Commentary: The inevitable sameness of dating app profiles

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Dating app discourse remains the most high-engagement content on X (formerly Twitter) for good reason. In an increasingly lonely America, the foreignness of the opposite sex, unmitigated by familiarity, becomes frustrating. Frustration drives engagement. Obviously.

Last week’s viral moment was a video compilation of women’s Tinder profiles, all saying essentially the same thing: “swipe right if you’re in therapy.” Predictably, particularly venomous men responded by demeaning the women in question (and women in general) for their unique inability to say something original about themselves.

A mysterious account belonging to a “Hollow Earth Terf” responded by pointing out what women see on the other side, which is a similarly conformist presentation of mating potential. As it turns out, men on dating apps have the habit of saying “swipe right if you don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Men and women can make fun of each other all day for the silly things one sex does or says that, superficially, makes no sense to the other. But a meme is always more than the thing itself, and I think these memes are neither shallow nor stupid. They are instead signals that communicate a deep yearning of potential partners.

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Because these yearnings are thwarted by the cultural milieu, and because we all swim in the water without noticing it, it has become impossible to articulate what we really want of one another. The meme captures the essence of the yearning without having to go through an elaborate explanation. It resonates for a reason.

When women say they want a man in therapy, what they’re really saying is that they want a man who exercises custody over himself, can articulate thoughts and emotions clearly, and can also help them sort out their own internal chaos. In other words, they want a man who can lead with care and demonstrate a particular tenderness to women’s particular needs.

Sadly, this sort of forthright self-possession and sensitivity is rare in modern men. And even though this female longing is nearly universal and certainly primordial, the capacity to relax and restrain the urge to control everything is similarly rare in modern women.

When men say they want a woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously, what they’re really saying is that they want a woman who does not seek to aggressively dominate or compete with him. From a cultural environment where that sort of thing has been encouraged, men are seeking reprieve. In other words, men want a woman who can also demonstrate a particular tenderness for men’s particular needs: lighthearted companionship, perhaps.

But, as I already suggested, trust has been broken between the sexes. For whatever we tend to want in the opposite sex by nature, the culture has rendered them incapable of giving and us incapable of receiving. In other words, these signals convey a deep longing for a disappearing set of interpersonal insights and skills.

Men and women want one another, but neither know how to achieve it. Maybe change begins by interrogating the memes themselves — as ever, with tenderness for the opposite sex and their predicament.

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