliness. I realized this when I was talking to a girl I had met via Tinder. She said, “When we met, we were looking for love for life’s sake, rather than love for love’s sake.” She meant that we both were using Tinder at a point of chaos and confusion in our lives. We sought a connection with one another as a means of escaping this chaos. This was seeking love for life’s sake.
The other side of the coin, love for love’s sake, is what happens when relationships are formed between two people at the top of their game, who happen to notice one another thriving and are thus attracted to one another. This generally happens in spaces where two people can see one another thriving, while participating in mutual clubs or classes. These are the places my family and friends would have considered “real life.”
Love for life’s sake is understandable. Loneliness is part of the human condition and I could never condemn those who find themselves in such a relationship. The deeper problem is when love for life’s sake leads to a purely transactional relationship. Transactional relationships are relationships where your duty to the other party in the relationship is based on reciprocal value. Entering into these transactional relationships ultimately degrades our interactions with partners until they become driven completely by "cost-benefit analyses."
The nature of these transactional relationships was revealed in a popular New York Times article published on the topic of hookup culture at Penn. The article references how those entering into transactional relationships rationalize them by considering the result of “cost-benefit analyses.” The article also quotes Paula England, a sociologist at New York University, whose research illustrates the physical consequences of transactional relationships. England found that “women tended to fare much better sexually in relationships than in hookups. “Guys don’t seem to care as much about women’s pleasure in the hookup, whereas they do seem to care quite a bit in the relationships,” England said.” These hookups illustrate how “transactional” physical relationships degrade our intimate relationships. They revert sex to a cost-benefit analysis rather than an act of mutual respect and pleasure. This type of transactional reasoning systematically forces us to turn our partners into objects.
The furthest extent of objectification is commodification. These dating apps, which can subtly encourage objectification, have found a way to market a cure for loneliness and we, as consumers, rationalize this. When I was in New York over the summer, I decided to try using the paid version of Tinder. I rationalized that I would not have much time to spend outside of my internship, and in a city of so many people, this would unlock a greater potential for a summer fling.
I was comfortable with the idea of paying for Tinder Plus until I really thought about it. The truth was, Tinder found a way to profit off of my loneliness and I find that morally uncomfortable. There are certain aspects of our humanity that should not be subject to market principles, our intimate relationships included. This is the slippery slope of transactional relationships — where the individuals in the relationship (rather than a company) benefit from another’s loneliness.
Both dating apps and hookup culture are often complementary to, but not necessarily concordant with, transactional relationships. I have made an effort in all my relationships to avoid transactional principles. Whether I have met someone online or in real life my final intention remains the same, to develop an intimate relationship with that other person. The difference is where this motivation comes from. Does it come from a personal sense of loneliness and need for any individual? Or, does it come from an attraction to a specific individual? This is the dilemma of love for life’s sake vs. love for love’s sake.
Whether we choose to engage in a short-term hookups or utilize dating apps, it is most important to resist the tendency to apply transactional logic to our intimate relationships. We as human beings are social creatures and thus, we fear the idea of being alone. Yet, that human fear should not be exploited. Ideally, our intimate relationships would be based on the model of friendship, where partners give what they can and take what they need. This type of relationship is not based on reciprocity or quantifiable exchange; not by market principles or by pure self-gain, but by mutuality and care.
MICHAEL PALAMOUNTAIN is a College senior from Philadelphia, studying psychology. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Stranger Than Fiction” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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