First, read “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’” – published in Vanity Fair this summer. I’ve created a composite character out of some of the men interviewed for this article, and this letter is addressed to that fictional character…
My dear brother,
I overheard you saying some things that troubled me deeply. You were discussing Tinder and your sex life, but that’s not what I heard at all. What I heard was pain, well-camouflaged, and confusion so profound it has ceased to be experienced as confusion, and the great void inside you – the void that is within us all – begging to be seen for once, at last. Hang with me on this for a few minutes, just hear me out. This is an offering, not an attack.
First, I need to repeat some of what you said, so you can hear it again.
“Guys view everything as competition. Who’s slept with the best, hottest girls? You’re always sort of prowling. You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day…It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”
“It’s like ordering Seamless. But you’re ordering a person.”
“It’s…validation of your own attractiveness by just, like, swiping your thumb on an app. You see some pretty girl and you swipe and it’s like, oh, she thinks you’re attractive, too, so it’s really addicting, and you just find yourself mindlessly doing it.”
“I hooked up with three girls, thanks to the Internet, off of Tinder, in the course of four nights, and I spent a total of $80 on all three girls…We talk for a total of maybe 10 to 15 minutes. We hook up. Afterwards she goes, Oh my God, I swear I wasn’t gonna have sex with you…They all say that.”
“[You’re] assuming that [a deeper connection with someone is] something that I want, which I don’t. Does that mean that my life is lacking something? I’m perfectly happy. I have a good time. I go to work – I’m busy. And when I’m not, I go out with my friends…or meet someone on Tinder. Tinder is fast and easy, boom-boom-boom, swipe.”
Alright, brother, let’s dance: I disagree with you, there at the end. Granted, I certainly can’t know whether or not you’re “perfectly happy,” but I’d ask you to consider, just for a moment, the possibility that you might not be. That you might be, in fact, profoundly aggrieved without quite understanding why.
Have you ever asked yourself that question, why? Why am I doing what I’m doing? Don’t take the easy way out on this one. Don’t tell me that it’s just what a man does. Don’t blame it on your raging hormones, or Tinder, or the women who are co-creating these experiences with you. Tell me why you are doing it. And then to those answers, ask yourself again: why.
“I just want to have fun.” Okay. Why? Why do you want to have fun? Is it because you’re not having fun otherwise? Is it because you think something is wrong if you’re not having fun? Here’s my take on fun these days: to hell with it. Fun is a sweet little daydream, here and then gone again. It’s no foundation. It can’t carry you into and through the painful truth of your humanness. Stop pretending it can. Stop hiding from your suspicion that this whole human being thing actually might not be fun. That it might be astonishingly, devastatingly intense. Think about it. You will, someday, have to let everything go. Everything. All that you’ve labored for, all that you’ve achieved and discovered and nurtured, you’ll have to say goodbye. You will break, and fall apart, and die. “Relax, man, I just want to have some fun, that’s all.” My brother, I hear you loud and clear. I just want to have some fun, too, and sure, sometimes I do have fun, but being a man is more than fun, and so is being human. Being is better than that. I implore you to get down with me on this one, get down with me into the pain of being, the pain of knowing that you are passing away right now. Dying, this very moment. Get down with me in that dark place, where treasure is measured in tears and the electric pulsations of the wild and grieving heart. Where fun is forgotten. Where you aren’t even interested in fun anymore, because fully feeling is so much better. Where all you want to do is let it loose, screaming up to the sky until you’ve given everything over, and your voice disappears, and you lay spent and empty on the earth that has never stopped holding you, and you hear yourself whispering thank you, thank you, thank you for this feeling of emptiness, and how strangely full it feels…It ain’t no Tinder, tell you that much.
“I want to feel good.” Why? Do you not feel good on your own? Do you feel bad? If you can admit to yourself that you might actually feel kind of bad sometimes, and maybe more than sometimes, do you really think that having sex is going to make you feel good, or help you find lasting peace, which is what you might actually be looking for? And we’re not talking about making love here. We’re talking about fucking – spending $80 on three women in four nights, ordering them like takeout on a food delivery app. Show me how that is going to satisfy the bad, sad feeling. Just look at the evidence. Is it satisfying you now? Or are you more insatiable than ever? Looks to me like you’re starving, feeding and feeding and feeding, but none of it seems to fill you, or else you wouldn’t be feeding so much. So what’s the food that’ll actually fill you? And what’s the void that you’re trying to fill? That’s where this inquiry begins, that avoided void. Go there alone and see what you find. Turn off the TV. Shut down your computer. Silence your phone. No friends. No family. No fuck-buddies. Just you, in the stillness and silence. What will you meet there? That’s for you to find out for yourself. Tell you some of what I’ve met: my own restlessness, my own dis-ease, my own desperate longing to get the fuck out of there, to fill the void with something, anything. I’ve met my own urge to feed, which is nothing more than the false-but-convincing belief that I am not enough, that this is not enough, that there must be something better. It’s fear – of death, of aloneness, of all the inevitable implications of being an ultimately vulnerable human. That’s some trippy shit, man, those inevitable implications. It’s no wonder you’d rather look away, fill your days with busyness and your nights with mindless, heartless fucking. I understand that. It’s hard work, being human, and none of us asked for it, but we must do that work. What else were we born to do? I suppose you’re doing it, too, in your own way. But do you see the wake of wounds widening behind you?
“I want validation.” Why? Do you not feel validated already? Do you think you need to prove your worth with a laundry list of achievements? Do you think the validation you do end up getting from your lovers or brothers will ever give you a lasting sense of existential fulfillment? That’s what’s at stake here, the state of your existence. I want validation. Me, too, man. Of course we do. When we were kids, we listened to all the praise and the shame. We believed it and lived by it. Now we are men, and that conditioning remains, this instinct to seek validation outside ourselves. Am I doing it right? Am I good enough? Am I even here? There comes a time when you must turn inward for these answers, or else risk living a life that is not your own, that is but a hollow collection of right-swipes and likes and ghastly winking emojis sent to you by a stranger. That time is now. It always is.
“I want something to do, stay busy, keep it interesting.” Why? What would happen if you just sat there on a Friday night, doing nothing, seeing no one, offline, blank screen, books closed, silent and still? How would you be in that space? Could you do it, even for just a single night? Could you do it for a month? What about a whole year, a year of solitude where the only naked body you ever touched was your own? You’re a competitive guy, I get that, up for a good challenge. Well, it’s clear that collecting sex partners isn’t a challenge for you anymore, so why not face a real challenge for once: aloneness. Can you do it? You’ll have to someday. We all will. That void inside you. Are you ready to know it, befriend it, learn to just let it be there, no need to stuff it full? If you’re not ready to get humbled, then you’re not ready. Because sitting in that void, even just touching it…man, it scares the shit out of me sometimes. I don’t care how tough you think you are, how much money you make, how much weight you can lift, how many women you’ve seduced. None of that matters when it comes to breathing through the storms of solitude…and at the same time, none of it compares to the sweetness when those storms have passed. But how would you know this if you’ve never gone there? Go there now, I urge you.
You said one more thing that struck me, and I want to respond to it in a language you might find familiar. You said, “When it’s so easy, when it’s so available to you, and you can meet somebody and fuck them in 20 minutes, it’s very hard to contain yourself.” Are you shitting me, bro? “It’s very hard to contain yourself?” Be a man and contain yourself, for fuck’s sake. You think you’re such a boss, spitting game on all these chicks, scoring over and over again, but the truth is you’re just getting played by your own balls, man. Sac up and go deal with your shit. Stop dicking around pretending to be such a badass. Go face the thing that actually scares you. You’ll find it right in the mirror, bro. Take a good long look, when no one else is around. Look at the aloneness. Look at the pain. Look at death, your death, hiding in your handsome face. Don’t tell me about how many women you’ve fucked. I don’t give a shit about that, not a good, goddamn shit. I want you to tell me what you see in that mirror, and I want you to be honest about it. Do it now. It’s time to wake the fuck up, because we need you. We need you to be a real man. You are not a hindrance on the path to healing this wounded world, my brother. Stop acting like you are.
I believe in you. I’m here for you. Email me anytime. I’ll dance with you on this one, my man, I swear to God I will. Or I’ll fight you, if that’s what you need, and then hold you when the dams break and the grief finally flows free. You’re not alone in this work. You never were.