Last week, Dan Slater at the Atlantic wrote what may be the worst piece on online dating I’ve ever read, which is a truly remarkable feat in such a competitive field. Slater’s theory is that because online dating sites are a magical wonderland where men can meet and fuck an endless array of women, it means men will have no desire to get married and thus will be the ruin of marriage. If I were married to Dan Slater, I would get a lawyer on retainer now, because there’s projection all over this thing. And let’s be clear: Slater means men. He claims “people”, but as Alexis Madrigal (who, if you’re rushing to disagree with him, I should point out is male, so you might want to slow your roll, trolls) points out in the same publication, Slater didn’t bother to interview any women, much less any men that have a different experience from his buddy Jacob.
It should also be noted: 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. Instead we get eight men from the industry that, as we put it on our cover, “works too well.”
I posit that there’s a very simple reason Slater didn’t even consider interviewing women: He apparently doesn’t believe women exhibit agency, so asking them about their decision-making process would be as silly to him as asking a plant about the part it played in choosing where the gardener put it. Throughout this story, the assumption that women’s role in dating is to wait to be chosen, and that the biggest decision they make is how long to hold on handing over the pussy. Unsurprisingly, Slater is a big believer in the notion that women can trick men into loving them by withholding sex strategically.
People seeking commitment—particularly women—have developed strategies to detect deception and guard against it. A woman might withhold sex so she can assess a man’s intentions. Theoretically, her withholding sends a message: I’m not just going to sleep with any guy that comes along. Theoretically, his willingness to wait sends a message back: I’m interested in more than sex.
Even though the hero of his story, Jacob, comes across as a passive-aggressive slacker who is described at one point as an “asshole”, Slater takes it as a given that Jacob’s round robin with a bunch of women is strictly the result of Jacob’s desire to have as many vagina-providers on a string as he can juggle. Slater doesn’t entertain the possibility that Jacob is going out with women, having sex with them, and then getting dumped quickly as they quickly realize he’s beneath them. Amanda Hess picks up on how little the possibility that women could be deciders informs Slater’s writing:
Jacob may be meeting a buffet of sexy professionals and college students through his online dating profiles, but those women are meeting … Jacob. Slater doesn’t interview the paralegal, the lawyer, the naturopath, the pharmacist, the chef, or the twentysomething about their experiences dating online. They might speak to an alternate narrative of online dating: This Jacob could be exclusively for me, but so could the other two Jacobs I’m meeting this week—Oh, God. Why settle down when there are so many other unsuccessful, unattractive partners with whom you could make a horrific, lifelong mistake?
Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence that Jacob gets dumped a lot, outside of common sense, especially if you’re adept at reading between the lines. For instance, Jacob admits up top that every woman he’s dated has dumped him after clueing into the fact that his shallow assholery and his desire to treat them like sex appliances instead of people were traits unlikely to change. Jacob tries to avoid this problem by getting with a younger woman. Slater takes it as a given that the only reason to date a 22-year-old is that she’s hot, not even considering that Jacob was hoping that an inexperienced woman wouldn’t realize that she can expect more from a man than someone who pretends to like her if she shuts up, doesn’t have any expectations, and fucks him. That strategy works for awhile, but she wises up and dumps him:
Rachel didn’t mind Jacob’s sports addiction, and enjoyed going to concerts with him. But there were other issues. She was from a blue-collar military background; he came from doctors. She placed a high value on things he didn’t think much about: a solid credit score, a 40-hour workweek. Jacob also felt pressure from his parents, who were getting anxious to see him paired off for good. Although a younger girlfriend bought him some time, biologically speaking, it also alienated him from his friends, who could understand the physical attraction but couldn’t really relate to Rachel….
After two years, when Rachel informed Jacob that she was moving out, he logged on to Match.com the same day.
Emphasis mine. Slater wants to frame this story as one where Jacob, swimming in options, ended an unsatisfactory relationship to explore those options. But the evidence actually suggests a different story: Rachel got sick of Jacob’s shit and left him, and Jacob, who thinks of women as interchangeable pussy dispensers, shrugged and went online to the Pussy Store to replace the lost pussy with a new one. But even though he admits that Rachel left Jacob, Slater runs this quote:
“I’m about 95 percent certain,” he says, “that if I’d met Rachel offline, and if I’d never done online dating, I would’ve married her. At that point in my life, I would’ve overlooked everything else and done whatever it took to make things work. Did online dating change my perception of permanence? No doubt. When I sensed the breakup coming, I was okay with it. It didn’t seem like there was going to be much of a mourning period, where you stare at your wall thinking you’re destined to be alone and all that. I was eager to see what else was out there.”
The possibility that Rachel would have refused to marry Jacob—a possibility we should consider very high, because she left him—isn’t entertained. This quote should have alerted Slater to the fact that Jacob is a spinner of tales. But Slater takes Jacob’s claim that he would have married Rachel at face value, even though we can all imagine the proposal would be something like, “Well, she doesn’t talk too much and she sucks my cock. I guess I’ll take this one.” The only reason that you’d roll with it is if you assume women just want a commitment, and aren’t too picky about who offers it, because they’re that desperate to get a ring on it.
Jacob’s uninterviewed dates are fit into this framework. If they have sex with him, it’s because they want a commitment:
Relationships that begin online, Jacob finds, move quickly. He chalks this up to a few things. First, familiarity is established during the messaging process, which also often involves a phone call. By the time two people meet face-to-face, they already have a level of intimacy. Second, if the woman is on a dating site, there’s a good chance she’s eager to connect. But for Jacob, the most crucial difference between online dating and meeting people in the “real” world is the sense of urgency. Occasionally, he has an acquaintance in common with a woman he meets online, but by and large she comes from a different social pool. “It’s not like we’re just going to run into each other again,” he says. “So you can’t afford to be too casual. It’s either ‘Let’s explore this’ or ‘See you later.’ ”
Another possibility comes to mind: Some of Jacob’s dates realize right away that he’s not a likely long-term prospect, due to terminal assholery, but because he’s not in their social circles, they figure that they get laid without having to deal with drama or gossip afterwards. But Slater’s already determined that sexual decision-making for women is a matter of trying to extract commitment, so this very real possibility that women are taking advantage of what is a rare opportunity for women—an actual chance at NSA sex—doesn’t figure.
But if women who rush into bed are just trying to get that relationship locked down, what about women who are more reluctant? They, too, are trying to get a commitment:
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.
Women are not only assumed to be angling for commitment until proven otherwise, they don’t get to prove otherwise. Which is how a story of a single man—one that comes across as a tiresome and shallow—who has dated a lot of women online becomes a morality play about how technology is allowing all men everywhere to have all the sex they want without having to put on some fake show and dance pretending to have feelings for a woman to trick her into giving it up on the regular. No evidence needed, but there’s some half-assed evo psych-sounding stuff that can be plugged in to silence the skeptics.