Thanks to an MIT alumnus, there now exists an app called “Carrot Dating,” which allows allows people to offer potential dates a gift for going on a date with them. The problem, of course, is where the gift crosses the line into, say, a bribe or a payment.
The app’s creator explains the idea like this: “Giving is the greatest ‘icebreaker,’ and anyone can date the man or woman of their dreams by simply dangling the right ‘carrot.’” The idea is apparently more about having a way to break the ice, and then seeing if you connect, than actually trying to pay someone to go on a date with you.
As someone with a background in cultural anthropology, I can agree that giving occupies an important role in many cultures. A glimpse at my field’s classics will confirm this. And our own culture, as technologically advanced as it is, is no exception. Our economy may look different than a gifting economy based on kinship obligations or seashell currency, but we still pay attention to the flow of material goods, the giver’s intentions, networks of obligation, and similar things.
While I agree with some of the criticism of the app, such as that it can end up reifying misogynist ideas about women being greedy gold-diggers, the cynical part of me thinks that contemporary dating practice are already based on assumptions about value being exchanged. It’s just happening implicitly rather than explicitly. The puzzle box model of sex already makes sex out to be an object that women have, and that men aim to get them to release and share. One of the methods of doing this, obviously, is to buy women things, or take them out to nice meals, or whatever.
I shouldn’t need to say that this model of sex as commodity-exchange is flawed, sexist, and heterosexist. The problem with “Carrot Dating” is that it takes this model and turns it into an actual transaction. I believe people should be up front about their dating expectations – including the monetary details like who will pay for what, or whether people would prefer to do a free activity like go on a hike – and hopefully this kind of communication will help begin to break down stereotypes (like women needing to be bribed to go on dates; ugh, I don’t even know where to start with that one).