Mobile dating apps are changing the way people date. Although they’ve been around in one form or another since 2003, within the past five years they’ve gone from being the province of a small subset of millenials to being a common way for people of all ages to meet members of the opposite sex. Smartphone apps allow users to interact with more people than would ever be possible offline, and many of those interactions are resulting in short-term relationships and hookups. Vanity Fair has proclaimed this a dating apocalypse, portraying the increased ease and choice to be a bad thing somehow. The trend is bad for long-term relationships, bad for marriage—even bad for women’s self-esteem and self-image, because of the emphasis on users’ profile pictures.
I couldn’t disagree more. People are always changing, whether they’re aware of it or not. When people come out the other side of a journey through casual sex, they’re changed. They’re better lovers, they’re more tolerant of others’ mistakes, and they’re more selective in whom they choose. The cornucopia of sexual partners brought about by the mobile dating revolution means that, for some, the journey will be fast-forwarded.
A spiritual teacher—it might have been Ram Dass—tells the story of how two couples are treated differently at a tantric retreat center. The first is an American couple. The director tells them, “Go into that little cabin over there, and don’t come out for one week.” At the end of the week, the couple emerges, beaming with sexual satisfaction, and thanking the director. “We had such a wonderful time,” they say—as they leave. But to the Hindu couple, the director gives specific instructions: breathing, eye-gazing, and sexual practices. Why does he treat them differently? Because the Hindu couple has done the work of satisfying their appetite for simple, plentiful sex. With that need taken care of, he can move them into more advanced practices. To a man who is starving, any food will do. But someone who already has enough to eat will appreciate a gourmet meal.
The young men profiled in that Vanity Fair article are bold, confident, and know what they want. They may be lacking in decorum and sometimes even basic common courtesy, but they’re pursuing their desires with no apologies. (And so are the women, by the way, although the article paid that fact a little less attention.) They are writing their own rules of sexual engagement and refusing to accept society’s message that an emotional connection is required for physical intimacy.
I’ve known many men who suddenly found sexual abundance in their lives after long periods of being totally unable to get a date. Those who are sensitive, who are constantly pushing their edge and looking for their next phase of growth, soon find out that all that sex will never satisfy them absolutely. They begin to ask themselves questions like “Is this all there is to it?” By feeling through their superficial desire, they reach back into the core of what they really want, at which point the real work can begin. And so, although it may look shallow and unattractive to some women in the short run, casual sex for these men is part of a much longer journey into a realm of true intimacy and connection. These men—if they’re honest about themselves and their changing desires—will emerge through this phase more trustable, more connected to others, and more certain of what, and who, they want.
I want to give permission to any man reading this to not allow the naysayers at Vanity Fair and their ilk to cramp your style. If you want casual sex, go for it. I have three guidelines for using mobile dating apps which, if you put them into practice, will rock your world, and the worlds of the women you meet:
1. Be a gentleman. If you show a minimum of common courtesy, you’re different from more than 90% of the guys out there. Being different works. So show a little respect. That includes staying off the phone when you’re with someone, staying to talk with her for a little while after you’ve completed the act, and not sending dick pics. You can display some interest in her as a person while at the same time not send any messages that could be interpreted as interest in her as a long-term partner. You may love many women, but when you’re with her, stay present only with her. Don’t talk with her about other women, even if she asks. See her out the door, and maybe hold it for her. Did I say stay off your phone? Follow just these simple rules and you might find you have access to women you formerly thought were out of your league.
2. Don’t right-swipe on every single picture. Some men do this as a way of increasing their odds. I think that, if anything about mobile dating apps damages self-esteem, it might be this. Right-swiping everyone can put you in touch with women you don’t find attractive; you then have to shut down an interaction that didn’t need to get started in the first place. And if you only get matches from those women you find unattractive, you’ve got work to do on yourself, your profile, or both. Right-swiping every time is the sign of a poverty mentality. It means you’ll take whatever you get, even if you find her unattractive. The app gives you two choices for a reason. Use them.
3. On every third, fourth, or tenth Tinder date, focus on what you can give, rather than on what you’ll get. The sheer abundance means it doesn’t have to be about you every time. Pick a number, then see if you can sense that woman’s needs. Practice asking someone what she wants, and listen to the answer. Be playful, and get curious. Compare your experiences—how does getting what you want and giving what she wants feel similar or different? When you’re ready—and only when you’re ready—there’s a wealth of information out there that will help you become a better lover.
If you’re in a period of life when you’re enjoying casual sex through smartphone apps, then have fun and play safe. Don’t let haters make you feel guilty. To refuse to enjoy sexual abundance when you want it would be crazy. But, not to pay attention to your changing feelings and desires would be just as crazy. We live in a world of many different options and relationship styles. Use this technology to bring yourself closer to what you really want.