Olsson didn’t really promote his documentary Date Me, but Chana Messinger, a teacher and blogger, tweeted it in March 2021, saying, “I love that kind of stuff: people stepping forward, saying clearly and publicly that they want a partner, and knowing who they are and what they’re looking for.” Messinger then shared a thread of some of his favorite Date Me documentaries, a celebration of the subculture. It’s fascinating to browse, and a bit voyeuristic. They also require a much longer attention span than Tinder.
I reached out to Olsson to ask what inspired her to release a Date Me documentary. The pandemic is part of that story, because of course it is. “For obvious reasons, I wasn’t going to be hosting parties, group events, or meeting friends of friends very often,” Catherine Olsson told me on Twitter DM. “I wanted something to allow for friend-of-friend intros in the pandemic world.”
Mostly, though, Olsson just wanted to filter out people who aren’t into that style of dating and stop relying on chance to find the right match. “If spontaneity hasn’t worked yet, why not help it?” she wrote to me.
All this is deeply rational. You could also say practical, except that the distinction between practical and rational is important to make in Silicon Valley these days, because rationalism is now its own influential subculture. Almost everyone in this story identifies as rationalists or, as Olah put it, has values associated with effective altruism. Olsson said she doesn’t think the dating document is a widely adopted format outside of those circles: “It was always (?) intended as something to be circulated within our subcultural communities. It’s a “by nerds, for nerds” format!”
But of course, dating and love are not always optimizable. We think we know what we want, but we’re actually pretty bad at evaluating what will make us happy. Or, as WIRED previously explained, “Good romantic partners are hard to predict with data. Wanted romantic partners are easy to predict with data. And that suggests that many of us all date badly.
Like many people, I’ve used dating apps from time to time, and my deepest realization, which isn’t very deep, is that the people who completely attract me in real-life conversations are often people I might have come across activated in an application. Also, I’ve never done a Date Me doc, because it sounds mortifying, but I once posted a 5,000 word article that practically screamed I was single, so the same difference.
Date Me docs seem like a natural next step in the evolution of online dating, not because the results are necessarily better, but because the docs themselves at least feel like an effective form of self-expression. . They are the anti-app, in that they embrace the vastness of the open web and eschew the ideals, questionable algorithms, and containerized dating app models. Apps and web, web and apps, and so on. In a way, it’s also the natural ebb and flow of encounters. We alternately expand our meeting pools and shrink them, according to our needs and desires. Or, we verticalize—limiting our options because of religion, culture, or age—and when that doesn’t work, we fall back horizontally. (And I’m not saying that as an understatement, although, of course, why not.)