If Books Could Kill

Are The Straights OK [TEASER]

July 13, 2023
If Books Could Kill
Are The Straights OK [TEASER]
Show Notes Transcript

In our "Rules" and "Game" episodes we didn't get a chance to dissect the phenomenon of online dating (i.e. describe our worst dates and read cringe profiles out loud to each other), so that is what we are doing on today's bonus episode. 

To hear the rest of the show, support us on Patreon:

Michael: Peter. 

Peter: Michael.

Michael: What do you know about online dating? 

Peter: I'm a big fan because getting brutally judged by a hundred people every single day is my love language. 

[If Books Could Kill theme]

Michael: So, as Peter mentioned a couple bonus episodes ago, we don't really know what the format of the bonus episodes is going to be. So, while we're in this interregnum period, we basically have a bunch of leftover research that Peter did for The Game, and I did for The Rules. We didn't really get a chance because these books are fairly old to talk about the paradigm shift from traditional or since the 1950s style dinner and a movie dating to online dating. 

Peter: Right. 

Michael: I read an entire extra book for The Rules podcast that I didn't get a chance to mention, and we just thought it would be fun to have a kind of freewheeling conversation about this shift, and what it means, and what we've been reading, and our deranged stories of online dating. 

Peter: By extra research, what Michael means is that he read countless studies about the impact of online dating on our collective psychology. I went on the most toxic subreddits I could find for weeks on end, and I'm ready to talk about it now. 

Michael: I can tell this is happening, because every time I've texted you in the last two weeks, you've waited four hours to get back to me.

Peter: [laughs]

Michael: I'm like, "Damn, I'm really into Peter. What's happening with my feelings?" 

Peter: The longer I wait to text Michael back, the stronger my position on the podcast becomes. 


Peter: When you double text, that's when I know that I'm the main host.

Michael: So, since we so often talk about bad graphs and charts on the show, I wanted to start by sending you a good chart that is actually genuinely pretty interesting. So, I'm going to send this to you and I will let you describe the story that it tells. 

Peter: Okay. The title of this chart is How heterosexual couples have met, data from 2009 and 2017. And it's a graph that maps actually from 1940 to roughly present. You can see starting a little before the year 2000, and then skyrocketing met online. 

Michael: Yes.

Peter: So, met through friends decline starting in 1990. 

Michael: Fucking tanks. Yeah, it goes from 35% of couples met each other through friends to 20% of couples met each other through friends in the space of 15 years, which is crazy, 

Peter: Right. Yeah, met online is now the plurality, it looks like. 

Michael: Yeah. It's also very interesting that it's mostly cannibalizing met through friends. Met through church is relatively standard. The met in school or met through family have both been declining basically since 1940. Just steadily, like people don't meet through family, people don't marry their high school sweethearts the way that they used to. So, these are like much more longstanding trends. Met through coworkers appears to have declined quite drastically in the 1990s. Part of that is probably like sexual harassment and more of these policies at work. 

Peter: Sexual harassment is ruining love in the workplace. 

Michael: I know. You could easily do like a Ben Shapiro podcast, like out of this graph. 

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. 

Michael: Okay. So, I actually did a lot of research on this paradigm shift and what it means. So, there's basically a couple different waves of increases in online dating. match.com is founded in 1995. We then get OkCupid in, I believe, 2003. That's when it goes more mass market. Before this, it was seen as very sketchy. The Rules actually has a kind of interesting chapter online dating where it's all safety tips. But there's now been this rolling snowball that the more people do online dating, the more appealing online dating is, because that's not seen as something for weirdos. 

So, it has a big jump up in the OkCupid era in the early 2000s and then it has another very significant leap up when smartphones take over. So, Tinder is founded in 2012, and then we're really off and running because the modern generation of dating apps essentially narrow the information about dating partners, potential dating partners, down to the things that people actually care about, which is like, "What do you look like and how close are you to me?" Like, "How much of a hassle is it going to be to meet up with you?"

Peter: God, I can't believe there's just like an app for relationships and we let that happen, like a human engagement app?


Michael: There is something so fucking capitalistic about the whole thing.

Peter: Right. Left or right, left or right, quick.

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: Do you like them? 

Michael: It used to be integrated into the rest of your life. It could happen organically, and now it's just a completely separate activity that you do. 

Peter: There were moments in my life when I would just be hungover on a Sunday morning eating Doritos in bed, like swiping left on some poor girl.

Michael: Oh, yeah. I know.

Peter: No, lives in Hoboken. That's a big no from me. 


Michael: The thing is, even as you're commodifying everybody else, it's still so fucked up to think about how they're commodifying you that someone glances at a photo of me for a 10th of a second, there's like, "No, ouch." But, of course, that's what I'm doing to everybody else. 

Peter: If you saw a montage of everyone seeing your profile and swiping left or right-

Michael: Oh, my God.

Peter: -it would ruin your life. 

Michael: This is another thing with ghosting, I feel like, where obviously it's rude behavior to just disappear on somebody, but also, I have had people tell me why they don't want to see me again. It really hurts to know the specific reason. I like the plausible deniability of like, "Oh, maybe that person's dog died and that's why they didn't text me back," which is not fucking true. I know it's not true, but unless I have confirmation of it, I can just tell myself that.

Peter: Right. I once got an email after a couple of months of friends with benefits situation with a full accounting of every reason, ranging from her own introspection to my problems, and I was like, "I would rather you just text me that I'm an asshole." 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Like, "This is awful." [laughs] 

Michael: Do you remember her specific complaints? It would sear itself into my brain, if I ever got an email. 

Peter: Of course. I could almost recite the [Michael laughs] fucking email verbatim. [laughs] I can literally tell you what day she sent it on, which I'm not going to do on the off chance that she's a lister, [Michael laughs] and we'll know that she's fully living inside my head a decade later. 


Michael: So, the way that academics talk about this paradigm shift is most couple formation in the United States before the advent of the internet was done through, what they call, weak ties. So, your pool of potential dating partners was like friends of friends, coworkers, friends of coworkers, this sort of two to three degrees of separation from people who you know. People who you share institutions with, people who you're around. What the internet allowed us to do was to expand this circle of potential dating partners to basically complete strangers. 

If you live in New York City, your potential mates are now everyone in New York City. So, you've gone from maybe 1,200 potential matches to, I don't know, 3.5 million. This has changed the paradigm in a lot of ways in that people tend to date concurrently more. Like, you would have two irons or three irons in the fire, and everyone you're dating also has kind of two irons in the fire in a way that was seen as promiscuous or untrustworthy or unethical in a previous generation. It's just like, "Well, I have two dates in one day, and she probably has two dates in one day as well," and whatever. 

Peter: I don't want to say it's a necessity, but if you're swiping, and you match with someone, unless you stop and let that play out, you will inevitably end up with situations where you've matched with two people and you're chatting with two people. I think the inevitability of talking to multiple people on these apps just led to it being accepted. If you described that sort of dynamic to someone from 15 years ago, they'd be like, "Oh, God, that's bizarre and unhealthy," and yeah, promiscuous in some regards.

Michael: Dude, a personal story. My grandparents lied about how they met for 50 years. They told us on their 50th wedding anniversary, they had always told us that they met on the Capitol steps, because they were both living in D. C. It turns out they actually met in a nightclub where my grandma was there with another guy. She was on a date with a dude, and she met my grandpa. My grandpa made a move, sent a risky text, and then she was like, "Okay." And they started dating. 

Peter: He did the Charleston right next to her, [Michael laughs] and she was like, "Whoa, who's this guy?"

Michael: It's also very funny to me that no one in the family ever asked any follow up questions for 50 years. They're like, "We met on the Capitol steps." None of us were ever like, 'How? Why? What was it like?'" We're just like, "Yeah, an old person story. Sure."

Peter: I'll tell you what, 50 years from now, there will be grandparents telling the opposite lie, because they did meet on the Capitol steps on January 6th, 2021.


Michael: I think that there are pros and cons of online dating. It would be very silly to say like, "This is bad for society," or like, "This is good for society." Every technological shift is very complicated, but most of the pros and the cons come from this shift from third degree friends to complete strangers. So, there is some data that interracial marriages are increasing. 

Peter: Yeah, that makes sense. 

Michael: The idea of that is basically that when you cast the net wider, you're not relying on your friends, like, most people have fairly homogeneous friend groups. Once you expand out to complete strangers, it's like, "Well, then you can do people of different ages and races and classes." There's actually more diversity in dating. 

Peter: You call it Bumble. I call it white genocide. 

Michael: [laughs] That name wouldn't have hit as hard. It's harder to download. 

Peter: [laughs] "Hey, are you on White Genocide?"

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I honestly think janky survey data indicating that marital satisfaction is actually higher for people who meet online. The idea is that you're able to more tightly narrow down your field of partners to people who have the same ideas of you like, "I want kids and you want kids," or like, "I'm Catholic and you're Catholic," or, "You can be more specific when you have more choices." And so, there's a lot of debate about this. A lot of the gripes about online dating are this idea of infinite choice. There's just too many people out there, so you're not really going to value the person that you're with. But the other theory of that infinite choice also means that you're able to find somebody who's more tightly suited to you. 

Peter: Yeah, you can just put a weirdly, bitter list of demands in your profile. 

Michael: I want to know the races and the types of people you don't want to date. That's the first thing I want to know about you. 

Peter: Absolutely. Give me some body types that you're not into. 

Michael: Exactly. [laughs] 

Peter: No, but honestly, this does feel like-- I understand the problems of infinite choice, but the opposite end of this is like, I don't know, 150 years ago, there were towns where there would be one person of the opposite sex that was your age and you were like, "Well, that's my wife," obviously. 

Michael: Yeah. I think there's also a second order effect of this too, where I think the expectations of marriage have changed over time too. I think it's become much less of a business-like relationship, or something that has property ownership, or a business partnership. It's much more like, people are now looking for soulmates. So, it's also jacked up the expectations. But then also this shift to complete strangers is also, I think, behind a lot of the downsides of online dating. There's a lot of studies that show an association between heavy use of dating apps, and higher rates of anxiety and depression. Although, of course, we don't know the cause like the direction of the cause, it could be you're depressed because you're on Tinder. It could also be you're on Tinder because you're depressed. 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: There's also the thing of just women being constantly fucking harassed and having dick pics sent to them, and the insane levels of just bullshit that especially women have to deal with on the internet. It's like, "Well, I'm a complete stranger. You're a complete stranger. I can send 1,000 women the same dick pic on the chance that one of them is going to respond positively." I've never actually heard of that working. 

Peter: [laughs]

Michael: But I think people just find it really humiliating to be treated like this just to have other people constantly treating you like a stranger. Like, they're canceling on you. They're saying fucked up. The things that people send in these messages to each other are really fucking mean. It really grinds you down. I think a lot of that really does come from this idea of like, "You are replaceable."

Peter: It also just speeds up the entire process for the same reasons that you're often juggling multiple people that you're dating at once. That also means you're experiencing an amount of rejection that someone from 1945 would be-

Michael: Totally.

Peter: -unfamiliar with, let's say. You're just going through volume. 

Michael: Yeah, it can become a real numbers game. Dating has always been a numbers game, but the degree to which it's a numbers game has significantly increased that you match with 2,500 people, and then you go on 501st dates, and you go on 82nd dates, and you go on 33rd dates. You just run through the conveyor belt. But in that process of narrowing it down, there's a huge amount of just like emasculating, humiliating, terrible behavior that you have to just accept. I'm in this process. I've been single for the last six months or something. Sometimes, you do meet up with people who just have this weariness about them [chuckles] where you can tell they've done this a million times and they don't really want to be doing it. There's like, "How many siblings do you have? Where did you grow up?" 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: You're like, "Look, man, I don't want to be here either. We just have to get through this. We're going to do it together." 

Peter: I was making a joke about the angry profile rant, which is a type of dating profile you come across where their About section is basically just this super bitter, either a list of demands or maybe an outward facing complaint of sorts. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: Sometimes, I get it.

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Peter: I think if you've had a bad few weeks on the apps or whatever, I get the impulse to just pop into the about section of your profile and be like, "Ah." 

Michael: Can I read you a Bumble profile that I saved? 

Peter: Absolutely. yeah. 

Michael: I cannot stop saving these. He's 50, by the way. 50-year-old gay man. He says, "Not interested in over 50 or anyone with depression, insomnia, or anxiety. I like my high IQ and earning a good salary at what I do. So, if you don't, then we're not a match. I seek to build a life."

Peter: God, I love these people. In his mind, there are a notable amount of people who are bothered by high IQs. 

Michael: Yes. [laughs] 

Peter: So much so that he's like, "I'm going to put it out there. I'm not going to lower my IQ for you."

Michael: On gay dating on Grindr, a thing you see a lot is like, "No time wasters. I'm not here for time wasters." As if someone's going to look at that and be like, "Ah, I'm a time waster. Okay. This guy's not in it for me."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It's like, "No, idiots."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: No one thinks that that's them. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: So, it doesn't weed out. One guy, my favorite Grind-- This was like a decade ago. Someone on their Grindr profile just wrote, "Hot people only."

Peter: Nice.

Michael: Right. That's everyone. Everyone would like people they're attracted to bite them. 

Peter: The absolute worst part of those profiles is when they put a physical requirement in that you can see in profiles when people are like, "White people only." It's like, this is a fucking app with pictures. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: So, obviously, the whole purpose of those types of profiles is just to inject a little bit of negativity into someone's day. 

Michael: Yeah, that's awesome. 

Peter: If you're fat and you're swiping, not only do you have to deal with whatever general stress you have from being on the dating scene, but then every now and then you get to see someone be like, "No fat people, please."

Michael: I came up in the era of Grindr where I swear to God, one in five profiles had no fats, no femmes, no Asians. This was so fucked up. People would try to be fucking cute about it. So, people would put no rice, no spice.

Peter: Jesus Christ. 

Michael: I guess, no Asians or Africans. It's not even clear to me what the fuck that means. But it's like, so not only have you done the racist text, it's like, "Oh, you're trying to be fucking cute about your racist text." Like, "Wow, you're a complete fucking asshole, and also you're just not funny and don't seem remotely bothered by it." I wish there was something more that I could do beyond blocking people. 

Peter: Now, you should be able to pick one person that you can kill through the apps, I think. 

Michael: Exactly. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I don't know, if straight people do this, but another genre of online date is where they just want to complain about online dating the whole time. 

Peter: Yeah, that's a thing. 

Michael: I always find it like a weird like Möbius strip Escher painting of an interaction where it's like you're on a date and you're complaining about how hard it is to get on a date with someone and like, "Right, you should do the date. You're on it."

Peter: Yeah. I don't know that I've had that exact experience, but I have had online dates where they were like, "How's Bumble going for you," or something like that. It's funny because it makes sense. A big part of your life is that you are going on these dates trying to find someone, and then you're trying to get to know someone, and they're trying to get to know you. "What's something about you?" Well, going on three dates a week. That's a pretty big part of your life. 

Michael: Right. "What are your hobbies?" I spend about 20 hours a week in various stages of online dating. 

Peter: Exactly.

Michael: It would be weird to edit that out. 

Peter: Yeah, exactly. 

Michael: But also, it's weirdly self-referential to be like, "Dating is going really well for me. I had sex with three people today. What's your afternoon been like?"

Peter: [laughs] It's like breaking the fourth wall. Everyone knows that we're all play acting to a degree, but you don't really talk about it. 

Michael: One of my pet peeves is like, people who do Meta conversations who are like, "Let's change the subject." Or, like, "I don't want to talk about that." I'm always like, "You can just change the subject if you want to change. You don't have to say, let's change the subject. You can just actually change the subject." But you then get these people who have a script in their heads of how the first date is supposed to go. So, you ask something and they're like, "I don't want to talk about that on a first date." Okay, I've failed the test now, I guess.

Peter: Anyone who overtly talks about the topic of conversation weirds me out because then it makes me think about the structure of the conversation rather than just having a conversation. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: Yeah, I hate that shit. That's very weird. That's actually very common where people are expressly dictating the terms of the conversation to you, where you're just like, "What the hell? What the fuck's going on?" [laughs] 

Michael: We talked about this in The Game episode, but we ended up cutting it out, that I think also because online dating creates this numbers game. People then try to gamify it or make it as effective as possible. I think there's a TED Talk brain thing of like, "I want to have the most efficient first date. So, I'm going to skip over the small talk. I don't want to talk about the weather like, what you do. I want to skip to the meaningful stuff." So, I've also gone on dates with people that you're like, "Oh, how was your day?" And they're like, "No, what are your three passions? What's the last thing that made you cry?"

Peter: I will be getting up and exiting immediately. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: That is game over for me. 

Michael: But the weird thing is, I get it, because small talk can be fucking excruciating. But also, something that endears you to someone else is like, "Can you just make pleasant small talk with a stranger?" I want someone who can go through a talk about the weather and not make it weird for the other person or try to essentially make themselves the center of attention by being like, "No, we're going to do my essay questions."

Peter: If someone gives you this staged like describe your ideal vacation bullshit, you're not going to learn anything. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: But if I ask you, how was your day, I'm going to learn a lot about you, because I cannot be with someone who doesn't take that as a prompt to complain about their job. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: When I was on a date and I was like, "How was your day?" And someone was like, "It was great," and walked me through their day and everything was fantastic, I'm like, "No, this is over."

Michael: Yeah, red flag.

Peter: If someone was like, "My boss is an asshole." I'm like, "Yes, let's talk about date number two. I'm already there."

Michael: It's like, when you ask somebody, "What was high school like?" And they're like, "Everything was fine. I was popular. The kids, they liked me." 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I'm like, "All right, I have places to be."

Peter: Check, please. 

Michael: I want trauma from you. I want hurt. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: But that's the point of small talk. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: You're getting at the little edges of a person's being. 

Michael: I actually did a decent amount of reading on the conventions of small talk for The Rules episode, because I genuinely find small talk extremely interesting. Everyone understands the purpose of small talk very differently. But one of the reasons why these essay question approaches-- I think they're very understandable, but they're not as effective is that the purpose of small talk is to speak about something very superficial that you have in common to look for other commonalities of like, "Oh, it was raining today. Oh, I hate it when it rains. Oh, I like being inside. I also like being inside."

And it's like, "Okay, we're both introverts." You can zigzag your way into deeper forms of commonality, and just feel somebody out like, "Are you a weirdo? Do you take turns in conversation?" You can't skip that part, because the purpose of small talk is like an audition, "Okay, now, I'm comfortable going deeper with this person." But if they basically fail that test, then you want to pull back. So, whenever people try to leapfrog it, it's always like, "Well, the boring part is important." We have to work our way up to like, "When was the last time you cried?" You can't skip to that. 

Peter: [laughs] Yeah.

Michael: I need to build some rapport with you to know that I can trust you. 

Peter: A lot of rapport is also just like, "Do we have chemistry? And by chemistry, I don't even always mean, do we have things in common? Is there a dynamic to our conversation that I enjoy? Do we pitter patter effectively? How's our ratatat at?"

Michael: Also, is she sarcastic? Is she feminine? Do I want to stroke her long hair? These are the things that you're trying to determine about. Who knows?

Peter: [laughs] Michael, putting yourself in the straight guy's shoe. 

Michael: That's just what I assume that you guys look for.

Peter: Staring across the table like, "I want touch your hair."

Michael: Speaking of which, do you want to talk about this toxic subreddit that you've been reading, female dating strategies?

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: I feel like so much of the toxicity that we see from men on dating, the men's rights weirdos and pickup artists and incels, is in some ways an output of this rapid shift to online dating. People just aren't really set up for it and we don't really have rules or norms established. 

Peter: Absolutely. 

Michael: But I have never looked into how this has manifested among women or what this looks like among female-oriented online communities. So, take me down the rabbit hole, Peter.

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