Why do dating apps bring out the worst in men?

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Tim Robberts/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Tim Robberts/Getty Images

Apps like Tinder and Hinge give straight men unfettered access to women – and a new sense of boldness through a seemingly endless set of options


If you’ve managed to live your life so that you’ve somehow avoided the “West Elm Caleb” saga that’s unfolded over the last week, then you’re probably a happier, less perplexed person because of it. And if you’re a single straight woman who uses dating apps and have never dated a young man who resembles West Elm Caleb, then that is nothing less than a miracle.

In brief: West Elm Caleb is a guy, 25, who got outed on TikTok for allegedly dating multiple women he met on dating apps, all at the same time, leading them on and then ghosting them. “Back in my day we just called that a fuckboy,” said my friend Amelia, 29. Yes, I know. Back in 2015, I wrote a story for Vanity Fair entitled Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse in which I reported: “A ‘fuckboy’ is a young man who sleeps with women without any intention of having a relationship with them or perhaps even walking them to the door post-sex.”

That story caused an infamously crazy reaction on the part of Tinder, which tweeted at me more than 30 times in one night, so offended were they that I had talked to actual users about their dissatisfaction with the newly launched, now multibillion-dollar app. Tinder was mad because, among other things, I dared to suggest that dating apps (including Bumble and Hinge, where West Elm Caleb met his matches) were exacerbating bad behavior on the part of straight men. Which is what is missing in the many think pieces that have come out about West Elm Caleb: the problem is the design of the technology itself.

No, dating apps didn’t invent misogyny or womanizers. But they did give straight men – unvetted men – unfettered access to women. They gave them a new sense of boldness through a seemingly endless set of options. They gave them the ability to decide with the flick of a finger whether a woman was “hot or not” enough for them to date or have sex with. They gave them the ability to create false identities who can’t be held accountable.

The effect of all this on straight male psychology is something I’ve discussed with psychologists, feminists, evolutionary biologists and other experts throughout the making of a documentary film and the reporting of several more articles and a book. But you don’t have to have a PhD to see that dating apps privilege the male gaze and give straight men an outsized idea of their power in their dealings with women. In the opinion of another young woman friend: “They have ruined men.”

No, I don’t think West Elm Caleb deserved to be doxed or harassed by the people who sought to take revenge on his behavior – no one deserves that. It is wrong. But I’m not surprised that some women rose up against this character, using him as a scapegoat for what they have been enduring in the realm of dating now for years; I’m just surprised it took this long. “West Elm Caleb is a pandemic,” said Molly, 34. “He’s everywhere. Except there’s no vaccine.”

Without any change in the toxic dating culture being created by these apps – or the men they’re turning into fuckboys – women have been turning to each other for solidarity online. “What I’m seeing more and more on TikTok is women finding out they’re being cheated on or dating the same guy,” said Lana, 28, “and then pushing back. I have seen girls post, like, ‘If your husband is named Joe with blond hair and tattoos and was just on a business trip in Vegas, he’s cheating on you.’ I also saw a girl who found out her boyfriend of like six months was dating two other girls, and they all ambushed him at the same place. They all looked the same too, ugh.”

“Honestly, women should boycott these apps,” said Breanna, 30. “I don’t know what benefit they bring – other than make us more accessible to trash men with bad intentions. I’m telling everyone I know to delete the apps. They’re not worth it and no one I know has met anyone worth a damn on them anyway.”

  • Nancy Jo Sales is a New York-based writer. Her latest book is Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno

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