As with all of life quarantine-style, I like my dating with a bit of confusion and plenty of social isolation. Masks and no physical touching makes it incredibly easy for me to start learning more about other people. Starting in March 2020, for this Jewish university graduate, life in quarantine means settling down in my parents’ house, conducting Zoom and Google Meet phone calls, and taking 5 minute walks on the regular.
Regular outdoor activities, such as surf sessions in the Pacific Ocean, hikes with groups of friends, and going out to eat for the occasional date all came to a halt with stay at home orders.
So how am I going to interact with friends and meet new people? Cue dating apps.
I was never a fan of dating apps for the impersonal, transaction-like, and definitely first-impression-like judgments that come with being able to see a two sentence headline about the person, whether someone smokes or drinks, and the label of their religion: “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Jewish,” “Agnostic,” or “Atheist” on a person’s profile. One word hashtags viewed on a four inch cell phone screen is not my preferred method of dating.
However, desperate circumstances call for desperate measures.
COVID-19 has upped Washington state to 15.5% unemployment, where according to The Washington Post, 1.5 million people applied for unemployment benefits as of the week of June 8th-14th alone, and where the national number of infection counts for COVID-19 is 2.22 million people. The economy is hurting and our spiritual conscience is in limbo, in a quasi-cognitive dissonance state about how to deal with the centuries old institutional racism, an issue nestled at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement. Connection in the form of online dating, seemed like a small, decadent, but necessary coping tool and remedy for processing recent changes for me. We need to talk about the difficult situations, right? Why not on a dating application?
Bumble, a dating-based application where you can “Swipe left” if you do not want to date this person, or “Swipe right” if you would consider dating this person, is different from its competitor, Tinder, in that Bumble allows females to make the first move and to initiate conversations with potential matches. If a partner matches with a female, only the female is able to initiate the conversation with the potential match, which allows females to be the captain of this relationship (see what I did there?).
In my giddy excitedness, I thought, Thank goodness! I can take the pressure off continually asking women if they would like to go out on a date and allow women to make the first move. It will be treating women with respect, with equality, and empower them. Woohoo! Not so fast. My initial excitement gave way to introspection when I started to find more and more pictures of model-looking women, set atop elaborate monuments, on beaches half-naked, and taking pictures in mirrors. Who are these people? I thought. I was excited to find out!
I decided to give the dating application a chance. I posted pictures of myself smiling with my brother, hiking on top of a giant rock, holding my favorite food while traveling at a hostel in Ghana, and even playing a song at a recent artist showcase to which I was invited. I posted an about me section, my political and religious affiliations, my age, my height, and took a picture of myself to verify that it was indeed me you were seeing on the page. Sounds respectful and kind, right? I am very much respectful of the crew mate waiting to see if this captain will take hold off this ship.
Still, zero bites. No potential matches. Why is this not working?
After swiping some more, I started seeing a different kind of profile picture surface: scantily dressed women, who seemed to be advertising their Instagram and Snapchat accounts, accounts which had 100+ followers, and therefore, I thought, they must be on to something and must be matching, too! I thought. Either that, or I am missing something about dating.
I decided to try a similar style to the ones I saw that these women were posting, but with my own flare, since I was feeling a little cheeky. Tongue and cheeky, that is.
I know what you’re thinking: This guy is just plain fucking weird. No wonder he is not matching with anyone. Swipe left. Done.
While I understand that even during COVID-19, my social distancing and precautionary practices might seem a bit “fucking weird” to you, what was weird to me was Bumble’s response to my cheeky photograph.
Okay, let me back up. I did have other pictures of me that clearly verify who I am, right? So me wearing a paper bag over my head with eye holes, would not really seem like an issue, right? The above message says that the silly picture of me does not allow individuals to feel safe and positive, all the while pictures above of nobody’s faces and body parts that have nothing to do with a face is considered pictures that allow people to feel safe and positive?!
In light of recent Black Lives Matter protests, unrest with COVID-19, and the onslaught of disinformation from political pundits, when a dating application that purports to support women’s empowerment, by allowing females to freely take pictures and send requests for contact to males and females alike, censors the very same style of pictures for males, what is Bumble communicating about the acceptableness of a lady versus gentleman posting racy pictures? Is Bumble acting on what they say, or are they just talking the talk and not walking the walk?
Allow me to walk back a few steps. I want to clarify that I am as much for celebrating a person’s body, and I highly advocate for a healthy intimate, romantic, and sexual relationship with one’s self and another, however, when you say, “This is not safe. We need to moderate your picture,” to a male, but then deny that very same action for women, even when the application is designed with the intention of empowering females in the dating scene, does that not communicate a double standard and mixed message for males and females? While I feel safe if a female posts a picture of her legs and belly button, what about other males who may have a history of abuse in their life? Would they feel safe?
What is being said here is: “It is okay for females to post racy pictures, but not males, even though females are the people we want to support most in this dating application,” but just below that a number of other messages come to mind. When females post pictures of their belly button, it is considered safe and positive. What about females with a history of abuse in their lives? The feminist in me asks whether allowing females to do so protects females against people who have a history of being sexual perpetrators of domestic abuse and violence.
Heck, I even tried taking the same picture without my weird, artsy mask, and then I tried it with a wholesome, pure Halloween picture, and the result was the same both times.
Still, pictures like these abound for females, unmoderated (which again, I am not complaining about, but feel a quizzical eyebrow raise at Bumble’s blind eye):
Explain to me what I am missing here. I want to post pictures like this, too! What is different about me showing skin in front of me versus to the sides? Or, should I ask Bumble to stop having females post these pictures, because that would be the inner feminist in me? Am I at a moment for celebrating human sexuality, or is it time to throw up my feminist siren and condone potential abuse? What do we value as a country? This leaves us to a quandary for which I need your help.
With COVID-19 and a well-deserved Black Lives Matter movement occurring around the world, positive change can come to make others feel more empowered, safe, and liberated to truly be themselves and feel happy in the world! Whether it is wearing face masks, going to a rally, supporting businesses of color, or even having a talk and listening to others, it is time to have a conversation, for real, about the assumptions we hold about gender, sexuality, dating, and mutual respect and trust for each other if we really practice the golden rule, Do not do unto others as you would not want done onto you, like we say we do.
Most importantly, and maybe this is silly, but I want to meet some down to earth people on dating apps! Since body image is so important, I might start wearing a bag over my face when I go on dates (Hey, social distancing lends itself to creative ways to be romantic. Anyone want a kiss with brown paper on the side?). Send me some hilarious comments, tell me your dreams, and whisper sweet nothings into my paper bagged-filled ears about how awkward and large my Jewish nose is. I guarantee you that would make me feel more safe than any other picture of your leg, belly button, or shirtless abs, with or without bag over head.
In all seriousness, I want to hear your ideal vision (the dream!) of what connection means, whether that is connecting with others on a date, enjoying someone’s presence, or what the word “sexy” means to you. Especially in the time of a health pandemic, a social justice movement, and the large amounts of data we receive online, re-defining, listening to, and hearing out what “safe,” “positive,” “equal,” and “sexy” means is important, whether in having mutual, respectful, and kind relationships, or in treating your and others’ bodies, health, hearts, and minds with kindness and respect.
I hope to hear from you about what you think it means to live in a world where we celebrate each others’ differences, the beauty of our hearts, minds, intellects, bodies, and souls, and how we can live and celebrate this wonderful life together.
In the mean time, I have more swiping to do. If you see a brown paper bag, swipe right. See you soon!