There is no loneliness quite like compulsively swiping on Tinder, your disinterest only growing—along with your isolation. The left-out feeling of walking past bars or parties when you’re alone: Tinder provides the opportunity to feel that harder—and as a bonus, you’re eyeball-deep in a menu of sexual options that you’re currently not experiencing. For better and worse.

On Tinder, the problem is not that sending an eggplant emoji doesn’t work.

The problem is that it does.

Such is the circumstance of my acquaintance. He was thrilled, if surprised, the first time that that tactic—a sole eggplant, no explanation—successfully led to conversation and then to sex.

The first eggplant probably won’t work. The fifth might not either. But ten might. And if ten is a solid maybe, a hundred is even better.

You just wanted to sleep with someone. You didn’t mean to become your own sex-seeking Mechanical Turk, a joyless automated perversion of flirtation, the walking embodiment of an Atlantic Monthly scare piece about the Grim Amoral Hookup Culture. But there you are.

The funny thing is, not everyone can do it. “My acquaintance” really isn’t me, because to the extent that I tried to get laid on Tinder, it didn’t work at all. Not every straight guy can pull off the strip-mining approach, and physical attractiveness is only part of it. A straight woman seeking a hookup doesn’t want the dude to get weird, and they seem to have a good radar for dudes who don’t give a fuck—dudes who are seeking the same fleeting relief from pain that they are. Yay, contemporary life!

Of course, people have always used sex to escape themselves. Dating apps just make that dramatically easier, in a way that probably doomed people at the margin: people whose psychological makeup was only somewhat disposed to Having A Weird Few Months (Years?) When Sex Became A “Thing” For Me—A Problem, I Guess?—they could have avoided that chapter; many of their multiverse alt-selves avoided it; maybe they just needed to do more yoga, mend more fences with their parents. Maybe if mom had just gotten that promotion. The advent of dating apps erased those timelines, tipping the only-kinda-lost into the netherworld of digitally amplified pleasure-compulsion. The blur of body parts, apartments that make you unaccountably uncomfortable (via anomie), and mornings you’d swear the sun had been replaced with fluorescent lights. Like the lights in middle school. When things were different. Lol. Double-yay, contemporary life!

I think the right critical toolkit here is the anti-capitalist one. Nothing makes you a commodity like a Tinder profile. I swear I’m usually an optimist, but I have to assume things are getting worse in this area; when I imagine a gaggle of early humans kicking it in a glen, they just seem less beleaguered by these issues. And they didn’t have to deal with the agony of abundant choice. It was either Glog, who likes rocks, or Grock, who loves them. Grock is no slouch, either, if you follow me. Gotta be Grock.

Back in the present, all is not lost. Grock had to succeed in gathering food or he’d literally die. Tinder may be a new mode of pain, but there’s no avoiding pain; there may even be a Law of Conservation of Pain, a human baseline that is essentially unchanging through the eons.

Plus, we learn from pain. It’s the ultimate teacher. “Teach me through pain.” Now there’s a Tinder bio.

<3,

AH