As I sat across the table from Matt*, whose suit was a little too pressed and crooked grin was far too practiced, I found myself questioning the entire premise of our "date".
On paper, Matt might have seemed perfect to some people. Based on the endless accomplishments he boasted to me in-between sips of his vodka water, he was very successful for his age. He was well dressed, intelligent, seemingly put together and could hold a decent conversation.
Yes, he was good on paper. But something was entirely off about him.
He was projecting himself so much that I couldn't get any clear sense of who he was. Our "date" felt more like a business proposal than anything with romantic potential, and Matt came off as the type of person who was programmed to sell.
He was a little too good at this, robotic almost, and there was something about him that I deemed as untrustworthy as I continued to smile politely across the table at the quaint, little Yorkville restaurant where we had agreed to meet.
I couldn't put my finger on it but it was entirely off-putting and as I bid him and his slightly-too-orange tan goodbye, I found myself feeling unsettled.
Somehow, amidist the realization that - despite the good show we both put on - I hated every second of that encounter, I still had the lingering, nagging question in my mind, "I wonder what he thought of me?"
It took me a minute to realize how ridiculous that instinct was, but I could understand why it was there.
The over-saturated quality of dating culture and the instability that it thrives on somehow leaves us searching for approval, eager for the date to go well, even if it's not something that benefits us in any way.
Dating has become laden with uncertainty and insecurity, even for the most secure and seemingly confident individuals. It can be utterly disheartening.
Recently, an article came out in Vanity Fair which explicitly dissected what the author deemed as, "The Dating Apocalypse".
The article was as brilliant as it was downright depressing to read, even though we likely anticipated the realities that were written within it's depths.
After all, this isn't a new conversation to be had. We are all, to some extent, painfully aware of the dating culture currently at work and the way in which dating apps like Tinder have changed the romantic game for most of Generation Y.
We've talked about it, read about it and experienced it first-hand. Some of us make jokes about it, some of us feel slighted by it and most of us feel affected by it, in some way.
I, myself, have had Tinder for a long time and recently downloaded the newly-popular Bumble app.
Despite my inherent interest in the apps and the way people use them, I never found myself particularly invested in seriously pursuing anything that began from a mutual "swipe right".
With that said, as a single 20-something living in a busy city who works 40-60 hours a week and is an owner of an ever-demanding pet, I can understand the frustration felt when it seems impossible to meet the people you want to meet.
Sometimes there simply aren't enough hours in the week to get out to do those things. So, what is the most convenient solution? Bring the action to you: Tinder.
The funny thing about dating app culture is the drastic shift it has inspired within our social understanding. Online dating, after all, has been around for a long time. People used it, sure, but it was rarely openly boasted about.
That's not to say it was "taboo", but there was something about the whole "lonely people actively seeking companionship" vibe associated with online dating that people simple weren't entirely comfortable with.
Alternatively, dating apps have now completely normalized that culture. The complete ease-of-use associated with the apps and mindless, lackluster motion of swiping right or left based solely on someone's picture as a means to an end makes it okay. It makes it cool.
Technically speaking, this is fine, as it suits people's needs without giving anyone a complex over how it looks from a social standpoint, but it's allowed people to become rampant in their (lazy) dating efforts and, in hand, completely inflated the hook-up culture.
So what's the problem with this? Well, a lot actually.
For one, it has destroyed people's grasp of conversation or engagement. Striking up a conversation with a stranger can be hard for anyone, let alone when it begins within the painfully casual premise of Tinder conversation window.
A friend of mine recently urged me to write about how terrible girls are at initiating conversations on these apps, to which I replied, "But do you really think guys are any better?".
Not only is it awkward, but both parties likely know that the other is also engaged in various other conversations, dates or "casual" relationships. You’re beginning your exchange with a massive, proverbial elephant in the room.
Nothing about it is sacred, so why would anyone really put that much genuine effort in to it? If one conversation doesn't work out, there's always plenty of other people to swipe through.
We view the exchange on a basis of profiles (made up of carefully selected pictures), proximity and availability, not people and genuine connection. Why? Because it's easy.
This allows people to be reckless. It allows people to not care. This may be liberating to some, but it's also potentially harmful when it becomes a habit of disregarding failed dates because "who cares, it's just Tinder".
When things do progress to a "date"- and please note, I use that term extremely loosely- the participants are usually either disappointed by the culmination of events or simply plagued with feelings of insecurity as they wonder "Do they think I look as good as my pictures? Is this their third Tinder date this week? What are their intentions?"
You have to come across as cool. Engaged, but not too invested. You don't want them to think you're searching for a date, or lonely in any way. You're just busy, independent; the perfect balance. You have to be laid back, can't reveal too much about yourself, right? No room for vulnerability here. We have to sell ourselves, like Matt tried to do with me.
So what happens after the first "date", if all goes well? Usually, the 'casual hangout'. That's what people do now, they don't date, they hang out. The whole "Netflix and chill" scenario we now all know too well from constant, humorous prods at the concept on social media.
After all, no one wants to come across as clingy or too eager, so we agree to these scenarios even if they don't satisfy what we are really looking for. No one wants to be the one who "catches feelings".
Dating has become calculated.
We allow ourselves to fall into scenarios in an effort to win, to come out on top. It's this exaggerated desire for acceptance combined with a twisted sense of youthful, single entitlement that has mixed with the convenience of apps and dating culture to create a monster.
By trying to make the process easier, we have made it that much harder. But where do we draw the line?
Then there's the sex. The driving desire behind this whole charade, right? Let me tell you something; it doesn't matter how casual dating may seem to be, sexual encounters shouldn't be viewed as disposable.
Having sex with someone shouldn't be as easy as swiping right on their profile, but today, for many, it is.
Call me a prude if you will, but that is a sad state of affairs if you ask me.
We feel so swept up by the demands of life that it becomes easy to buy in to the culture, join in. We swipe and swipe some more. We go on a date. We hang out, we have sex, we play the game but rarely win. We are gorging on the easy availability of knock-off dates and sex.
That's not to say this applies to everyone, I have no doubt that some people use this technology with the utmost sincerity. For that, I applaud you for staying above the fray.
Nevertheless, I understand the way these apps, this culture, can become addicting. It's a highlight of our culture today; this sexy, convenient tool we have at our disposal. But if you ask me, it's doing far more harm than good, on the larger scale.
Because after we lose count of the swipes, the matches, the endless string of first dates and the casual sex that might never really satisfy the desires we feel, we could be left feeling pretty empty.
We should be left wanting more.