The Worst Parts of Love and Romance in 2022

Opposites still attract, but is it harder for them to meet—and stay together?

Hands touching
Getty; The Atlantic

This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely, intriguing conversations and solicits reader responses to one question of the moment. Every Friday, he publishes some of your most thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Earlier this week I asked, “What’s the best or worst thing about love, marriage, sex, or romance as conceived in 2022?” Online dating loomed large in several responses. Let’s start there.

M. swipes left on one particular company:

One of the worst features of romance in 2022 is the outsize role played by the Match Group. In a time when online dating is taking over, this one company controls most major apps/websites, including Match, Tinder, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Hinge. Over the last decade, we have essentially outsourced Americans’ dating lives to a single for-profit company. But bizarrely, it seems no one is talking about this as a cause for concern.

Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok frequently come under criticism for the potential to cause harm, but Match Group has been given a pass, even though potential for the profit-motive to create perverse incentives in the dating-app market is substantial.

M.A. frets that not enough people swipe right on people who are unlike them:

Dating apps try to “match” people based on what they have in common—likes, dislikes, food, movies, etc.—rather than what sets them apart. My fiancé and I are radically different, politically, temperamentally, and spiritually. He despises Trump and Republicans while I’m ambivalent toward the former president and vote only for Republicans. He’s clean and organized while I’m messy and scatterbrained. He’s a man of science and rationality while I’m more spiritual (although we both believe in God). Like complementary colors (or Jerry Maguire), we complete each other by balancing our natures.

Opposites don’t necessarily attract, but they do last. I’m a Millennial and, for better or worse, I’ve never had to deal with the kind of dating you see on TV shows and movies; I’m introverted so I don’t know that I could do that. From my experience with dating apps there is incredible leeway given to how you can exclude potential partners based on personal preferences. By excluding millions of options based on who they voted for or what kind of pizza topping they prefer, you may never find the yin to your yang. I’m glad I found mine.

L. prefers to meet prospective partners in person and worries that the world has left him behind:

I met a girl on a plane a few months back, and after some light texting we finally met up. She was with her co-workers, who treated our meeting on a plane as some sort of foreign concept. Jokes about “hope you’re not a serial killer” went around the table. Only 15 years ago we (wrongfully) treated swiping around online as the thing only “socially awkward” people tend to do and worried about how much you actually knew the person. Now people have completely flipped sides and act like, “So you just talked to a guy for a couple hours on a plane and now you’re hanging out together? Bold move!”

I speak now as a single guy in a big city. I don’t have social media due to the negative effects it has on your mind and attention, and I have also abandoned the dating apps due to their desire to make finding love more like a game than an actual attempt. This leaves only two options: meeting friends of friends or a stranger when having a night out. But with everyone so deeply invested in their phones, this becomes incredibly difficult.

I’ve been on over a thousand dates in my life, and did use the apps extensively for years, so it’s not like the option hasn’t been explored, but the posing pictures, quirky one-liners, and exhaustive attempts at a clever intro just make the other person feel like an avatar—and essentially that’s what they are, because they’re advertising themselves, and no one’s going to post their baggage, unless of course it’s “loyal to a fault.”

Apps are designed to streamline love, or sex, into a small handful of questions, and to let you burn through as many potential partners as you can with the idea that the more darts you throw, the more chances you have to hit a bull’s-eye. But you end up with so many darts you wonder, Why bother aiming? All of my major relationships were with people I met in the real world. I can count on one hand the people I met on apps that I ever had the desire to see again. I have friends who have had great relationships spawned from online, but that’s not me and my breed is all but dead; not to mention that every year older you get where you’re still single as a guy is another year people seem to have doubts about your “commitment” or “stability.” So I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I may never be in another relationship, solely because the way that feels the most natural and helps me to assess real chemistry is the way that nobody wants to do anymore.

Nancy continues today’s “opposites attract” theme:

I’m blessed to have recently married the man I’ve loved for more than 15 years. We married just shy of Independence Day 2021. We have wildly different views on politics and science. We always have been very different, but that didn’t dent our love. He’s the anti-science/pro-faith part of this partnership. I am the “just the facts” partner.

Right after Thanksgiving, he contracted COVID and pneumonia. He refused to get medical treatment until it was almost too late. He was convinced that God would see this through for him.

Objectively, I was screaming inside, mutely raging at his denials of science. Subjectively, I just wanted him to live. And he did get treatment, and experienced COVID hell in person.

He is better, and the gap between my belief in science and his reliance solely on faith has been narrowed for us. What’s wrong is that it took this experience for him to believe more than a little in science, and what’s right is that it took this experience for me to understand his fundamental reliance on faith. We are very lucky, and we know that this could have been a very different result. But medicine and faith worked together to save us.

Matthew posits that these days, togetherness is underrated because of the sacrifices it requires:

The worst thing about the relationship culture of 2022 is the negative messaging toward love, marriage, sex, and romance. Many of today’s cultural hits idealize the act of breaking off relationships. Celebration of self and a culture centered on self-realization and reward has led to growing resentment toward love because love requires putting oneself second. People want to live their life on their terms and I think that is great, so long as that is desirable to all members in a relationship. The critical point isn’t traditional versus nontraditional but self-serving versus selfless relationships.

Last but not least, T. writes:

I’m highly influenced by a broad set of inputs, but my lineage points to the Black-liberation tendencies of my Alabama family. What strikes me is how poorly my society manages to recognize or engage love in complexity. I knew I was nonbinary despite having no language for this. I had seen the “men” and “women” in my life farm the same farms in the same overalls without any beautification. And I had seen the dandiest opposite.

I had seen in between.

Thanks for your contributions. I read every one that you send. See you next week.