Olsson didn’t really promote her Date Me doc, but Chana Messinger, a teacher and blogger, tweeted it out in March 2021, saying, “I love this genre of thing: people putting themselves out there, saying clearly and publicly that they want a partner, and knowing who they are and what they’re looking for.” Messinger went on to share a thread of some of her favorite Date Me docs, a celebration of the subculture. It’s fascinating to browse through them, and a little voyeuristic. They also require a much longer attention span than Tinder.
I reached out to Olsson to ask her what inspired her to put out a Date Me doc. The pandemic is part of this story, because of course it is. “For obvious reasons, I was not going to house parties, group events, or meeting friends-of-friends very often,” Catherine Olsson told me over Twitter DM. “I wanted something to enable friend-of-friend intros in the pandemic world.”
Mostly, though, Olsson just wanted to filter out people who aren’t into this style of dating, and stop relying on happenstance to find the right match. “If spontaneity hasn’t worked yet, why not help it along?” she wrote to me.
All of this is deeply rational. You might also say practical, except the distinction between practical and rational is an important one to make in Silicon Valley these days, because rationalism is now its own influential subculture. Almost all the people cited in this story identify as rationalists or, as Olah put it, hold values associated with effective altruism. Olsson said she doesn’t think the dating doc is a widely adopted format outside of these circles: “This was always(?) meant as something to pass around within our subcultural communities. It’s a ‘by nerds, for nerds’ format!”
But of course, dating, and love, aren’t always optimizable. We think we know what we want, but we’re actually quite crappy at assessing what will make us happy. Or, as WIRED previously explained, “Good romantic partners are difficult to predict with data. Desired romantic partners are easy to predict with data. And that suggests that many of us are dating all wrong.”
Like a lot of people, I’ve used dating apps on and off, and my most profound realization, which is not very profound, is that the people I find myself completely drawn to in real-life conversations are often people I might have passed on in an app. Also, I’ve never done a Date Me doc, because it sounds mortifying, but I did once publish a 5,000-word feature that practically shouted my singleness, so same difference.
Date Me docs do seem to be a natural next step in the evolution of online dating, not because the outcomes are necessarily better, but because the docs themselves feel at least like an effective form of self-expression. They are the anti-app, in that they embrace the vastness of the open web and shirk the ideals, dodgy algorithms, and templates of containerized dating apps. Apps and web, web and apps, and on and on we go. In a way, this is the natural ebb and flow of dating, too. We alternately broaden our dating pools and shrink them, depending on our needs and desires. Or, we verticalize—narrowing our options because of religion or culture or age—and when that doesn’t work, we go horizontal again. (And I don’t mean that as a euphemism, although, sure, why not.)