Our digital disillusionment with dating: When loneliness is both caused and fed by living online

Tabi shoes, Timothee Chalamet, and a broken heart on a phone Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
Tabi shoes, Timothee Chalamet, and a broken heart on a phone Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images

This fairy tale starts with a first date on Tinder as all modern romances do. Girl matches with boy. They don't interact until the boy recognizes the girl in person and eventually messages her that he saw her. They go on two dates and eventually go back to her place — a routine hookup. After their evening together, he leaves, and she sees something is off. Her $990 Margiela Mary-Jane Tabis have vanished into thin air like a fairy godmother after she grants all wishes.

In modern romance fashion — the villain turns out to be the boy, not Prince Charming. Not only did he steal the girl's nearly $1,000 shoes, he also gifted the stolen designer shoes to his girlfriend who he was cheating on with said girl. So what do you do when you've been burned because your hookup has stolen your favorite pair of shoes? You call him out on TikTok (remember West Elm Caleb?). And that's what the girl, Lexus, did. Her TikTok detailed the horrifically unromantic, gesture of stealing her Tabis, and it has been watched a million times and shared widely on other social media platforms. Its wide circulation helped her secure her Tabis back into her possession after the boy, Josh was publicly hounded and humiliated by thousands of people to return them.

How do you feel after reading that? Perplexed? Shocked? Disturbed? Good, you should feel all those conflicting feelings because these are the multiple stages of grief attached to modern dating. As a single 24-year-old girl in New York City, after hearing about the viral Tabi Swiper as people have named him — I laughed at how completely disillusioned I have become with online dating and I know I'm not the only one. My friends, who have found their partners through Hinge, Bumble and Tinder, try to cajole me into sticking with it, telling me that I just have to go through the entire NYC tristate area before I find something meaningful.


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The Tabi Swiper horror story isn't the first online dating nightmare that you've heard of or shook your head at in disappointment; it's one of many. I mean, a guy once told me on a first date that his mom was involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and I continued to date him. Social media – specifically apps like TikTok and Twitter (rebranded as X) – are continuously rehashing the same dating discourse again and again until we've all become cynical, jaded, perpetually single people. And if we look at the data, we kind of are.

According to a study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior, from 2009 to 2018, people of all ages are having less sex. Research from the Pew Research Center also found that in 2019, 38% of people from 25-54 were single or unpartnered. This is coupled with the fact that it seems like there's also a lonely, single-man epidemic on the rise because men are more likely than women not to be married. The data shows that there is a growth in how many people are single which also directly impacts the decline in marriage among working-aged adults.

We are the single, lonely and sexless generation — this year has literally seen a rise in celibacy Google searches in the UK. So in what ways do we supplement our needs? How do we alleviate the constant loneliness, difficulties in online dating and finding connections, and more demanding work schedules? We take to the internet to soothe us. Through our screens, we watch celebrities and pretty, unattainable people intimately exist as our perfect, ideal hyper-fixation crush. Some are shattered into a million pieces when see said celebrity crush publically move from single to a relationship.

Notably, the most buzzy hard-launch of the summer was Oscar-nominated hot Euro-coded actor, Timothée Chalamet and billion-dollar beauty mogul/influencer/KarJenner family member, Kylie Jenner at Beyonce's most recent Los Angeles concert. The couple had been rumored to be dating for months, but fans eventually caught the couple kissing, singing and embracing during the show. The video reached corners of the internet that even I am terrified of as a former One Direction stan.

The reaction from Chalamet's stans – especially 57-year-old self-identified Gen-X Chalamet super fan, Simone – was severe. She runs the X and Instagram accounts under the username Club Chalamet. She was seemingly upset after seeing the viral video of Chalamet with Jenner: "If you're feeling distressed by the video [with Jenner], it's OK. But please take care of yourself. Step away from social media for a couple of days." Some other Club Chalamet social media posts vilified Jenner, alleging that the KarJenner family masterminded a full-blown PR relationship between the couple. Club Chalamet also hosted a Twitter Spaces, theorizing that Chalamet was being blackmailed into being publicly seen with Jenner.

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While it's important to condemn Club Chalamet for her misogynistic veiled speculation of Jenner — it is evident to me that as we grow lonelier in this digital reality, it simultaneously overwhelms our very physical, tangible reality. Simone has met Chalamet and she said he told her "how grateful he is (for) all the work I do for him. He said he really appreciated it so much." Her behavior towards Jenner is concerning but in her lived experience in this parasocial relationship, she feels like it's her job to look out for Chalamet's best interests.

But that's the issue, we have fictionalized a real-life relationship with our very own elusive figments of our imagination. As we pine for relationships and watch, speculate and criticize other people for leaving singledom for partnership, whether it lasts or not, it just compounds our loneliness, which then worsens the parasocial relationship. It also doesn't help if your happiness and meaning are attached to running a Timothée Chalamet stan account. We've seen this time and time again with how fans turned Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde's relationship into a spectacle and how the internet started a misogynistic campaign against Hailey Bieber in favor of Justin Bieber's ex, singer Selena Gomez.

It's irrefutable that the digital age has entirely altered the very fabric of how we connect and interact with people. I mean, people's Tinder dates are literally stealing their designer shoes to gift to their girlfriends. But instead of investing in our own relationships, we've sought comfort from our loneliness in watching others through a screen whether that's laughing along at the Tabi Swiper story or hating on Chalamet and Jenner's new relationship. It may bring us a temporary relief from the impending singledom that we face outside of our screen but it'll never be enough to fully address the root of the problem — that we're all a bit lonely.

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