The surging trends of dating sites and apps are worth analyzing. Not to judge or shame anyone, but to understand them and ourselves better.
In The Girlfriend Experience (2016), a law intern becomes curious about her friend's job. Avery's a beautiful young woman just like the protagonist, Christine. The only difference is that she has a lot of cash and anecdotes about her experiences with rich men. It happens slowly. The friend starts talking to Christine about the perks of the job, how easy everything is, all the benefits. Then, she gives her some tips and introduces her to a couple of clients. And this is what appeals to her: sex work, or the high-end "escort service" she starts providing, doesn't look like it does in the movies, where sex workers walk the streets looking for clients.
I remembered the TV series when I heard about a dating site that, according to its statement, connects travel enthusiasts from across the world. We all want to travel, meet new people and stay in fancy hotels, but very few of us have the means to do it. What would you do if you had the opportunity to do all those things for free? For free, yes, but in exchange for your charming conversation and company.
Picture yourself in a foreign place, where you don’t know your way around. Every single person around is a stranger, but you’re excited anyway. You want to experience as much as you can by taking risks and avoiding the safe life your parents lead. You want to do things differently and your plan is to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
In this case, that opportunity comes in the form of a site meant for people like you, who are eager to explore but low on the cash-flow. You pick a place you want to go to and then match with someone who'll be interested in hooking up and letting you crash at their place. The suspicious thing about the site is the financial arrangements it offers. Users of Miss Travel can choose from three options: “I’ll pay for you,” “50/50,” and “Pay for me.” Simple, right?
Besides the awkwardness of spending a whole weekend with a person you just met, the site has received criticism for being an elaborate scheme for prostitution. On the outside it comes across as a seemingly normal dating site where you post flattering pictures of yourself and add a couple of cheesy lines that someone might find funny. But the big difference is that, instead of meeting for coffee or drinks, you meet someone for an entire trip to some exotic beach in a foreign country.
Instead of debating whether it's morally right or wrong, we need to address the issue of safety. Once you've compiled a list of possible matches interested in talking to you and you do some research. While some male users talk about the implication of getting intimate with the women in the trips, there’s nothing explicit about on the site or the agreements. That's the tricky part. It's no secret that, historically speaking, a lot of men feel entitled to a woman's body.
When the male users talk about the implicit tones of the encounter and their expectations of it, it's hard to evade the question of consent and the possibility that you might end up feeling pressured to do something you don’t want to just because he "paid for it." Society tends to shame women, instead of asking questions about the system that surrounds them.
The surging trends of dating sites and apps are worth analyzing, not to judge or shame anyone, but to understand them and ourselves better. A TV show like The Girlfriend Experience can help us see these topics in a new light, with a critical but compassionate treatment. Showing us complex human beings instead of "whores and perverts" or "gold diggers and sugar daddies.” Technology brings these opportunities closer, and we no longer need to watch beautiful actors living risky fictional lives: those lives are ours, and we need to take a look at all the implications of living it fully.
Cover picture by @jesseherzog
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