It's cool to be vulnerable–sort of.
Why is Sharon Stone, one of the world's most prominent "sex symbols," using a dating app?
If you're not sure, then you're out of touch with how online love will be in the 2020s. Since the dawn of online dating in the mid-1990s, we've come full circle from shaming online romance to trying it out "ironically" to swiping right on possible mates while waiting in line at Starbucks.
When the 61-year-old actress (of salacious Basic Instinct fame) took to Twitter to lament that she'd been blocked from Bumble because users were reporting her profile was fake, we were collectively reminded that online dating's become too prosaic to exclude celebrities. "Hey @bumble, is being me exclusionary? Don't shut me out of the hive," she tweeted. Soon the company reinstated her account, with Bumble's editorial director Clare O'Connor stating, "Trust us, we *definitely* want you on the Hive."
In fact, the hive is buzzing, and not just on Bumble. Seven years ago, five dudes and one woman launched Tinder. Today, dating apps are estimated to be a
billion dollar industry in 2020. As swiping has creeped into our daily rituals, critics have fretted that dating has been superficially "gamified" by Tinder, killed off the subtlety of courtship, and resulted in a "
" that's prioritized sexual gratification over genuine human connection.
Earlier this year, writer Derek Thompson tweeted a simple graph showing Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld's 10 years of research on how modern heterosexual couples meet. While he expected the data to point out the obvious to people, the general response was despair at the emptiness of modern existence, marked by "heightened isolation and a diminished sense of belonging within communities," as one user noted (which is an impressive impact for a sociologist to have on the Twitterverse, so kudos to Rosenfield, who received a barrage of messages on his own social media accounts). It's the opposite of the 1950s' "stranger danger," Thompson noted, to the extent that finding a partner is like ordering on Amazon. Like online shopping, we're struck with choice paralysis when confronted with seemingly every conceivable fish in the sea.
Is modern love emotionally bankrupt? Is our reliance on technology trapping us in isolated bubbles of ids and impulses? Eh, maybe. But one overarching effect of searching for a potential partner online is that we have to get very clever at communication, or at least faking it through shorthand. From cringey neologisms like "sapiosexual" or "lumbersexual," listing your Meyers-Briggs personality type, or inexplicably sticking your baby photo in the middle of your profile, what makes us stand out from the nameless, impersonal crowd is personal details–or, as Brene Brown loves to say, "the power of being vulnerable."
For instance, as universally appalling as identifying as a "sapiosexual" (one who is attracted to intelligence) is, the unfortunate trend took off because it "fill[ed] a gap between the language we have available and the language we need to find connection in the online dating world," Mashable noted. Psychologist, author, and sex coach Liz Powell emphasized the importance of communication via dating app: "On the internet, all you have is words. So while IRL you can watch how someone interacts with others or dances, online you just have what you type at each other." She added, "Sapiosexuality is a highly controversial term these days because of the ways it can enshrine classist, ableist, sexist, and racist ideas about what it means to be 'smart.'" But, at its core, the word is emblematic of our desire to be seen as individuals rather than a profile picture. The CEO of a dating app exclusively designed to appeal to self-identifying sapiosexuals, called Sapio, even acknowledges, "For many, defining oneself as sapiosexual has become [a] statement against the current status quo of hookup culture and superficiality, where looks are prized above all else." It's a white flag of surrender to hookup culture and an odd plea to be seen holistically.
Similarly, the CEO of Hinge has noted that the latest approach to online dating values "
authentic and vulnerable
" profiles. The app grew in popularity because of its requirement to answer distinct and personal questions on your profile, such as "the most personal thing I'm willing to admit," "pet peeves," "I will never tell my grandchildren," or "what I am thankful for."
Undoubtedly, we're still grappling with the linguistic challenges of presenting a curated online version of ourselves that appeals to strangers within the average three to seven seconds we have before being sentenced to a swipe left or right. But maybe the bright side of our Instagram-laden, commodified, and robot-driven daily rituals is that our banal, unsexy humanity is becoming one of our most appreciated assets—even if we don't look like Sharon Stone.
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