During the week beginning December 14th, The Atlantic posted three articles in reaction to the same story that appeared on a previously little known website called babe.net. The three articles were critical, supportive and critical chronologically. They were reactions to the retelling of a date between a somewhat well-known comedian and an anonymous woman whose only characterization was “a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer.” A magazine—founded in 1857—which on recent covers pictured Vladimir Putin, an American Nazi and the Mona Lisa, posted those three articles. The date in question was first documented on a website whose solid pink landing page features menus for “lust,” “fads,” “looks,” “IRL” (in real life), and “pop.”
For at least a week, that date was prominently inked by serious writers for The Atlantic, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and The New York Times. Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic starts her January 19th piece:
Fifteen years ago, Hollywood’s glittering superstars—among them Meryl Streep— were on their feet cheering for Roman Polanski, the convicted child rapist and fugitive from justice, when he won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Director.
As Bob Dylan wrote: “the times they are a-changin’.” So dominant has the redefinition of power imbalance in relationships between men and women in the workplace become that #MeToo, just three months old, has been updated to #TimesUp via an open letter to The New York Times on New Year’s Day.
But the babe.net article to which national publications devoted so much coverage did not concern the actions of powerful sexual predators and their cover-up armies of wingmen. The provocative post concerned an occurrence between two people, recently met, that covered a span of hours, not months, years or decades.
Merriam-Webster defines "date", in the context above referenced, as: “a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character.” Wikipedia calls dating “a stage of romantic relationships in humans whereby two people meet socially with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a prospective partner in an intimate relationship or marriage.” The Urban Dictionary defines "date" as: “An audition for sex.”
Human beings consider themselves the leading edge of evolution and thereby proffer their interpersonal relationships as inherently more intelligent, sophisticated and complex than other species. But humans are members of the animal kingdom and have mating practices in common. Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurological sciences at Stanford University, who has for decades spent time studying a population of wild baboons in Kenya, says:
A large percentage of social mammals can be divided into what’s called pair-bonded species: they mate for life, males do a lot of child-care, females choose males who are good partners, there’s not a whole lot of aggression. Or tournament species: males are much bigger than females, and big sharp canines, ornamentation, they fight tons…. So what about humans? By every measure you could come up with from cultural anthropology to literally what sort of genetic diseases we have, we are halfway in between… and this explains like 90% of poetry and divorces... We are incredibly confused species in that regard.
Professor Sapolsky, until he was eight years old, wanted to be a gorilla when he grew up.
Humans form pair-bonds, but continue to compete sexually. Humans also form pair-bonds without intending to reproduce, reproduce and then separate, and have children with more than one partner. The process of choosing a partner may be as singular a process as the individual choosing. One method will not work for everyone, and every individual may have a unique process that is right for him or her.
Dating is part of the selection process or mating ritual humans use in order to choose a partner, for a night or for a lifetime. That process could be as simple as marrying the boy or girl next door and living in the same house for a lifetime, or the process could be a part of concrete societal structure and tradition. Formal arrangements such as marriage, as defined by law, have served to secure support for offspring and reduce competition for mates. The Tenth Commandment reads: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”
Until late in the last millennium, these arrangements were not made by the proposed partners, but by the families of the prospective couple. Weddings were the consummation of a business arrangement or contract with consideration paid with an exchange of value. Livestock might be traded for a desired daughter, or a dowry might accompany a bride. Dating was arranged, approved and chaperoned as a precursor to marriage. Which children were paired often involved a “matchmaker.” This authority could be a family elder, but often was a village priest, cleric or rabbi. Professional matchmakers included the Hindu astrologer, the Jewish shadchen, and the Romani people’s divinatory Tarot reader.
In the twentieth century, dating became an activity unto itself. Rather than searching for a life-long partner, teenagers began to date as a recreational activity. Rather than search for someone to marry, more people looked for someone interesting to enjoy for a summer or a semester. Serious dating was “going steady.” Free from parental control, without the advice of elders and left to their own devices, young adults resorted to school functions, social gatherings, and more recently online dating services.
The most popular—Match, eHarmony, OKCupid and Tinder—use proprietary algorithms to suggest possible matches. Suggested pairings are based upon the data entered into the user’s profile that operates in a fashion similar to Amazon’s method for suggesting product purchases. But on Match.com, less than 2% of messages sent by males receive a reply; and seven times more hours are spent online looking for a date than dating. Females must consider their safety; a Pew Internet Study showed that 42% of females using Internet dating sites experienced harassment.
If a match is made, it is only as good as the data the algorithm used to make the match. As Dr. Gregory House (House M. D.) insists, “everybody lies.” Half of online daters feel that potential love interests seriously misrepresented themselves. Photographs can be altered or airbrushed; education, accomplishments, and interests can be exaggerated, embellished or simply made-up.
One can never really know what to expect from another human being. “The only very marked difference between the average civilized man and the average savage is that the one is gilded and the other is painted.”—Mark Twain. But the experiences and opinions of other trusted individuals can help reduce the possibility of dating disaster. People who think alike, have the same interests, come from the same backgrounds and are of the same age can be valuable resources when deciding upon whether an introduction would be advantageous. Such were the roles of matchmakers, but the matchmaker tradition has gone the way of chaperones and chastity belts.
Technology may have an answer for the trust problem with online dating. The same technology that allows secure transactions between anonymous holders of bitcoin—blockchain—may hold promise for seekers of companionship. As a blockchain distributed ledger allows verification of transactions between individuals unknown to each other, so too may blockchain be used to verify information on a dating site profile. As bitcoin pays miners for verifying transactions, so too can trusted individuals be paid for a consensus agreement on the identity and personality presented by an online dater. According to Ponder, it's “a game for playing matchmaker where you can win real money by making successful matches.” Ponder’s 70,000 users login through Facebook and are presented with profiles of both friends and strangers. The Ponder user may find a potential match or may choose to play matchmaker. A successful match pays the matchmaker in “Ponder dollars” which can be converted into real dollars upon achievement of 10 matches. As with other online games, a user can gain an advantage over other players by upgrading to Ponder Gold tokens and then be shown the most active singles or best matchmakers. Ponder Gold holders will also be able to participate in Matchmaking Groups which will take full advantage of blockchain consensus verification for assistance with the most probable matches.
The social awareness and change promoted by #MeToo may be something new, or it may be an open declaration of what everyone has already known but did not talk about: a system of social organization as old as evolution. #MeToo asks men not to act like animals in the workplace. But they are animals, so are women. Societal training has installed a frontispiece of respectability upon their seething and desperate struggle to survive, but underneath the same power-based hierarchical ranking system remains. Men have more power than women, but members of both sexes are subjugated by the system.
Among the troop of savanna baboons Dr. Sapolsky studied in Kenya, a terrible outbreak of tuberculosis selectively killed off the most dominant males and set the stage for a social and behavioral transformation. The victims had won rights to a tourist lodge garbage dump and were exposed to bovine tuberculosis. Left behind were the subordinate males, all the females, and their young. With that change in demographics came a “cultural swing toward pacifism, a relaxing of the usually parlous baboon hierarchy, and a willingness to use affection and mutual grooming rather than threats, swipes and bites to foster a patriotic spirit.”