Tired of swiping left and right looking for that perfect match? I recently downloaded an anti-dating app, Damn Love, created by E. Jean Carroll, who’s spent decades as an Elle relationship columnist and also runs a matchmaking company.
Carroll calls her game “the antidote to Tinder.” In it, players are pitted against each other, given brief descriptions of two characters who are madly in love and then instructed to BREAK THEM UP. Seven scenarios are presented for each couple, with the prompt: “Which would cause the biggest problem?” I spoke to Carroll about Damn Love, relationships and why she loves breakups so much. An edited transcript is below.
Lisa Bonos: It’s been a blast playing with Damn Love. How did you come up with the idea for it?
E. Jean Carroll: Human beings are much better at breaking up than they are at getting together. There are what, 1,000 apps for matching people? This is the one game that’s a breakup thing. The instinct to get together is very powerful, but it doesn’t last long.
Bonos: The game would be much less fun if it were happy, sunny people being wonderful to each other and breaking up accidentally or something. You’ve created these characters that are very petty and awful people.
Carroll: Well, no — they’re nice people. Lisa, aren’t you and your friends like the nicest people you know?
Bonos: Of course!
Carroll: Yes. Well when you get into a breakup situation, you start to act crazy. These are nice people.
Lisa, let’s say I could find out 10 things that you do that cause someone to break up with you. Now even though you’re the most smartest, wittiest, elegant, chic woman in Washington, D.C. If I only list those 10 things, people will just think you’re just nuts, right?
Bonos: Of course.
Carroll: Let’s take Tallulah, the Instagram star. We’re seeing her crazy side because we only see her in breakup conditions. As the game goes on, you’ll be able to guess much easier what works and what doesn’t with them. Plots develop.
Bonos: Do any of the characters who break up with each other end up with other of your characters?
Carroll: That they do! If you noticed, there’s a lot of media people in the characters. I use people I love to read every day — you will be a part of the game soon.
Bonos: All right. With different names for everyone, or will your characters recognize themselves?
Carroll: No, with real names! You’ll see Maureen Dowd; you’ll see David Brooks; you’ll see Sarah Lyall; you’ll see Dodai Stewart. You’ll see some famous editors in New York.
Bonos: Have any of the characters recognized themselves?
Carroll: They were stunned to see themselves. Sarah Lyall, who’s at the Times … she almost fell on the floor.
Bonos: So those are real-life breakups for these people, then?
Carroll: Yeah! Where are you ranked now, because I looked yesterday and it was pathetic.
Bonos: Let’s see. I’m at #141. [My ranking has since improved, by the way.]
Carroll: Oh, that’s pretty good! I’m very impressed.
Bonos: So my breakup skills are improving?
Carroll: Yes, that’s very good. You’re pretty elegantly aware of how to break up.
Bonos: I have a lot of practice.
Carroll: You have an unfair advantage. This is your job — you write about this stuff all the time.
Bonos: That’s true, but it’s gotta be worth something. What is it about breaking up that brings out that horrible side in someone?
Carroll: You know, breakups cause such misery. When you lose the love of someone you’re in love with, it’s the most painful thing ever. … I am not making light of that.
These people are in flirtatious, dating situations. They’re not getting married, they’re not having children — it’s the New York, Washington, L.A. scene, where you date a little bit and then you break up.
Let me ask you something, Lisa. Did you ever see a tactic in this game that reminded you of anything you’ve done?
Bonos: Umm… maybe.
Carroll: Because I’ve got like 50 of my own in there. And I’ve certainly have many of my friends, what they do.
Bonos: I like to think: The longer I date, the better I get at both weathering breakups and deciding when something isn’t going to work. Do you think that breaking up is a skill that can be learned?
Carroll: Yes, breaking up is a skill; it requires enormous amounts of kindness and charm. And the kindest thing you can do is never see them again — that’s it.
Bonos: But what happens a lot of time is just ghosting, where someone won’t break up with someone at all. Are any of your characters going to ghost on each other?
Carroll: Oh, yeah. We’ve got one ghosting right now. She should know better, too. He’s a nice guy — I’m not going to give away who it is. He’s been knocked out of the game because he’s waiting for her to reply.
Bonos: Is the goal to make people be nicer about breakups? Or just to have fun?
Carroll: Yes, it’s to have fun. It’s evil. I want you to feel that it’s wrong to have so much fun.
Bonos: I do enjoy it. It doesn’t feel wrong to me.
Carroll: It’s an antidote to Tinder. Because I cannot take Tinder one more second, as much as I admire the founders. They changed the game totally.
Bonos: What bothers you about Tinder?
Carroll: Nothing bothers me about it. It’s just, I’m sick of it, with the matchy-matchy-bang-bang.
With Tinder, it works great. The opposite truth is: It also causes way more breakups. So Tinder is actually creating more breakups than there ever were before, pre-Tinder.
Bonos: As someone who’s been giving relationship advice to the masses for decades, is there one romantic dilemma that you’re tired of hearing about?
Carroll: You know what: No. Because they’re all so different. Each individual man or woman who writes is a novel in himself.
There are only three questions. The first one is: How do I find love? That means, either with a man, a woman, a career, a purpose in life, have your child love you.
The second most-asked question is: How do I get rid of love?
And then the third most-asked is: How do I get love back? That’s it. Every question has one of those three.
Bonos: So Damn Love is tackling No. 2, then?
Bonos: I look forward to guessing which breakups might be yours as I keep playing.
Carroll: Oh, many of them! Many of them.