WARNING: In addition to observations about social networking apps, online dating and the mercurial “gig” economy, the following article also includes allusions to sex, spirituality and the nature of altruism. It’s the story of the nicest gift I received this year, and for some readers it may even result in a few New Year’s resolutions. It is the story of how I became an opinion blogger for the L.A. Times.
The unlikely events began with a Tinder date at the Cat and Fiddle Restaurant in Hollywood. For those not under 35 and single, Tinder is a wildly popular social app that men typically use to find hookups and women generally use to sift through dozens of prospects in search of the few they might actually date. So basically, it’s a digital version of regular life.
The date went reasonably well. I was wowed; she didn’t appear to find me repugnant. You know, a start. Then, as I walked her to her car, she mentioned that she kept sleeping bags in her trunk to hand out to homeless people, and it made me wonder why I don’t do the same. The answer, of course, is that I’m not that good a person. But she made me want to be.
Two days later, my new crush texted that she thought I was great but didn’t see us dating. My buddies suggested that this meant she was nuts, but much as I’d have liked to agree with them, I am aware that there are non-crazy women who don’t want to date me, and that’s fair enough. Oh well.
Two nights after that, though, she sent another text: She and a friend had been laughing at some jokes I’d made on the date and it turned out her friend was familiar with some of my satirical political videos. Her friend wanted to know more about me, which is how my date became my advocate, enumerating my personal and professional achievements. Her friend, an editor for the L.A. Times, asked to be put in touch, and I eventually got this writing gig.
I call it the nerdy man’s method of sleeping his way to the top: I tried to sleep with someone, I failed, but one thing led to another and I came out on top. And while I know in my brain that it was my experience that landed me the position, my gut keeps coming back to the chance connection that narrowly opened the door. That twist of fate may make a cute story, but it also illuminates a lot about our technological, social and economic moment.
For one thing, it underscores the unpredictability of work in our transitioning economy. The days of toiling for a single employer for 30 years have been receding for a generation, but some combination of contracting economic opportunity and expanding online accessibility has created a large sector of the workforce that strings things together from gig to gig.
These gig-workers need to constantly hustle and sell themselves, much like people on a date, and that lifestyle -- with all its attendant challenges and exhilaration -- has come to envelop millions of programmers, consultants, lawyers, writers and others. Some do it by choice, some by necessity, but their rapidly growing ranks are transforming our economy, with tectonic implications for everything from healthcare to retirement savings and unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, though people have always found work through people they know, the explosion of social networking sites has made it possible to meet more people more easily and stay connected with those people without much effort. That may seem democratizing because it makes hirers more accessible, but the reality is that most people’s social networks are largely drawn from within their own demographic groups, so social networking ends up fortifying socio-economic boundaries rather than breaking them down.
Indeed, while Tinder did successfully toss me out of my regular social circle, the algorithms on dating apps usually account for things like education and socio-economic class, which means I have an above-average likelihood of landing a date with someone who might have a lead on some work. It also probably didn’t hurt that I went on 20 first dates in October, because that’s 20 opportunities for something good to happen -- even if that something good turned out to be a gig instead of a girlfriend.
The irony is that I don’t even really like first dates; I was just trying to get myself off the mat after a rough summer that included breaking up with a wonderful woman and finding out that a couple of once-promising creative projects weren’t going anywhere. That’s why the small gift of kindness my Tinder date gave me when she pointed The Times in my direction meant so much more than just the consequent paycheck or boost in public profile: It showed that random good things can still happen, that a stranger might still care. It was a sleeping bag for the soul.
As we move into the new year, then, it’s worth remembering that while bad things happen inevitably, good things require a great deal of chance -- so it only makes sense to take a lot of chances. That goes whether we’re gigging, dating or just plain living. And to my fellow lonely-hearts: Take your next rejection in stride. You never know where it might lead.
Happy new year.