What? Matthew is writing a Bad Romance Advice, Good Times post? You might be asking yourself. Well, it only took him five years. What’s this all about?
Well, I found a thing on the internet today (I know, the internet, of all places), and even though the original article I came across was a pretty devastating take on the thing itself, I couldn’t not take a closer look. There’s apparently a new dating app called Evolve, which already sounds like the most pretentious-ass dating app imaginable, but it’s somehow worse than that. I’ll stop beating around the bush, because it’s summed up best with this headline from The Verge, “There’s an app for ‘reflecting’ on your dates and turning them into data.“
Matthew, are you maybe overreacting? Are you doing ok? This is what caused you to break your silence on the Bad Romance Advice, Good Times front? Why did the only dating advice we’ve seen you bring to table come from a tech website, what are you doing? Yes, yes, I know, but I really want you to think about how shitty this app is for like two seconds. You need to go on this emotionally hollowed-out journey with me.
So you can tell what this is based on that first screenshot alone, right? Evolve isn’t a dating app in the same way that Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, OKCupid, or Grindr is. This is instead a way to keep track of the dates you get on those apps. And, sure, based on what we can see in that one screenshot, it feels a little weird. I suppose categorizing dates into “relationship potential” and “just having fun” isn’t really different from what’s already happening in anyone’s head anyway, so that might be fine? Fine-ish? But then the app features keeping a recorded pro/cons list, which is such a bad idea that this is literally the plot of an episode of Friends.
I mean, seriously, this goes from “oh, I like organizing my life” to “haha wow this is gross” in either one or two screenshots, depending on how pessimistic you were once I said “there’s an app”. Definitely by the second screen below, where it becomes clear this is less about reflecting on your dates and more about becoming the fucking Nate Silver of Tinder.
So here’s the thing about data. (There’s a sentence that nobody came to Bad Books, Good Times to read.) Data isn’t great at measuring subjective things. It has its moments (Yelp reviews), but it’s important to understand its limitations (basically anything of geopolitical significance that happened in 2016). So it’s why review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes are useful: because one reviewer’s two stars is the same as another reviewer’s two and a half stars, or the same as that first reviewer’s three stars back before they became a professional film critic and have seen so many movies that it’s not even pleasant anymore. So there’s two problems with trying to turn personal experiences into data like this. The first is that it’s real, real soft “science” to keep your baseline consistent so the numbers even mean anything, and the second is that these aren’t movies, but people. People that you’re apparently supposed to calculate how excited you are about on a ten-point scale. If this weren’t so shitty, it’d be almost hilarious how oblivious this is to how Actual Human Interactions work. (This is the point where I’d like to point out that, yes, of course the app’s founders are all white dudes.)
Now, look, I’m being very critical. But you know what, I was almost on board with this app. I was actually legitimately intrigued when I read the headline and wondered if this could be a useful thing. I really think all this needed to be to be a kinda useful app was a kind of lightly guided journaling. Something that could encourage mindfulness and gently help you focus your feelings about a date, or dates, especially if you’re the sort of person who gets overwhelmed as soon as you see the plural “dates”.
You know what really doesn’t address that problem? Well, it’s an app, so obviously there had to be a whole section where it compares your data to everyone else’s data.
WHO. WOULD. NEED. THIS. You know what’s a terrible way to reduce your anxiety? Comparing yourself to others. At best, it’s just innocuous comparisons to total strangers about meaningless comparators, like there’s any fucking difference between “passionate” and “adventurous”. But at worst, it’s that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where all the high school dudes are bragging about how many women they’ve fucked.
I mean, christ on a bicycle, dating is stressful enough without having an app on your phone telling you how many people you make out with in comparison to your peers. That sounds like what paranoid teenage boys think the world is before you realize, wait, no one gives a fuck how many people you’ve been with and thinking that way is super toxic for everyone involved. But someone instead went “yeah, that was good times” and made it into an app. (And of course it’s paranoid teenage boys, because every single one of the screenshots I could find of this app show it being used to list women. Male male gaze, y’all.)
Now, to be fair, the app also looks like it’ll compile user data about date spots, which is a legitimately useful service. Or it totally has potential to be. It’s hard to tell from the data on display in the screenshot, which is still very very focused on how many peoples’ mouths touched.
So why am I so upset about this? It seems like a fairly safe bet that this article will be the last any of you ever hear about Evolve. Hell, I didn’t even download it to write this piece. So what’s worth getting upset about? Well, like I said earlier, this almost looked useful. All dating apps are more than a little ridiculous and weird and kinda off-putting at first. There could totally be a niche for one that simply helps you keep track of them. But the successful way there, much like it is in dating, is gonna come from understanding how to view people like they’re people. If I had to write a joke about not understanding what reflecting on your feelings is, I’d probably come up with something based on calculating numbers about inherently incalculable things and plugging them into algorithms, which is literally this app.
If this app that wants to help people reflect on their dates wants to… you know… help people reflect on their apps, there are definitely ways to do that. (Take it from me, another white dude.) Mindfulness training is effective, and there’s definitely an app for that. Another thing that might help is not turning people into a collection of fucking data points and obsessing over whether you’re in an average percentile of people who get laid after a date. Presumably. I don’t have any data for that, so I feel like Evolve and I aren’t gonna see eye to eye here.
And that’s just the sad disconnect that I can’t shake, as unintentionally hilarious as this garbage app sounds. Evolve’s entire mission statement is to bring reflection into the wild, breakneck, and legitimately challenging world of online dating. But that’s gonna require actual reflection, not algorithms.