extremely online

Before We Make Out, Wanna Dismantle Capitalism?

Illustration: Simoul Alva

After getting my first vaccine in late April, I re-downloaded various dating apps on my phone to discover that everybody — at least straight males ages 27 to 36 in my three-mile Brooklyn radius — seemed ready to abolish capitalism. One night, while sitting on my couch swiping through Hinge, where users are asked to respond to cutesy prompts about their hobbies and interests, I found Enzo, a man with a mustache and a professional headshot who identified his “Love Language” as “the decommodification of food, housing, and healthcare.” Shortly after, I came across a guy named Jordan whose profile said, “Together, we could: Make art, dismantle the system, and eat grapes at the park.” He was followed by Carl, who, posing with a yellow Labrador retriever, said he wanted to “watch the collapse of the American empire.” Then came another wholesome-looking man who said he was “convinced” that “looting is reparative wealth distribution.” On Tinder, it was the same thing: Almost immediately, I matched with a 27-year-old who was into parks, people-watching, photography, and woodwork and also identified as a biracial communist.

Curious, I asked around to see if people with different settings had noticed the same phenomenon. A male friend told me that within two minutes of opening Hinge, he saw a woman’s bio declaring, “I’m weirdly attracted to: The end of capitalism.” (“It’s funny the way people find a way to shoehorn it into every prompt,” he said.) After changing my own settings to include women, I came across someone on Tinder who listed “ranting about capitalism at the drop of a hat” as something she does “for fun” in addition to making memes and TikToks. Plus a “Commie mommy” and another bio that declared, “Capitalists, zionists, and swerfs [sex worker–exclusionary radical feminists] can fuck off.”

“It feels like it went from ‘Okay, you live in Brooklyn and are anti-Trump unless you say otherwise’ to ‘anti-Trump’ being replaced with ‘BLM,’ which was replaced with ‘anti-capitalist,’ ” observed another acquaintance.

This extended beyond New York too. After landing in San Francisco, I was
not surprised to open Tinder and find a 24-year-old “anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist sk8r boi.” In Los Angeles: a 23-year-old with a middle part who was a “big fan of movies, books, and eating the rich.” It wasn’t just crunchy-granola types or tatted revolutionaries, either. Women drinking from wineglass sippy cups on boats were also claiming they want to “abolish billionaires.” It’s safe to say that no matter your settings, you could find someone out there who was eager to burn it all down, and maybe even “light [their] blunts in the flames” while they’re at it, as one person wrote on Tinder.

There was once a time when being a successful capitalist was seen as an attractive quality in a suitor, especially in a place like New York. Remember when the city’s hottest bachelor, Mr. Big, was described as “the next Donald Trump” in a good way? (Fans are speculating that in the Sex and the City reboot, he’s going to be arrested for white-collar crimes.) In some ways, the explanation for this social sea change is obvious: After a Trump presidency, a summer of protest, and a pandemic that left millions of people jobless (or stuck in their apartments working), we’ve grown increasingly dissatisfied with the system. But less obvious is why people suddenly feel compelled to broadcast their distaste for the rich in their quest for love. What do they hope to achieve?

For some people, it’s a practical thing — a way to filter out both right-wing trolls and neoliberal drones. “I don’t need someone who shares the same exact views as me, but I do need to date people who accept and support my political interests,” explained a 26-year-old male with coiffed hair and tortoiseshell glasses of his Tinder bio, which reads: “Vegetarian but I will eat the rich with you.” He couldn’t recall any instances of this one-liner garnering clever responses from women. But “it gives conservatives and centrist liberals an easy sign to swipe left,” he said. “Same as how I put my cat in my pictures to alert anyone with cat allergies, ya know?”

Tinder has tried to keep up with users’ growing desire to affiliate with progressive causes, adding “Black Lives Matter,” “LGBTQ+ Rights,” and “Feminism” as tags you can list as your “passions” beyond just “Activism” and “Politics.” Hinge, meanwhile, still limits your political affiliation to just three options: liberal, moderate, and conservative. (And to weed out profiles with any of the above political leanings, it’ll cost you a small monthly fee.) For many people on the left, these buckets are embarrassingly simplistic. What if you identify as a democratic socialist, or an anarcho-communist, or an Obama-loving technocrat? As the progressive camp has grown more fractured over time, dating profiles have only gotten more granular. To signal where, exactly, on the spectrum they fall, people now resort to a kind of online shorthand, which can take the form of a socialist rose emoji, or a slogan, or a string of acronyms. The irony, of course, is that reducing these political ideas to fit in a dating profile has also allowed them to become rote. Now, you’ll find “anti-capitalist” listed alongside a person’s astrological sign, Myers-Briggs personality-test result, and vaccine brand. “Hatred of capitalism is widespread enough now that making it one of your main points of potential connection with someone is sort of like saying, ‘I’m really into electronic music,’ ” said another friend, unimpressed.

It’s hard to know whether all these eat-the-rich-type bios correspond to people’s actual romantic preferences. Someone with “anti-capitalist” in their Tinder bio told my friend they “hated rich people” on so many dates that my friend felt compelled to reveal that she actually was one. But it wasn’t a deal-breaker: The two decided to keep going on dates anyway (until the flame died of natural causes). What are these statements even for, then, if not to ward off an incompatible mate? Multiple people I spoke to had a more cynical reading: It was all just virtue signaling. “It feels like it’s a way to seem attractive to people, which is gross,” said a friend. “Like using activist language as a way to get laid.” He also noted that it seemed to come from a place of fear, perhaps the same anxiety that prompted people to wipe their Instagram profiles of any evidence of second homes and clandestine getaways at the start of the pandemic.

This performativeness can sometimes turn off the very same people you wish to attract. “I’m not against eating the rich, or loving Bernie, or abolishing the police,” said a female friend on the apps. “But I wonder: Is this really the first thing this guy wants me to know about him? It seems like more of an insecure mask. It makes me think he’s going to mansplain Marx to me before I even get the chance to say something that would lead to us actually making plans to grab a drink.”

It’s easy to roll one’s eyes at any sentence that begins with, or amounts to, “Because late capitalism,” especially on apps owned by tech overlords that incentivize users to market themselves as commodities. But life under late capitalism is nothing if not a compromise. After the year we’ve had, one could be forgiven for being a little corny in pursuit of human-to-human contact. (Besides, all the true capitalists are on Raya, the invite-only app that costs $10 a month.)

One night, deep in a Tinder hole and feeling particularly depressed about the State of Things, I came across a profile that said, “If your politics don’t align with the last pic, please swipe left.” I groaned. Scrolling through this person’s photos, I was sure that by the time I got to the end, a portrait of Karl Marx himself would be staring back at me. But it was baked ziti. I swiped right.

Before We Make Out, Wanna Dismantle Capitalism?