There's an old retort that goes, "Everybody's a comedian." If you spend a few minutes reading dating app profiles, it would appear to be true. If there's anything that online daters profess to love, it's sarcasm.
Daters claim to be "fluent in sarcasm." They describe themselves as "sarcastic." They say their favorite quality in a person is, you guessed it: sarcasm.
If you ask me, it sounds like a total nightmare.
You ask if your date wants to go to brunch, and he responds, "Sure, because I love waiting an hour to eat and overpaying for toast."
You ask if she wants to go out on Friday, and she says, "No, I just love sitting at home with no plans on the weekend."
I've heard countless daters of various ages, genders and orientations complain about this whole sarcasm schtick: What does it mean? Why do people use it so much? Is everyone really that sarcastic?
In 2019, I put together a list of the, including being fluent in sarcasm. I wrote about the sameness of language that pervades the apps. It's stunning to think that in the deep pool of humanity, humans can get their hands around only a few key ways to describe themselves. So much for containing multitudes.
And yet, data shows that maybe not everyone is so peeved with the proliferation of sarcasm on The Apps.
OkCupid has fielded several sarcasm-based questions to its daters over the years. In 2022, the platform found that 62% of more than 4.5 million respondents in the US said they liked or loved sarcasm. Forty percent said they want their partner to be sarcastic, though OkCupid also noted that the percentage of people who feel sarcasm doesn't belong in a relationship has been growing steadily.
The problem isn't so much being sarcastic as it is that everyone seems to think they are -- and how little that does for any individual dater looking to stand out from the rest. Likewise, how is anyone supposed to pick from a pile of similar options?
In my Love Syncs column on annoying phrases, the big question I never got an answer to was how these phrases spread. Surely, there was one person who first claimed the adjective sarcastic. Then maybe other people saw and liked it, and others saw those profiles and added the word to theirs, and pretty soon there's an outbreak of Chandler Bings swiping around The Apps.
Along the way, I've played with a few theories about the use of the word sarcasm. Maybe people are using the word to warn you they're actually jerks. The textbook definition of sarcasm is the use of irony in service of conveying contempt for something.
One of my other long-standing, and slightly more optimistic, theories is that a percentage of people are using sarcasm as shorthand for being witty, clever, good at sparkling repartee. I wonder if what they're really getting at is what folks in the UK call banter. Banter isn't sarcasm -- it's the witty, flirty back-and-forth, the light ribbing (as explained to me by one of my colleagues in London). It's some level of verbal chemistry.
After all, language is alive and has always shifted to meet our needs.
To be fair, it's not a terrible idea to try to communicate what type of sense of humor you have.
"There are few things more intimate than laughing at the same time for the same reasons as someone else, so determining if you have a similar sense of humor to someone is a crucial component in dating," Shan Boodram, Bumble's sex and relationships expert, said in an email.
One quality that gets lost in all the descriptions of sarcasm, though, is the specificity of what you're looking for in a match. Boodram offered the example of instead of saying you're looking for someone who's kind, say you're looking for someone who will hold the door for you and let you hold the door for them.
When sarcasm has lost all meaning, maybe it's time to start explaining what you're looking for: someone to watch dumb movies with. A partner for making snide comments while people watching at a cafe. Someone whose skin doesn't crawl when you make a pun.
Boodram also made a point that one reason daters might run into so many overused phrases could be because on social media, people wield memes in a not dissimilar way. The internet has taught us to communicate in these compact, efficient ways, where images and slang do quite a lot of work conveying meaning.
"In a world where everyone is using the same memes, TikTok sounds, and doing the same dances, we can be tempted to use the same jokes," Boodram said, "but remember, dating apps are not the same as social media."
At a time when our online identities often swirl together in an indistinguishable slurry, it's more important than ever to remember the purpose of each platform you use.
When swiping around, it's challenging to remember that all those profiles are attached to humans -- and challenging to come across as a human. Don't get sucked into a sea of sarcasm.
If you want someone to make snarky comments with while watching The Bachelor, just say that.
CNET's Love Syncs is an advice column focusing on online dating. If you've got a question about finding love via app, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.