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Is the rise of the lonely, single man really that funny?
Let's get into it.
There’s a chance you’ve come across one or both of these stories that have circulated around the internet over the past few weeks.
The first story is about the rise of lonely, single heterosexual men due to higher dating standards
The second is about the algorithmic-fueled rise of the internet’s favorite misogynist, Andrew Tate
It seems like there’s a correlation between these two articles, and it lies somewhere between the rise of incel culture and the modern commodification of dating.
Let me explain.
As I explored writing about this, the use of the word “market” was used constantly to talk about dating. I became curious about why we refer to it as “a market” and the impact that viewing dating as such has on the quest for love and partnership at large. For decades, newly single people have been described as “back on the market” and while viewing dating through this lens is helpful for say, sociologists, what does the “market” mean today?
Historically, matchmaking happened in private, supervised environments (i.e. places of worship, through family arrangements) and modern dating as we currently know it only became big in the back half of the 19th century. In Moira Weigel’s book, The Labor of Love: The Invention of Modern Dating, the author suggests that economic concepts and terminology have seeped into dating perhaps because “modern dating has always situated the process of finding love within the realm of commerce.” In other words, modern dating as we know it has always existed in the realm of commercial places like cinemas, restaurants, and bars. This is in stark contrast to the private homes and places of worship where courting used to take place. OK, interesting!
The combination of commercialized dating and the internet has also created a literal market opportunity, because of course where there’s money to be made, our capitalist society will find it. And while we’ve seen a huge benefit with the convenience and success of dating apps at-large, their dominance (and the ability to swipe) backs up the idea that you can literally shop for a partner. In her book, Weigel says that “modern dating” started as people moved to cities to make money, exposing them to more options than the people that were available to them in their hometown. As a result, we got pickier, and started to evaluate “the market” through personal checklists and minimum requirements. Reviewing a dating profile these days is kind of like evaluating whether or not you’re going to buy a sweater: you’re looking at its size (height), material (degree, job), and its fit for your body (interests, political views, temperament). As Ashley Fetters and Kaitlyn Tiffany pointed out in their article on this subject for The Atlantic, this results in a general sentiment that “people are viewed as commodities, not individuals.” And as dating apps continue to change the ways people meet, a lot of research and consequent commentary has also centered on the notion of supply and demand.
While this research produces interesting stats that can be indicative of a lot of things, the notion that dating is a market is not just harmful to people on said market. Fetters and Tiffany write that “a foundational idea of capitalism relies on three things: the market is unfailingly impartial and correct, and that its mechanisms of supply and demand and value exchange guarantee that everything is fair. Clearly, this is a pretty harmful metaphor to apply to human relationships, because introducing the idea that dating should be ‘fair’ subsequently introduces the idea that there is someone who is responsible when it is unfair. When the market’s logic breaks down, it must mean someone is overriding the laws. And in online spaces populated by heterosexual men, heterosexual women have been charged with the bulk of these crimes.”
We saw this same focus on “fairness” play out as memes circulate about the rise of lonely, single men due to women having higher dating standards. The author of the now viral article, Greg Matos, received a tirade of hate from (lonely, single) men who didn’t believe “bettering” themselves in therapy would help their search. He simultaneously received praise from many women who reveled in the public acknowledgment that there’s less tolerance for poor communication, toxic masculinity, and fish photos (jk on the last one, but iykyk). It’s important to note, that loneliness in the Internet age is not new and while this latest angle is gendered, the problem at large is not gendered. A previous study in 2019 picked up on the fact the lonelier you are (no matter your gender) the more you rely on dating apps and your loneliness skews your perception of your dating experience into one of deep frustration. Where this can become gendered is people’s response to loneliness in the dating world, with men blaming women vs. women blaming themselves.
I always enjoy a turn of events when patriarchal societal structures negatively affect those they’re supposed to empower. Meaning, I feel a mild amusement with men’s apparent frustration with the dating landscape. It all feels deeply ironic, no? Modern dating (in the cis-hetero world) has always favoured of men. With many women being socially programmed to believe that their worth is conditional based on their latest relationship status, the pursuit for male attention is relentless. It seems that as heterosexual women gain power on a macro level (i.e. with improved financial independence), men have become increasingly annoyed at the impact this has had on their dating prospects. And I’m talking about the statistics here. The average woman using dating apps receives about 3 matches per day, while the average man receives about one. Men also swipe “like” 46% of the time on dating apps, whereas women are only swiping “like” about 14% of the time.
Men’s socialized entitlement to women’s bodies is at the crux of so many societal problems we currently experience. And while we’ve written about femcels before, a quick TLDR on incels; Incels are heterosexual men who exist in online communities (hosted on the likes of Reddit or 4chan) that consider themselves unable to sexually attract women, and they hold hostile, aggressive views against all women as a consequence of them being involuntarily celibate. The subculture of incels has been developing in online communities since the early 2000s, but in the last few years, has been named the biggest domestic threat to terrorism in the US by the FBI. In fact, many young men that have carried out prolific mass shootings have been identified with incel sub-culture—the most notable being Elliot Rodger who wrote a 141 page manifesto that centered on women not finding him attractive before carrying out the Isla Vista shooting. As author Amia Srinivasan noted in The Right To Sex, “the transformation of the sexual landscape has meant that for some men, loneliness has curdled into resentment, misogyny, and in some cases, violence.”
“Despite the resilience of gender wage gaps, and the endemic nature of sexual violence, women’s autonomy in sex and relationships has undoubtedly transformed over the past century. Widened participation in the workforce means we’re less likely to be financially reliant on men; marital rape is outlawed; queer marriage is legal […] and greatly destigmatised, divorce, contraception, and abortion, all of which disproportionately held women back. Women don’t have to sit around waiting to be chosen anymore – and in the “manosphere”, this tentative equality has been interpreted as a reversal of status between men and women. Even the most ‘low value woman’, in their words, has access to sex that a similarly-labelled man could only dream of.” – Ash Sarkar, GQ
This brings me to Andrew Tate and why I’ve been contemplating the wider impact of the commodification of dating. Tate had amassed (until his de-platforming this weekend) an entire audience of lonely, resentful men by encouraging them to recognize and then direct their dissatisfaction with life toward women. ICYMI, Tate’s content was deeply misogynistic. A handful of his views: women are men’s property, women shouldn’t drive, he prefers 18-19-year-olds as it’s easier to “imprint” on them. Oh, and he believes rape victims are to blame for assaults committed against them. The substance of his content was downright dangerous, as was his strong grip on how to game Instagram and TikTok algorithms. In fact, his content has been viewed over 12 billion times on TikTok and had such a concerning grasp on young boys using the app that teachers have been encouraged to listen out for “manosphere” language at school. Yes, really. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying dating apps are the reason Andrew Tate became popular, it’s just interesting to consider the wider ramifications of the commodification of relationships via this lens.
I don’t have a solution here. I’m simply on high alert for how relationships between men and women in the Internet age are evolving. Taking a step back, it certainly makes the memes about lonely, single men look far less funny.
What we’re reading…
👀 The “good” CEO who lured women on social media (NY Times)
👀 Reporting on parenthood has made me nervous to have kids (The Atlantic)
👀 I will never share a bank account with my husband (The Cut)
👀 The heaviness of feeling like an “old mom” (The Cut)
👀 My abortion at 11 wasn’t my choice, it was my life (NY Times)
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See you next time,