Have you heard about these great new dating apps? You can catch a ride, get where you’re going, and meet someone on your way. There are a few options, but the most popular ones are Uber and Lyft.
“Mitchell, 26, uses the carpool versions of Uber and Lyft — called uberPOOL and Lyft Line — to meet women,” Carmel DeAmicis writes in an article for Re/code. “Although finding unexpected love or lust on a rideshare carpool might be fun for some, unwanted advances could easily feel like sexual harassment. There’s also the danger of having someone see where you’re dropped off, especially if it’s your home. Mitchell says he worries about making people uneasy.”
He should. The fact of the matter is, Uber and Lyft are not running a dating service, and passengers are not consenting to a romantic or sexual interaction when they request a ride.
Happen to get in the car with someone you find attractive, strike up a conversation and exchange numbers? Great. This has been happening in cabs, on planes, on trains since we invented public transportation.
But purposefully ride around in uberPOOL or Lyft Line at closing time on Saturday nights? Creepy.
For those unfamiliar, uberPOOL and Lyft Line are the “carpool” option of the services. Drivers collect passengers going the same direction at the same time, whether it’s during a commute or on the way out for a night. So far, the option is available only in some cities.
Lyft Line is available in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. UberPOOL is available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Paris, Boston, New York, five cities in China, and Bangalore, India. Uber reports that nearly half of all trips in San Francisco are uberPOOL trips.
An Uber spokesperson says: “There are many benefits to uberPOOL — some riders have landed job interviews, connected with long-lost friends, and yes, found a date. One lucky couple even got married after meeting in an uberPOOL.” (UberPOOL launched a little over a year ago in San Francisco, making that a tight but not impossible timeline.)
Emily, a 29-year-old who has lived in San Francisco and New York, says she frequently used Lyft Line in San Francisco, usually when she was headed out for the night with a friend.
“The idea of someone hitting on you in a Lyft is alarming because that ride is likely picking you up or dropping you off at your own address, and that gives a stranger access to way more information than you are consenting to,” Emily said. “It’s also super creepy because if you’re taking a Lyft Line or an uberPOOL, it could be because you’re not able to drive, because you’ve been drinking — so you’re not able to fully consent.”
That’s one reason why uberPOOL and Lyft Line are not and cannot be the new Tinder, as Re/code suggests — the interaction lacks the online dating app’s element of consent. However you feel about Tinder, anyone using the app is consenting to the premise of the dating service. Further consent to the interaction is granted through matching, and again through initiating or responding to a conversation, and again if both parties agree to meet in person.
The fact that online dating creates a consensual space might be part of what makes sites such as Tinder, OkCupid and eHarmony so popular — even more popular, at this time, than meeting someone the “old-fashioned” way — whatever that might mean.
Sure, it’s still considered socially acceptable to approach someone at a bar, but it’s riskier — for both that person and you. Whomever you’re approaching may not be available or interested. He or she may be there to hang out with friends, already seeing someone or just plain not interested. That person’s night is interrupted by undesired attention. And you run a higher risk of being rejected. Rejection is not the worst thing in the world. But if you’re a person seeking to be respectful of others, dating apps grant you permission to approach — even if the terms of the specific interaction are not yet defined.
“With dating apps, both people know what’s going on,” said Johnny, a 45-year-old who describes himself as “single with an asterisk.” Johnny has used uberPOOL while traveling in New York. “One of them might be more on the make, but at least the other person is aware of that. Someone using Uber isn’t thinking about that at all. They’re thinking about getting home.”
Mitchell — the man in the article who says he has successfully used uberPOOL and Lyft Line to meet dates — seems aware of the problem. He says he tries to be the “least threatening person.”
But it sounds “impossible” to go about it in a non-creepy way, says Jake, a writer in Seattle. He took uberPOOL in San Francisco with his girlfriend during its early days. They were in the Bay Area for a wedding and ended up sharing the car with another couple. “I think it’s impossible to ignore the fact that you’re in a closed, confined space, moving through the city at a fast pace. [You’re reminded of] how many hook-ups have happened in the backseat of a car. How many scenes in movies have taken place there? But to me, you work against that. It’s not the mission.” You’re there to share a ride.
That seems to be the root of the problem. Riding uberPOOL and Lyft Line specifically to meet dates feels manipulative. Mix in late nights, alcohol and people’s homes, and it feel predatory.
We’re comfortable with happy coincidences — a conversation started at the coffee shop, a random run-in while waiting for the bus, a flirtation that starts at the baggage carousel. These have the aura of mutual interest about them, and the consent contained therein is not to be underestimated.
A chance encounter could happen as easily in the backseat of an Uber as anywhere else, but please — let it be unplanned. That is, until a ridesharing service adds a “take me on a date” option to the menu.