When you've been single as long as I have, you tend to accumulate a lot of experience on dating apps. And after a thousand or so swipes, you start to notice some common trends in what your fellow singles like to include in their profiles.
There are the basic clichés, such as the many, many permutations of "I enjoy going out as well as staying in," which is innocuous enough, even if it also happens to be true for 99.9% of people on the planet and doesn't offer any actual information. Then there are the people who are "looking for a reason to delete this app," which was probably charming the first time somebody used it. And don't even get me started on those who list their education as having been at the "School of Hard Knocks" or "University of Life."
Dating app bingo tends to vary from region to region. For example, as a Brit, I can't tell you how many post-Brexit daters are "looking to leave the single market before the UK does!" But there is one quality in particular that a vast number of online daters on both sides of the Atlantic seem to possess, and of which they are very proud: a sarcastic sense of humor.
This is something that transcends gender or sexuality barriers; apparently, men and women of all different kinds of identities claim to be "fluent in sarcasm," and are looking for somebody who is similarly conversant. But as somebody who has seen as many reruns of Friends as I have dating profiles, I personally can't fathom a less tantalizing prospect than going on a date with someone who models their comedic sensibilities on Chandler Bing.
I'm evidently in the minority, however. So what is it about sarcasm that people find so attractive? Or, perhaps more importantly, what kind of message about themselves are these self-identified sarcastic singles sending out into the ether?
"Sarcasm is certainly an indicator or intelligence and wit, which always rank high on the list of desirable traits," says Dr. Emily Morse, sex educator and host of the Sex With Emily podcast. "When we fantasize about a life with someone, we’re more likely to picture us side by side on our rocking chairs laughing into the golden years."
Jay Heinrichs is an expert in rhetoric and the author of Thank You For Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. He defines sarcasm as a form of irony, in which the speaker "plays pretend" with their intentions, and he suspects that the daters who include this in their profiles are trying to convey something much more specific.
"People who value 'sarcasm' are really talking about edginess—humor that flits along the edge of social boundaries," he says. "Edginess marks a person as brave (as well as funny). And who doesn’t look for a brave, funny partner?"
This is sound enough logic, especially if an individual is looking to set themselves aside from the countless other profiles on Tinder. Date me! I'm smart and fun!
"Sarcasm is likely a highly desirable trait on the apps because after you've mutually swiped right the most important hurdle is the ability to keep the conversation going over text," says Morse. "If someone can poke fun from the jump with a sarcastic text and witty banter, it not only grabs our attention but also creates an immediate intimacy. A comment about rival alma maters sure beats, 'Any plans for the weekend?'"
But what works virtually doesn't always translate to the real world. Morse points out that while a quick wit can help turn a romantic spark into a flame, it should not be considered the be-all and end-all of how you communicate as a pairing, especially if a relationship develops.
"The problem is when a person uses sarcasm as a weapon or as their dominant form of expression," she says. "When sarcasm is used as a shield to avoid confrontation, conflict, or being truly vulnerable in a relationship, it becomes the least funny thing of all... It can be used to manipulate and keep an emotional distance. Funny gets old fast when we’re not able to get our emotional needs met."
Personally speaking, I'm inclined to agree. Coming off a six-month period of isolation, moments of genuine connection feel precious, and people who say what they mean are beginning to look a damn sight more attractive. Earnestness and emotional honesty might not be cool, but they're what do it for me.
"While an edgy comedian might be great for a drink or a party, do you really want one for a life partner?" Says Heinrichs. "Sarcasm is rhetorical knife-throwing. And people shouldn't bring knives to bed."
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