A culture of lost souls

In the September issue of Vanity Fair is an article that made me feel like I needed to be waterboarded with Lysol to get the word images and comments out of my head. Called “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse,’” the article described the hook-up scene for millennials in New York that is, to use David Bowie’s now genteel expression, a “Wham, bam, thank you, Ma’am” approach to sexual encounters.

Tinder is one of a cluster of dating apps that allow for quick, superficial judgments of available women (and men) that men (and women) can use to evaluate likely connections in their vicinity. The first of these kinds of apps was Grindr, intended for gay hook-ups, and the concept quickly moved into the heterosexual culture.

The result is that both men and women have a seemingly limitless number of potential sexual partners, making dating, relationships and even conversation passé. One man boasted of seducing women on Tinder using only emojis (a sentence that could not have been written five years ago, and which you may need your kids to translate for you). The article is harsh in both its language and its portrayal of an emotionally vapid, sex-obsessed sub-culture of the millennial generation that appears so stunted that a teacher assigns students to go on an actual date (sober) and have a conversation, which appears to be a completely foreign experience for some.

While the women interviewed are critical of the Tinder scene, they are obviously fully participative in the process even while bemoaning the lack of any sort of serious boyfriend potential. The guys in turn call the women “Tinderellas” and criticize them for being “too easy,” but have no intention of changing their own behavior, either. How widespread is this? “In February, one study reported there were nearly 100 million people — perhaps 50 million on Tinder alone — using their phones as a sort of all-day, everyday, handheld singles club, where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida. ‘It’s like ordering Seamless,’ says Dan, the investment banker, referring to the online food-delivery service. ‘But you’re ordering a person.’”

Contrast this with the befuddlement that has greeted the news of a young, smart, attractive pair of newlyweds from Mississippi who were pretending to go on their honeymoon when their real plan was to join ISIS. Muhammad Dakhlalla, 22, and Jaelyn Young, 19, were arrested on suspicion of intending to join a foreign terrorist organization. Both were smart, serious young people whose families apparently suspected nothing. According to a story in The New York Times, Young, who had been raised Christian, “converted to Islam in April after being introduced to the religion by college friends.” A friend says, “Young was drawn to the Quran’s teaching because she believed it had been unchanged since it was first written. She thought the Bible, by contrast, had been translated so much that its original meaning was lost.” In other words, a conversion that took place less than five months ago led a young woman to want to join a severe political-religious movement that encourages the rape and beheadings of non-Muslims.

These two stories suggest a generation desperate for authenticity, yet finding none of it in our culture. Of course, not all millennials fit this description. Always there is hope, but what a world we’re handing to our children. What a world many of them are making for themselves.

In politics, in religion and in relationships, we keep seeking the true and the real, but are forever weighted down by our appetites and our cynicism, afraid to let go of that which is drowning us.

Greg Erlandson is OSV’s publisher.