an iphone with a number of dating apps installed.

Dating Apps: Capitalism & Isolation as the Norm

Like many single people, I’ve invested time over the last year or so in various dating apps. I’d used them off and on before that, but never for any extended period of time. Over the last year I’ve learned some things that I didn’t understand before. 

First, unlike many people, I believe that every action I take is guided by ideology. A lot of people don’t believe that because they probably don’t understand what’s meant by the term ideology. It simply means the values behind the thoughts that drive your actions. Using that definition, it’s difficult for anyone to seriously argue that your life isn’t governed by ideology. This is really a question of whether you understand clearly what ideology you are functioning with, not whether it exists or not. Or, in other words, give me any action you take, and I bet I can identify for you the ideology that guides and shapes your action(s) because ideology generates from the culture we exist in. Capitalist culture, capitalist ideological domination i.e. individualism, elitism, impatience, etc., you get the point.

So since I know ideology guides everything, I’m always conscious of how I move through life. By conscious, I mean as policy, I think through the actions I take. I consider the variables, the potential results (consequences). The deciding factor is always how the action I end up taking lines up with my principles as a human being i.e. people before profit, dignity, etc. I mess this up often, but my objective is to ensure that if I mess up, it’s not because I wasn’t being sincere in my application and trying to do the right thing as I move along.

What I’ve learned from dating apps is the overwhelming majority of people on them, regardless of gender, are not really on them to meet and date someone. As a man, I find continuous profile statements from women indicating how they don’t play games, don’t like drama, etc. I respond in kind that I unite with them around those principles. I initiate conversation and 90% of the time, nothing happens.

This isn’t some mansplaining analysis based on the patriarchal premise that women must respond to men. No one has any responsibility to respond if they don’t want to. I fully embrace this principle and that is why I make it a point to initiate communication and if there is no response, as there most often isn’t, I don’t make any further efforts because I am not that dude who refuses to respect consent and a woman’s choice for whether they respond or not. If they don’t respond, that’s my signal to keep it moving.

Still, my point here is not really about the women who aren’t responding, but more so about the ones who do. For example, I reached out to a woman last week. A woman in my age range. African woman with positive things to say on her profile. I responded that I enjoyed her profile statements and I asked her how the dating world is treating her?  She responded with a joke and we had three or four back and forth communications through the dating app. That seemed to go pretty well (we were talking about the things we enjoyed in common), so I asked her if we could graduate to communicating by phone. I gave her my phone number with the explanation that I was providing my number to give her 100% respect for whether she wanted to respond or not (again, if she doesn’t respond, I keep it moving). She responded by texting me “Hi baby!”  That was a strange response to me because we are still just speaking in an introductory way to one another, but whatever. No judgment. We started communicating by text and that happened back and forth for a complete day. I then asked if we could speak by phone. You know, stepping it up a little, but nothing intrusive. In fact, she had commented by text that she felt comfortable with how we were moving and that it would be fine if we talked. We set a time  for the next day and when that time came, I called her to get a voicemail message. I left a quick message just indicating I was calling as we discussed whenever, it would be cool to talk to hear back. Again, nothing intrusive. I never heard anything else from this person and that was four days ago.

Again, I am not saying she had to call back, even though she said she wanted to talk. She has every right to change her mind and I don’t even believe she has to advise me of anything if she did change her mind. My focus is that I just wonder how many people are really emotionally ready to actually meet someone? I wonder if people have lost faith in the ability to meet someone. Do people even believe in putting in the work to get to know someone? I know some people will raise the question of catfishing and to that my response is that itself is a result of the problem with human interaction that I am attempting to discuss here.

Based on my cumulative experiences, I believe that the answer is that people on these dating apps generally don’t want to invest any time in getting to know someone. I say that because even when I have graduated to meeting up with someone and even going out with them, I’ve found it’s difficult for people to find a comfort level in asking the types of questions you have to ask to open the door to get to know someone. What I mean is I even had someone say my question about how the dating life is going was “too deep.” I believe that’s not too deep. It’s that most people are very surface level in how they approach the dating process and I believe most people are not even aware that they are so superficial.

All of this stems from the impacts of the capitalist system on us all. This system has effectively convinced the majority of us that we are nothing beyond an extremely flawed individual being. This thinking has been completely ingrained within the very fabric of this society. The capitalist system works overtime to convince us all that we are not good enough. The entire basis of this society is that you are only as good as the material gains you have been able to accumulate. They have that basis because they want you to believe, as we do, that we have to keep spending. Buying things to make us measure up. If you are 40 and don’t have a mortgage, or a damn good reason why you don’t have one, you are a failure. If you are unemployed, you are a failure. If you don’t have a car, you are a failure. I realize many people will say “I don’t believe any of those things”, but that’s not really the entire picture. The point is we are all impacted by this because even if your self esteem is really high, and mine is as strong as anyone’s, because the dominant reality we exist in is so toxic and anti-human, there is absolutely no safety in being genuine. In truth, if you decide that you are going to be genuine, you can depend upon having a very rough go at it, being ghosted, misunderstood, gaslit, etc. 

None of this is to say that any of us are perfect. We are all flawed and that’s really the point. The capitalist system zeros in on this reality and cultivates it. This has happened to the point where adults don’t have the skills and capacity to have grown up conversations with one another. And, clearly the domination of social media, as great as that medium is, with such stunted human growth, does nothing except further exacerbate these challenges.

For the record, I am perfectly content in my single life to the point where I’ll say that the only way that single status will change again is when I can connect with someone who can appreciate my efforts to be a real human being in every way (not a perfect human being). Someone who sees my 99 efforts to be there for them and is emotionally secure enough to not throw away those 99 attempts because in one attempt I wasn’t able to perform miracles. In return, I will most certainly appreciate those qualities in them as they apply them to me. Someone who doesn’t exist in a fantasy world, but who understands the struggle for justice, at least on a working level. But, if that person doesn’t materialize, I am not going to be upset about that. I actually really enjoy being single and living on my own, but I am 100% willing to change that for a positive upgrade. A person who is ready to build with someone. And, by build I mean put in the work to grow with someone. 

My point is I don’t think finding that is likely on these dating apps. That world is completely formed by idealism and superficiality. Still, I believe it’s possible to find your person there (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it). I just think the odds are not high. I don’t worry about it at all. Whether it’s at an event, in the gym, the supermarket, or online, it will happen when or if it’s supposed to happen and when it is supposed to happen I will know. And, it won’t happen from me pushing for it to happen. I’ve also learned this lesson some time ago.

It’s important for us to understand that these challenges with dating apps aren’t because men are liars, women are not loyal and non-binary people are confused. Maybe those things exist, but they are at best simply manifestations of the larger problem. The core of these challenges happen because the very fabric of this society is based in devaluing human beings and making us fearful and distrustful of everyone and everything around us. This unfortunate reality doesn’t benefit us, but it benefits the capitalist system in many ways. I am constantly reminding myself of that. I just want to make sure I am remembering all of this so I can continue to try and be as genuine as possible. I recognize that like everyone else, I am as infected by this backward system. My hope is that whomever I talk to and wherever I talk to them, they can see my efforts and find it something they can relate to with a desire to grow with that. Now, that type of conversation, that would be a fun thing to experience on dating apps for someone like me. I’ll just have to keep looking while understanding the 0.01% chance that it will happen, but when/if it does…?

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.