This blog is primarily a space to document, share, and make sense of my dating app experiences on the Bumble platform. I’m in the process of writing a memoir about my five months inside the Bumble hive and trying to get noticed by a publisher and/or literary agent. No dice so far, lady is not yet a winner. I keep telling myself, and hearing from others who know, that it takes a long time, keep at it, you have to build more of a following…YES, but how she exclaims?! A colleague came over a couple of weeks ago and one of the first things I wailed to her is that “I need a following”—she started laughing so hard!! I was momentarily incensed: ‘How can she laugh when this is serious?’ HAHHHAHAAA. It is and feels ridiculous, to be honest, to have to schlep myself out in this manner. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE writing this blog but the need to promote, sell, build my presence in social media land is more than a little overwhelming. Yet, I have no choice if I wish to succeed…Suck it in and do it. SIGH.
I have been sharing a rather mixed bag of things so far and that will continue, but I also thought that it might be time to begin to release the cracken, i mean the hilarious, culturally relevant, and unique memoir that is waiting in the wings!!! The Introduction is one of the chapters that is fully written and it makes sense to begin at the beginning, as it were. I give you the first sub-section of the book-to-be:
Where is my love life?
Where can it be?
There must be something wrong with the machinery
Where is my love life?
Tell me, tell me
Where has it gone?
Somebody please, please tell me what the hell is wrong
Until I find the righteous one
~Prince, Computer Blue (1984)
After selecting six photos, finalizing my profile, and reassuring myself that this is what I wanted to do, I pressed the yellow “create” button and began my journey into the Bumble hive. With one of my ancient tabby cats by my side I sat quietly in my mid-century modern living room, waiting to see what would happen next. I had tried on-line dating and decided to put that short-lived, pathetic chapter to rest in favour of one of the apps that everyone seems to be using. Surely it would offer a more palatable range of prospective suitors and Bumble was discussed among women users as having better looking and more professional guys than Tinder. I was also intrigued by its feminist claims and promises to empower women. Described by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd as “100 percent feminist”, Bumble seeks to challenge heteronormative dating rules that assign active roles to men and more passive roles to women. On this app female users make the first move and men must wait to be initially contacted, which is designed to help women take greater control over their dating destinies and free men of the expectation to ask women out. Bumble’s unique approach has generated significant social and media buzz and over 18 million women use the app, but the degree to which these positive attributes align with their lived experiences is unknown. Does Bumble empower women?
As a tech luddite and dating app virgin, I had no idea what to expect beyond what I had heard about being ghosted, assaulted with dick pics, and other forms of resolute disappointment. As a woman who has gone through some momentous personal struggles and incredible life experiences, I have long felt empowered, strong, and independent. In love and romance, things have been a bit rockier. Could this app turn the tide and offer the fun sex, cool men, and good times I was ready for? I sat for a few more minutes in my living room, staring at my phone. After downloading the app and creating my profile, I promptly closed it again and placed my device on the coffee table. Being raised to savour the good things in life, I thought it best to ignore or supress the bounty of love, fun, and empowerment that awaited me. As with the proverbial train wreck, however, I could not turn my eyes away from the inert plastic rectangle of possibility that lay an arm’s reach away.
Sticky, Sexy, Sad documents the complex, hilarious, and sometimes troubling dynamics of the Bumble hive, which I inhabited between August of 2017 and January of 2018. I began writing the minute my profile entered the Bumble cosmos, part survival technique and part informed hunch that what I was observing was important. As an anthropologist I document the experiences of others, including women in sex work, people with HIV/AIDS, and people living in Indigenous communities. However, this time it is my life on the page, which I use to make sense of how this app is reconfiguring the ways that we think about sex, gender, and ourselves in our increasingly tech-driven world. The book captures the pulse of our current social moment, where dating apps are ubiquitous but poorly understood in terms of their broader impact on our lives, where feminism is under fire and being remade in exciting ways, and where many of us want to connect but often struggle to do so.
It also offers a rare glimpse into the ways that we become dependent upon apps like Bumble. I was told on countless occasions that apps are the only way people meet and I was also told, often by the same people, that it was rare to develop lasting connections on Bumble compared to other platforms. What is the point of allowing ourselves to fall under the corporate spell of a product that offers little in the way of guaranteed results? Our willingness to buy into messages of efficiency, productivity and, in this instance, empowerment, en route to a customized life to then share on social media platforms is a powerful force in our lives. I too was swayed by the prospect of finding what I desired through this app, which was not free and increased my phone use with each passing day. Corporate creep is sometimes neglected in the analysis of everyday technologies because of their ubiquity, but that is precisely the time to investigate them. The normalization of dating apps like Bumble does not mean they have seamlessly fused with existing dating patterns, socio-sexual cultures, or gendered relations. Quite the opposite, as Sticky, Sexy, Sad illuminates.
This book is not just for those who use other dating apps or have done so in the past. Encouraging critical reflection on the slippery sands of feminist culture, corporate power and how it shapes our socio-sexual lives is a worthy pursuit for everyone. Smart phones and apps are not the enemy, nor do they give us all the answers to what we seek in love or this thing called life. They do, however, provide clues about our world and ourselves that we can use to create meaningful sexual and romantic interactions. Sticky, Sexy, Sad is for people who date and have dated, those who have used or are currently on a dating app or two, and anyone who has considered how gender, sexuality, and life more broadly are being reconfigured through technology. It will also be relevant to those interested in Melittology, or the study of bees, a subject to which I now turn.
 Bumble is free to download, but I purchased the VIP package (CDN $40/month) because it is supposed to enhance dating success by providing users with a more streamlined way to select matches. Whether it did is anyone’s guess!