The latest Atlantic features an article called "A Million First Dates: How online romance is threatening monogamy"—a shallow, moony hagiography of "simpler times" trussed up like trenchant social analysis. Huzzah. Online dating, author Dan Slater argues, is destroying monogamy by giving people (he says people, but he means straight men) too many choices (he says choices, but he means vaginas). The market is flooded! How is a man supposed to concentrate on the vagina that he is supposedly in love with when he could potentially upgrade at any time!? Because, as we all know, certain women are "better" than other women, and men have zero control over their behaviors and impulses and are incapable of significant emotional attachment. (Dudes. Serious question. Why are you not hella offended by your own mythology?)
Slater, with almost endearing credulity, supports his arguments via one interminable anecdote about some dude named Jacob, who blames his relationship failures on online dating rather than on his selfish, shitty personality.
Many of Jacob's relationships become physical very early. At one point he's seeing a paralegal and a lawyer who work at the same law firm, a naturopath, a pharmacist, and a chef. He slept with three of them on the first or second date. His relationships with the other two are headed toward physical intimacy.
He likes the pharmacist most. She's a girlfriend prospect. The problem is that she wants to take things slow on the physical side. He worries that, with so many alternatives available, he won't be willing to wait.
For confirmation, Slater makes sure to consult the (straight, male, probably white) executives of every major online dating company, who woefully confirm that, yes, indeed, their businesses are unceasing fonts of dazzling pussy just waiting to be scooped up by any bored, disgruntled Admiral Sweatpants with an internet connection. They wish there was something they could do, but, c'est la vie. I guess monogamy is dead.
So, clearly, one MILLION problems with this. But before I could get around to writing a gif-heavy takedown, the Atlantic responded with a rebuttal of their own. Ooooooooooooo! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Naturally, this being the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal's response—titled, "There's No Evidence Online Dating Is Threatening Commitment or Marriage"—manages to shred Slater's ConfirmationBiasPalooza while remaining civilized and measured and academic. I mean, for the most part:
Narratively, the story focuses on Jacob, an overgrown manchild jackass who can't figure out what it takes to have a real relationship. The problem, however, is not him, and his desire for a "low-maintenance" woman who is hot, young, interested in him, and doesn't mind that he is callow and doesn't care very much about her. No, the problem is online dating, which has shown Jacob that he can have a steady stream of mediocre dates, some of whom will have sex with him.
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Madrigal's main issues with Slater's article are as follows:
1) The fact that he interviews no one but straight men:
There isn't a single woman's perspective in this story. Or a gay person's. Or someone who was into polyamory before online dating. Or some kind of historical look at how commitment rates have changed in the past and what factors drove those increases or decreases.
2) The fact that the men he interviews have a significant financial stake in online dating sites being perceived as dens of NSA iniquity flooded with compliant nubiles.
3) The fact that there simply is no data to support Slater's claims—"we have, at worst, that controlling for other factors, the Internet doesn't hurt and sometimes helps."
4) The fact that Slater—with, seemingly, much haste and little examination—jumps to blame technology (yawn) instead of the many, many complicating factors that shape our modern relationships:
How about changing gender norms a la Hanna Rosin's End of Men? How about changes that arose in the recent difﬁcult economic circumstances? How about changes in where marriage-age people live (say, living in a walkable core versus the exurbs)? How about the spikiness of American religious observance, as declining church attendance rates combine with evangelical fervor? How about changing cultural norms about childrearing and marriage? How about the increasing acceptance of homosexuality across the country, particularly in younger demographics?
5) The fact that uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuggghhghghghhghgh:
It's not wrong to say that Facebook wants us to do things. But if you stop talking to your cousins because it's easier to update Facebook than give them a call, it's not right to say that Facebook made you do that. If you stop reading novels because you find Twitter more compelling, it's not correct to say that Twitter made you do that. Maybe you like real-time news more than the Bronte sisters, no matter what your better conception of yourself might say.
Scapegoating technology for ancient interpersonal problems is counterproductive and boring. It distracts us from handling our shit. It hobbles our attempts at emotional transparency. And in doing so, Slater's article also obscures a much more important and interesting question: whether or not it'd be better for everyone if monogamy did crumble a bit.
Now, I say that as a pretty hardline monogamist. My biological instincts toward monogamy run deep—sleeping with someone other than my partner feels about as logical as cutting off one of my hands and sewing it to my other hand (double-hand!). BUT. I don't feel that way because of some unquestioned, contractual monogamy pact adapted from millennia of gendered oppression. I feel that way because I feel that way. We're together because we want to be together. I don't sleep with other people because I don't want to. The last 20,000 years of pressure to stay in unhappy monogamous relationships have almost certainly inspired more cheating than the last 30 years of online dating. Want to "save" monogamy? Stop trying to force every goddamn person to be monogamous. If online dating is facilitating that transformation, then it's doing modern relationships a service.
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