On the finale of "The Bachelor," we saw JoJo struggle as she came to realize Ben was in love with another woman. “I love you. I'm in love with you,” we hear him say behind a closed door.
“But you love her too. Am I right?” JoJo asks. There's a heartbreakingly long pause, and finally, a painful, awkward “yes." In the understandable breakdown that followed, every woman in America sighed as JoJo uttered the most relatable words in the world to anyone who has ever dated: “I'm so tired of competing.”
Let's put aside (for just a moment) the fact that JoJo willingly entered a reality dating competition. If we look, instead, at the real, human emotion that comes with the realization that we're losing someone we care about to another person, we arrive at a feeling everyone has battled with to some degree in his or her life.
It's the right swipe on Tinder that doesn't lead to a match, which leaves you wondering what left your profile so inadequate as to not merit a conversation. It's the radio silence after a first date, which tells you you weren't even adequate enough to deserve a pleasantry or two. It's the casual burnout of a short fling that says, "You're great, but you're not the one." It's the time you watch him or her smile like an idiot at a text on his or her phone, but when you ask who it is, he or she says, “Just someone from work.”
It's the constant barrage of perfect men and women, the unending lure of another swipe or two on a dating app, the shortening of attention spans and the rise of hyper-selective, oversaturated dating. Slowly, it's killing us.
Online dating got its start with Match.com in 1995, and from that launch, Internet-based connection services rocketed onto every desktop computer and smartphone in the country. At first, it was a slow ascent.
Online dating faced a certain stigma, despite its promise that it would widen the dating pool significantly for those who were unable to meet someone in their daily lives. Despite this negativity, dating sites continued to emerge and thrive.
But those websites -- with their clunky, subscription-based formats, tedious questionnaires and long-form messaging -- can hardly be blamed for the "Hunger Games"-esque state of dating today. That blame falls squarely on the apps, and it's lead by the almighty Tinder: the tiny flame icon that can be found on the smartphones of over 50 million people worldwide. Whether it's proudly sitting front and center on your home screen or tucked away in an obscure folder on the third page, the app is omnipresent and inexplicably alluring.
I use Tinder. I enjoy Tinder. As a freelancer, I spend a lot of time at home, or with my headphones in and eyes forward at coffee shops, entranced by the glow of my computer screen. It's not a situation that makes me seem approachable, and it doesn't allow me to readily meet men.
When I do see a passing hottie either at the gym or lurking in the bulk grains aisle at Whole Foods, I usually pass him by without even considering starting a conversation. For me, Tinder is a necessary evil. It's a great validator, a nasty frenemy and a barrier between me and the loneliness that is inherent to my profession.
But with the endless selection the app provides for me comes the equal and opposite reaction from the other side: an endless selection of women for those men I would potentially date. As a woman on a dating app, I tend to expect any profile I deign to swipe right on to result in a match. I'm not a perfect 10, a member of Mensa or Amy Schumer-level funny, but the way men use dating apps is callous and non-selective.
A male friend of mine came to my apartment the other day, and he complained to me that he kept hitting his right swipe limit too early in the morning. Now, this is a feature of the app that I hadn't even known existed, and a problem I would never encounter.
Male Tinder users tend to swipe first and ask questions later. Mostly, they swipe right, wait for a match and then determine whether or not the profile merits a conversation. So, you've made a Tinder match, and you go on a date. Congratulations: You've just entered your own, private episode of "The Bachelor."
It's safe to assume that the guy who just bought you a drink has 50 plus matches waiting on his phone, and that number is slowly climbing as you down your second and third glasses of wine. If you do the math, going on TV and competing with a mere 27 women seems like a cakewalk. In real life, you're fighting for his attention against more than double that number.
On ABC, you get to meet the other girls. His relationships with them are out in the open. You know what you're up against and where you stand.
In real life, they're faceless, nameless competitors. The depths of their relationships with your bachelor are totally unknown. Maybe he's been seeing one for months, and she already has a special place in his heart.
Maybe the love of his life just swiped right, and when he goes out with her tomorrow, you'll be completely forgotten. Maybe he's only buying you drinks right now because another girl convinced him to try to find a third person for their ménage à trois.
The reality of dating hits, and eventually, you realize that the show's set-up is more humane than unleashing Tinder on the world ever was. If the facts are hard to hear, the fantasy is even more difficult to rein in. When you're in constant competition with 25 million women, it's difficult to remember that they're not all swimsuit models with degrees from Harvard and a strong preference for being on top.
You begin making things up in your head. You assume everyone is out for the same potential mate, and you drive yourself insane with doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Unlike as is the case with "The Bachelor," you don't get a rose every week to tell you he still likes you.
You don't get a cut and dry breakup when the time comes. You don't get a final conversation with him, where you try to convince him not to send you home. You don't get to show up in a ballgown with a professional blowout and a gallon of makeup to remind him what a dime you are.
In real life, you get self-doubt and nights alone with Netflix. You keep waiting for your phone to light up, while you wonder what you did wrong. In real life, you wonder what you have to do to get on "The Bachelor."
The other day, I was texting a guy I've been casually dating about a mutual acquaintance. “I'm pretty sure she wanted to sleep with you,” I wrote, which is a sentiment I've expressed time and again whenever another woman comes up. In my episode, every woman is throwing herself at him whenever he passes by.
It's not jealousy. I don't really care who he sleeps with. It's the constant fear that one of those women will steal his heart for real, and I won't get a rose that week. It's the fear that someone who I genuinely enjoy being around will exit my life forever.
“This is going to come as a shock to you,” he replied. “But not every woman I meet wants to f*ck me.” So, just like that, the illusion came crumbling down.