On Media-Thirst Guys, and the horrifying knowledge that you can only relate with people just as brain-sick as you.
My girlfriend almost ghosted me after our second date. The reason was simple; we talked too much about the media. Becca works at Vox, I'm a freelancer, and on our first night together we marinated under the tangerine lights of an anonymous Italian restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn addressing the crucial issues of our time: The people we thought were annoying on Twitter. It was the most euphoric date I've ever been on. My swarming cornucopia of takes about [REDACTED,] [REDACTED,] and [REDACTED] had finally found a reciprocating audience; someone who could see me and hear me, seven minutes into an aside about my frustrations with The Outline's invoicing process, or a multiversal dissertation on Mel Magazine's unique brand of horniness. Those conversations are rendered hilariously immaterial by the crushing priorities of reality -- there are, to put it lightly, more important things going on than the flimsy chafing between New York media types -- but freelancers spend days and nights cooped up in psychedelic mind-prisons with no Slack channels to blow off steam. Any outlet to remind yourself that your job isn't imaginary, and your inner thoughts aren't fundamentally deranged, is self-care. Safe to say, I thought the date went great.
But in the years since, as Becca and I have built a relationship on firmer ground than media gossip, she's educated me on my horrifying first impression. Simply put, I came off as what we're going to call a "Media-Thirst Guy," which constitutes a shockingly comprehensive demographic of young, urbane men on Hinge, Tinder, and Bumble, whose only wish in the world is to be validated by a woman that works at a magazine. Here's Becca, with her alternative interpretation of our first date.
What Luke is failing to mention here is that one of the first things he said to me on our date was, “I’m working on a story for your editor right now.” Keep in mind that I do not, as a rule, include where I work on dating apps because if I did I would only ever get messages about Ezra Klein, who I’ve met like, once, (every girl at Vox has experienced this!) I also A) did not tell him that I work at The Goods, so that was red flag number one. Red flag number two was that he kept asking me about whether I knew this person or that person, and I am skeptical of anyone who wants to hang out with people who work in media that badly because they are all way more boring than they are online. Also I’m pretty sure at one point Luke lowkey brought up that he had more Twitter followers than I did? That is no longer the case by a considerable margin. Anyway, I’m glad Luke didn’t get the hint which led to the rest of our relationship! Also I got ghosted by one of said Ezra fanboys literally that week, so Luke and I are both equally embarrassing.
Yeah, she had me pegged. I'm not surprised. To the untrained eye, the Media-Thirst Guy can be well-camouflaged within the general New York dating app gestalt -- lost in the swirl of vaporwave windbreakers, impractically tiny beanies, and selfies from the L Train Vintage fitting room -- but seasoned single journalists know him when they see him. "They aren't bros, but they aren't basic," says Rachel Greenspan, a reporter at Insider who recently commented about how many men have referenced their love for Naomi Fry on the apps. "They don't work in finance, law or business. They're in TV or advertising, something along those lines."
Greenspan sent over a screenshot of a Hinge profile that she deemed a "CLASSIC example." A man in a turquoise shallow V-neck clasps a cappuccino mug outside of an unmistakably Crown Heights-ish bistro. Above, he answered the prompt, "What is your love language?" with "Good tweets."
Most women agree that Media-Thirst Guys write decent bios for themselves, if only to subtly peacock their all-seeing levels of online literacy to any prospective suitors. They internalize Media Twitter's house style and replicate it on the fathomous dating app depths with an effacing gonzo neediness that glistens with the subtext, "I was there for the Towel Discourse." Kaitlyn Tiffany, a staff writer at The Atlantic and one of the few bona fide Tinder scholars we have, puts it this way: These men are enraptured by their own self-consciousness, which has never been a suitable replacement for self-awareness. "They stand out simply by way of knowing all the tropes to avoid," she says. "They’ve seen the Reductress articles and the viral tweets. They’re not going to make a Future song their anthem, or use a Michael Scott joke in the bio, or post a picture of them at Santa-Con."
When meeting a Media-Thirst Guy for an actual date, the results are either charmingly congenial -- a reply guy overjoyed to finally crest the summit -- or indecently awkward, as all of their freakshow internet thoughts pour out of their mouth with disorienting abandon, forcing both parties to reconsider if relating to other people in an offline environment is even possible in 2020. Tiffany recalled a wonderfully mortifying date from when she was 23 and just getting her feet wet at The Verge, which remains a good baseline for her going forward.
"We went to Butter and Scotch which in hindsight could have been a warning sign," she says. "He asked me perhaps 14 highly specific questions about my job, then said in an accusatory tone, 'We can’t talk about your job all night,' as if it had been me that had been steering the conversation that way. Then he said that he had Super Liked a moderately famous Twitter personality and essayist, who I happen to be mutuals with -- it’s unclear if he had looked this up and already knew -- and did I know why she hadn’t swiped back? I didn't, so I said 'I paid for my beer when I got here,' and left."
But disasters like that are generally uncommon. Far more often, the Media-Thirst Guy practices restraint. He delicately drops an unbroken stream of subliminal language hints to quietly posture himself as a big Ashley Feinberg reader. Those men never speak that innuendo into existence directly, for that would be gauche. They also will never identify themselves as a "huge fan of your work," for that would be infantilizing, emasculating, and groupie-ish. Instead, they attempt a corny Jedi mind trick; peppering the night with enough pointed references to digital media until it becomes brutally clear that they harbor some misbegotten fascination with the culture and its various heroes and villains. As Becca made clear earlier, those efforts are never convincing. Once you've sat through a billion nonsequitorial allusions to Matthew Yglesias across innumerable New York Tinder dates, it becomes outrageously easy to see right through the Media-Thirst Guy charade.
"I worked at a well-known gaming site with a pair of very popular brothers. I personally didn’t follow their side work and only ever knew them as coworkers. About a year or two into living in New York, I went out with someone who, apparently, was a huge fan of them. Enough so to bring it up on the date," says Megan, a journalist who asked me to omit her last name for this newsletter. "The whole thing was such a laughable attempt to be casual about it -- Like, ‘Oh, what have I been up to? I’ve been watching a lot of content by ‘insert brother names here’ and it’s pretty good. I think maybe you’ve heard of them?’ It’s this very awkward thing where you realize that either you’ve been plucked from the dating pool to act as their tie to a bunch of internet personalities, or this person is being coy about also knowing who you are too."
Megan adds that she once went on a date with someone that followed her on Twitter, which she only discovered long after their salutary joint ghosting. The prospect of inadvertently making a first impression on a future suitor -- through "bad punchlines and brainworm internet jokes" -- long before you sit down for drinks together is downright cyberpunk. We all have moments where we investigate the way our flesh and blood stacks up against our Twitter persona. Often, we're not thrilled with what that audit discovers. "Did things I say online or in my work make them want to meet me?" says Megan. "I still haven’t decided if I find any of those possibilities flattering, or deeply unsettling. They do still follow me on Twitter."
I sometimes wonder if all of these fraught social mishaps represent the end result of a media industry that's edged closer and closer to its own impossible-to-articulate corner of demi-celebrity. I have no idea who is and isn't famous anymore, or if reporters with a lot of Twitter followers even count as "famous people," or if everyone in the universe is now a little bit famous no matter who they are. The slow creep of influencership has subsumed every possible industry and subculture in its path; if we have famous flight attendants now, it makes sense that we would also have famous staff writers, too. It is tempting, when contemplating the sheer terror and chronic humiliation of being known, to want to drop everything and exclusively date beaming, carefree everymen who do not know how to read. But that fantasy has its own hard ceiling. Twitter is a lifetime arrangement. There's no hope of self-lobotomization after it gets into your DNA.
"I’d like to say I’d prefer to date a completely offline normie, but I’ve done that too, and it feels like we speak different languages and have completely different points of reference," says Julia Reinstein, a reporter at Buzzfeed who tells me that she routinely receives openers that read, "17 reasons you should date me!" on Tinder. Reinstein's ideal man, she counters, would be a "casual poster;" someone who understands her references, laughs at her jokes, and is broadly aware of The Discourse, but also doesn't suffer the debilitating, eternally-online curse that has befallen so many of our contemporaries in the media. "Someone who is perhaps less brain-poisoned than me," she adds.
Tiffany feels the same way about her current relationship. She says her boyfriend posts "just enough," about once a week or so, and "doesn’t have a subscription for the website I work for, so he usually hits the paywall before he gets to anything that I’ve written," which enforces a certain jurisdiction between their respective territories. That said, Tiffany also holds a special place in her heart for a brief rendezvous she had with a financial analyst who once asked her who Joan Didion was. "He was really sweet, and I think of him fondly all the time."
Both Tiffany and Reinstein have the right idea. It's unhealthy enough for one person in the household to stare at Twitter until tiny pieces of their skull leak through their nose. From personal experience, I can tell you that it only gets trickier when both you and your girlfriend are stuck in the same black hole. And yet, I couldn't be happier. There is no alternative that would be nearly as fulfilling. After baptizing myself in the media industry for a decade-long struggle, I honestly do not know if I can achieve authentic chemistry with someone who is not relentlessly committed to their digital sickness. I write a newsletter called On Posting, for Christ's sake. Any hope of getting religion and seeing the bigger picture is long gone. That's why Megan says she typically dates people who are already established in the media. Once your brain turns opaque and moldy from a banquet of algorithm-assigned doom, it's literally impossible to communicate with anyone who hasn't endured the same fate.
"We all have shorthand for our daily experiences, good and bad, that don’t require an exhausting discussion," finishes Megan. "It’s not like Twitter-famous people are better or worse than people without a huge platform. Instead, it’s just one of the many ways someone can be damaged, as you’re reaching into that big old grab bag labeled, 'What kind of fucked up are you?'"
I feel the same way about Becca. As much as I hate to admit it, we have so much fun when we gossip about bad posts. Both of us are transfixed by the ever-fluctuating congress of dictums, vernacular, and tepid scandals that course through this thing we call a culture; we give ourselves over to the conceited highs and abyssal lows of a life logged on, and recite our most radioactive drafts to each other in private to stay sane. Psychosis loves company, I suppose. Imagine rolling over to your side in a forlorn bedroom, suffering and alone, next to someone who will never know who Michael Tracey is. A fate worse than death! Becca and I are both in hell but we still get to hang out with each other. That's the greatest compromise of all.