We love you Michelle, but dating is more than monogamy & marriage

Tinder tattoos representing the opportunities for lust, love and romance with the dating app
Twin flames

It feels sacrilegious to disagree with the former First Lady, but her recent comments about Tinder demand some teatime. On the September 6th episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast with guest Conan O’Brien, she said: “you can’t Tinder your way into a long-term relationship.” The dating app dis prompted hundreds of people to post their Tinder success stories on social media, and Michelle’s statement was labelled “Boomer” at best and judgy at worst.

Having found many versions of dating happiness on Tinder, I was right there with the dissed. How could she say that?

Long-term Tinder relationships and marriages happen all the time, so do “Tinder children”. Along with being a brilliant graduate from Harvard and Princeton, Michelle Obama has two daughters. She must be aware of current dating realities, which make her out-of-touch comments all the more curious.

Dating advice that misses the mark

Before delivering her Tinder teardown, she suggested that couples should date with honesty, exclusivity, and seriousness. Sounds fun, right?  Michelle also said that selecting the “right” partner and hard work are the keys to achieving a committed relationship and marriage.

In her opinion, none of this can happen on digital platforms. But she doesn’t know much about what happens on dating apps, including the work it involves. You want to talk about relationship perseverance and resilience, try using Tinder for a few days- the swiping fatigue alone!

What people actually do on dating apps

Michelle suggests that dating apps are exclusively about hooking up, which she views as meaningless. Data collected from Tinder indicate that hooking up is a primary goal for some, but long-term relationships were by far the most-elected choice when users were asked what they were looking for. And, sure, some hookups can be less than satisfying, but they can also provide fun opportunities to learn about sex and intimacy.

I pick you…A team of one?

Another topic Michelle discussed is how to pick your person. Using a basketball analogy, she said it’s best to choose a partner in the same way that a winning team is selected. Anyone who “just dribbles” or only does one position (pun intended) need not apply. Her advice is to seek or wait for someone who can do everything. That’s a tall pick and roll, if you ask me.

Also, the idea of finding “the one” is a myth. Reinforcing it as the ideal can put a tremendous amount of pressure on people as they date, which is already tough enough! It can also make folks stay in unhappy relationships because they think they’ve met their love quota.

More than monogamy

Based on her advice, Michelle Obama seems to think that we all want monogamous relationships and to be married. But we don’t, as reflected in reduced marriage rates and shifting divorce numbers over the past few decades.

Indeed, non-monogamy seems to be where it’s at and not just for Gen Z or the next cohort in line. People of all ages belong to an array of inclusive sexual categories and relationship types. Multiplicity and diversity are the driving forces in today’s love economy, which boasts over 1, 500 unique dating apps.

Where is Michelle coming from?

Michelle’s podcast comments do not reflect her knowledge of dating app trends. They stem from how she thinks people should date and her own romantic journey. The rather conservative advice surprised me because it doesn’t sound like the fem-forward. empowerment perspective we’re used to from the former First Lady.

Her biased dating advice begs the question: Does Michelle’s advocacy end at the 15-foot foul line of sexuality?

Possibly. It’s also worth noting that people love the idea of marriage, even though we often fail at it. Laurie Essig writes in her 2019 book Love, Inc. that the romance industry rides the wave of cultural precarity. The worse things get in the world around us, the more we turn to romance as way to generate hope.

Maybe our precarious times are unduly influencing Michelle Obama’s ideas about Tinder. Whatever the reason for her dated dating insights, they reinforce the simplistic idea that dating apps are only about hookups. Her comments also give the impression that those of us who use dating apps are dating “wrong.”

Call to action

Living through a pandemic makes us question and rethink a lot of things, including the value of love and how we find it. As problematic as her rose-coloured comments are, they’re useful for us to reflect upon as we venture into our uncertain post-pandemic era.

We need one another and want more than Michelle might want to admit. But we don’t need to dilute our diversity to feel stable in the world. We can do that by honouring our desires and one another in our intimate pursuits.

Onward Tinder soldiers!