“Eat, Pay, Love: A new app lets women charge for a night out. Will dating join the on-demand economy?” As I opened this article yesterday in “The Verve,” I shuddered. But I couldn’t stop reading.
Launched in August 2015, Ohlala is a web-based app that facilitates what it calls “instant paid dating.” Male users post offers for dates, consisting of a time, a duration, and how much money they’re willing to pay — a typical offer is from 1–4 hours at an average price of $300. While the request is up, women can decide whether or not they’d like that person to be able to contact them.
While I would never condone using an escort service, which is essentially what Ohlala, the new app in question, offers, I felt deep sympathy for those reduced to using this app in order to find companionship.
This world is so complicated, and it can be so lonely. Dating has become a never-ending maze where one must navigate expectations and social conventions, interpret text messages and emojis, all while enduring painful seasons of isolation. Finding a mate is messy and multi-layered, and it masks much deeper issues at play here.
Honestly, I can see the appeal of treating this whole complicated dating thing as nothing more than a business transaction. To have a firm “deliverable” in the form of someone who will make conversation with me, compliment me and at least seem to mean it, and carry on a conversation about something other than work, and to have clear “parameters” for what that evening will hold (we’ll enjoy each other’s company, get dessert, and he’ll hold my hand as we walk through the park) is a tempting offer. It takes away all of the guessing and games and leaves me with a sure thing.
When I watch “The Wedding Date,” a movie about a woman who hires a male escort to be her date to her sister’s wedding, I feel a little jolt of “I get it. I totally get it.” And, in my weaker moments, I’ve even done a quick online search to see if one of these services exists in my area — not for physical gratification, mind you, but just for something relational, a lifeline in the dark. While others may not have looked up the prices of escort services, there are certainly a handful of us who can relate to paying a therapist to listen to us talk, to have someone genuinely inquire about our lives and troubles. I even remember going through a phase where I felt I had to “purchase” the friendships of those around me by showering them with flattery or gifts or offering my paper-editing services for free, not believing my presence alone to be valuable enough.
But intimacy that has to be bought is a quality imitation at best, a mirage of meaningful interaction that will only leave us disappointed with reality (a relational version of pornography perhaps?). While we can all agree these types of relationships would hardly qualify as genuine or legitimate, it’s the impetus driving people to purchase the company of another, in whatever form that may take, that breaks my heart—because I’ve been there. Tim Keller addresses this longing for connection in “The Meaning of Marriage”:
To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.
People long for true and genuine community, but too often we allow fear, embarrassment, or self-interest to dictate our interactions. We settle for flawed replicas of relationships because true intimacy may be too costly. We accept superficial love because supernatural love sits just out of reach. We live and love selfishly, when the strongest relationships demand we come and die.
Loneliness is no respecter of persons, professions, or even religious beliefs — we all have that longing to be known and loved — and Christians more than most may keenly feel the restlessness of this world and the imperfection of our relationships. Stories like those of Ohlala can remind us of the sick state of men or they can remind us of the sick state of our souls, souls that crave hope and healing. So we battle on, day after day, seeing where we’re settling, choosing to do better, and reaching out to those with knees bloody from falling and offering a hand, even when we’re barely standing ourselves.