Mick Jagger is still having kids. Wet willies. Second-wave feminism. Donald Trump. What do these have in common? All are fodder for a dating app called Hater, which does exactly what it implies: it matches people by their mutual hatred of things.
Hater, which publicly launched Feb. 8, is the latest installation in an arena of apps attempting to strategize the dance of modern love. Bristlr is a dating app for men with beards and those who scout them (it has 100,000 registered users). 3nder is Tinder plus a third. Sizzl sorts users based on their bacon preferences — crispy or subdued?
Contrary to its many cohorts, Hater is grounded on a premise that the app’s creator Brendan Alper found reflected in research: sharing negative attitudes promoted closeness between people.
Haters offer users more than 3,000 topics to hate. Many of them are from Alpert’s own conversations with his friends about their pet peeves.
According to renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher, when we’re in love, certain parts of the brain — like areas linked with negative emotions, critical social assessment, planning and the evaluation of trustworthiness and fear— turn off.
According to Dr. Raj Persaud in Simply Irresistible, the Psychology of Seduction, married or “happily cohabiting” couples are less likely to suffer from depression and live longer than single, divorced or widowed people — but only if they pick the correct partner.
Knowing what constitutes the correct partner, is where science encounters challenges. According to psychology professor Elizabeth Barrett, who counseled couples for years, Hater’s implicit prerequisites for sustaining attraction may actually hold up in the real world.
Barrett said it’s easy to find people who align with the things you love.
“The real challenge, the staying power of a long-term relationship is how do you love someone when they’re not at their best? When they’re showing their ugly side?” Barrett said.
The ugly side — the part of us that hates, is judgmental or biased — is the underbelly of connection. It’s often the part of ourselves we work hardest to hide, Barrett said. Meanwhile, the things we report liking, especially ones on dating sites we know thousands will see, run the risk of sounding agreeable or surface-level.
“Hate is an interesting word and it’s kind a flip term.” Barrett said. “We’re really talking about the things that annoy us or those dark things that kind of drive our inner story — our shadow state.”
Shared disenchantments, cynicisms and unpopular opinions retain a vigor in romantic relationships, Barrett said. They can lift couples out of arguments or negative spaces because the mutuality is meaningful and holds more significance than a shared affection for Bernese mountain dogs.
According to Barrett, research shows that some of the reported reasons couples divorce are interchangeable with the reasons they got married: he married her because she was outgoing and fun to be around; they divorced because she never stopped talking.
“What bonds people is mysterious,” Barrett said. “That’s why marriage therapy is one of the hardest aspects of being a counselor because you really can’t know the dance couples do privately. What is it that draws them together? A lot of times therapists end up just being an audience to that dance that couples do.”
According to Don Ryujin, a psychology professor and personality researcher who recently gave a TedX Talk about the power of emotions, research during the last 130 years consistently demonstrates the power of similarities for relationships.
“It’s not just similarities,” Ryujin said. “The things that you match up on have to be really critical to you.”
So loving pork chops might not take you out of the running in courting the local vegetarian so long as your feelings on either aren’t extreme. What other apps often miss, Ryujin said, is assessing this relative importance and the threat it poses to a person’s value-system.
But does it work?
To see whether or not these theories held up in real-life partnerships, enter Yolanda and Jay.
Los Osos, California residents Yolanda and Jay Waddell have been together for 57 years. They met in Chicago in the winter of 1960 as the bridesmaid and groomsman to mutual friends. After dancing at the wedding reception, they parted ways until the fall of 1961 when Jay returned from the Army. A few months later, he invited her to dinner at his parent’s apartment and in late August of 1963, they married.
The Waddells said they were of the generation that believed in government and its propensity toward truth, a government for and of the people, until Vietnam.
“We had a mutual dislike — an intense hatred of the Vietnam War,” Yolanda said. “It was just awful.”
Yolanda and Jay joined the Peace and Freedom Party, both becoming avid defenders of civil rights and equalities. They resisted the sexual revolutions during the tail-end of the ‘60s. They found them shallower and not nearly as fulfilling as the relationship they were cultivating.
David Brooks, New York Times columnist, wrote about three socio-historical movements of love, which he dubs the American Regime of Choice, the Russian Regime of Fate and the Regime of Covenant.
Brooks argues that our pragmatism toward choosing the right partner has led us to little success.
“The dating market becomes a true market where people carefully appraise each other, looking for red flags,” Brooks said. “The emphasis is on the prudential choice, selecting the right person who satisfies your desires. It involves calculation and gamesmanship.”
Dating apps are the perfect headquarters for this Regime of Choice. Many of them, including Hater, focus on the individual and his or her immediate needs and desires.
The Waddells resisted the movements that operated under what they think of as the American Regime of Choice.
“Dating by choice is more ‘me-oriented’,” Yolanda said. “It’s not accepting the other person with their faults and their strengths. It’s saying, ‘OK, I’m going to create this companion according to my needs.’ I think that’s unfortunate.”
The Regime of Covenant, however, is oriented toward the other person, Brooks wrote. The good of the relationship comes first, then the needs of the partner and those of the individual. It chooses devotion over selfishness and reaches toward transformation, not an exit.
“The Covenant Regime is based on the idea that our current formula is a conspiracy to make people unhappy,” Brooks said. “Love is realistically a stronger force than self-interest. Detached calculation in such matters is self-strangulating.”
In all fairness, a regime of choice wasn’t really an option for the Waddells at the time they were courting. Matchmaking was around, but it was expensive and sparse. There certainly weren’t apps about bacon.
Of course sharing interests and values is important for Yolanda and Jay. Like Ryujin said, their value-systems align, but the fine-tuned optimization in today’s Regime of Online Choice overlooks the mystery of connection—one that eclipses dating analytics.
“I think that if I had had an app where I could define the person I was looking for, I would never have found Yolanda,” Jay said. “And she has broadened and expanded my life with her different points of view and — I would call them — higher sets of values.”