It’s been a long time since I was on a dating app, but the memory of some fraught conversations sticks with me. Our familiarity with digital courtship doesn’t necessarily make it any easier; you have the advantage of distance and time to formulate your responses, but the virtual meetings remove the most natural or instinctual ways to gauge a connection — facial expression, tone, laughter, body language and the rhythms of speech. Everyone has a story about a terrible first date with someone who seemed like a promising match in the confines of a Tinder DM.
It was for these reasons that I liked OkCupid, where users can answer a range of questions that speak to their moral and political convictions, so the algorithm can tell if you’re unlikely to get along. Maybe, though, we just need one query: “What’s your most controversial opinion?”
It makes perfect sense that this TikTok of a young woman screening her suitors by having them divulge their nastiest beliefs went mega-viral this week, as we live in the age of the “red flag.” That is, we’re buried in tweets and memes that characterize almost everything as a relationship dealbreaker. A guy ordering dessert at a restaurant? Red flag. A woman having gay friends? Red flag. The music, movies and books you like are probably red flags, and so are your bedsheets. If you’re having sex, it’s only because you ignored these infinite warnings. That’s a sign we’ve gotten a bit too superficial with such indicators, and so it’s time to once again delve deep to the rotten core of how your potential hookup actually thinks. Fuck it, baby — mask off.
As you can see, the “controversial opinion” prompt doesn’t just get at your secret or dubious principles; it also tests your ability to read the room. There’s a world of difference between an answer like “Hot dogs should only have ketchup on them, never mustard” and “Intelligence is based in racial genetics.” It would seem the guys with the most offensive, absolute worst takes are, in addition to harboring these views, a little too eager to express them in all seriousness at a moment when they should be flirtatious, or at least treading lighter. The silly and playful opinions say more about your idiosyncrasies, and they open the door to a spirited back-and-forth. Spouting your transphobic theory of gender will, if the other party disagrees, bring any rapport to a screeching halt, and even if your match also happens to be a transphobe, well, it’s not as if many couples have a story about first hitting it off through casual hate speech.
You’re even better off, I’d say, with a conspiracy theory than with an admission of severe prejudice. Earth is flat! The 9/11 attacks were an inside job! We’re all stuck inside a computer simulation! Outlandish ideas have the advantage of being interesting in ways that boilerplate reactionary politics are not, and you can “endorse” them with your tongue firmly in cheek. After all, romantic partners do tend to joke around with each other. There’s something incredibly off-putting to the individual who takes the challenge so literally that they try an edgy or provocative counterpunch, especially since it shows they’re aware how widely condemned their racism, sexism, etc. is in today’s dating pool. Nobody playing the numbers game on Hinge should be stupid enough to say what they know will torpedo the chat — that in itself is a red flag.
On the flip side, you never want your controversial opinion to be as common as liking pineapple pizza or not, a debate that most of the Hinge community now finds horribly banal and clichéd. This question is, at root, designed to unlock your creativity. The “consensual cannibalism” answer is clever because it sets up an extreme but hypothetical scenario that two people can approach from various angles without suspecting that either has actually eaten human flesh. The overly safe replies are, counterintuitively, bad for similar reasons the toxic ones are — they read as if they’ve been copy-and-pasted from a generic profile, while the latter are imported from the closed-off illogic of shitty ideologies. In both cases, there is zero opportunity for substantive engagement, because the person has self-identified by stereotype. Push yourself to come up with a fun, surprising line that will really garner interest. Make the smart gamble.
Trust me, you’ve got this.