May 23, 2014
I sat across from him and listened. He was trim, tall, bearded (as they all seem to be), a recent transplant, having only lived in Seattle for a year or so and worked at a start-up, after burning out at Amazon (as they all seem to have). He rode his bike around town; he had good taste in food and wine; and he lived across the street from where we were meeting. He was a software engineer or did something in tech (as they all did). And he was utterly unmemorable.
I don’t think he asked me a single question about myself. Our date—if you call these impromptu Internet meetings, dates—lasted an hour. It felt more like a job interview, but not the way a date is supposed to be a job interview. There was no grilling about where you were from and what your family was like and what you were looking for.
No, I spent a half hour or more listening to him talk about his job. Since I am not in the tech industry, I don’t understand any of it. It was all job speak—the type of language ladder-climbers use; it was the kind of talk that shuts vaginas down cold.
I hadn’t been out of the house all day, I work from home and I see no people except in a computer monitor, so human company, any kind really, was necessary. The restaurant was about to close and we had to go elsewhere or part ways. Even though I was bored, I wasn’t ready to go home, and I wanted to get a second drink. He offered wine back at his house and I said no. He was good-looking enough, but I wasn’t going to be able to get it up for a boring tech dude. And my city, Seattle, like San Francisco is lousy with them.
As technologist and writer, Jeff Reifman, pointed out in a post titled You’ve Got Male: Amazon’s Growth Impacting Seattle Dating Scene, Amazon, which is located less than a mile from my house, has had a huge, awful impact on Seattle’s dating scene. He estimated that in the 25–44 age group, Seattle “has 119 single men for every 100 single women, slightly better than San Francisco at 121—but equal if you add in the impact from nearby Bellevue, which is an awful 144.”
Many of those men are coming here for Amazon: Reifman estimated that Amazon had hired 15,026 new employees since April 2010. These guys—and as Reifman pointed it out, it’s very nearly always guys (75 percent of Amazon’s workforce is made up of dudes!)—are making $80K or more a year for their second or third job out of college, and their presence was driving the rents up in Seattle to near New York City numbers.
But Reifman’s post confirmed that as Amazon grows, the number of (boring) men grows too. The gender disparity is bad enough in San Francisco that one company, The Dating Ring, has resorted to flying women into San Fran from other cities.
Hold the Champagne, girls.
You might think an abundance of men is a great thing, but as a wise woman once said, “The odds may be good, but the goods are odd.”
“I’ve lived in Seattle for seven years, single most of them,” Annie Pardo, a 31-year-old freelance event and communications consultant in Seattle, wrote in an email. “The only thing that has changed is the increase in men I’d never want to go out on a date with.” She added, “Can’t believe they actually strap on those new employee book bags.”
For Reifman, the number of men versus women presents a challenge for guys like him—he can’t seem to get a date or hold the attention of the women he’s courting because, presumably, he’s got so much competition. But the reality is that all he has to do is have a personality. I’m serious.
The exact same scenario has been playing out in San Francisco for the last few years. One woman, Violet, a 33-year-old who has lived in the Bay Area for eight years, with one of those in the “belly of the beast,” Palo Alto, experienced many of the same things I and other women did. They had money, but they were boring. They had a lot to say about their job, but their development as a complete human being seemed to be stunted. And they exhibited little to no interest in the other person at the table.
“There were a lot of tech men. I could talk a blue streak about them. I don’t have much positive to say. The biggest thing, the thing that bothered me the most is I felt like my intelligence was greatly devalued,” she wrote. ”I am a smart woman. I have a master’s from Berkeley in philosophy. My brain is very abstract, though, the exact opposite of so many men in tech who have very concrete/literal brains. They interpreted information as intelligence. I constantly felt like I wasn’t seen or valued by them, even though I experienced a lot of them as having a very limited view of the world.”
Carla Swiryn, a matchmatcher for Three Day Rule, a start-up that offers curated online dating services in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, said that her female clients are often hit with a double whammy: “I often hear women say they either date A-holes or nerds—or if they’re really lucky, both in one,” she said. “They feel like they’re dealing with someone who has poor social skills, not a lot of style, and isn’t that attractive, or is decently good-looking, successful, or cool, but by default knows it and acts like it, with a huge ego and selfish mind-set in tow.”
One woman, Bridget Arlene, spent three years in Seattle for graduate school, and said that she actually moved out of the city, in part because of the type of available men—most of whom had computer science or engineering degrees and worked for Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. “The type of person who is attracted to these jobs and thus to the Seattle area seems to be a socially awkward, emotionally stunted, sheltered, strangely entitled, and/or a misogynistic individual,” she wrote in an email. Arlene said that she was once contacted by a Microsoft programmer on OKCupid who required that she read Neuromancer before “he would consider taking me out on a date. He was not joking.”
In Seattle, it has been easy to hook up, but hard to find anyone really interesting or worthwhile for the long term. The majority of the guys who are moving here for companies like Amazon seem to be their late 20s or early 30s, and they are new and exploring the city. And that means they are exploring the city’s women.
On the dates, they flash money around, having never really had it before. One software engineer visiting from the Bay Area was in town for a training session at Amazon before he made the move. He wore a T-shirt bearing the logo of a 1990s industrial band—maybe it was NIN or Skinny Puppy—and paired it with formless dad jeans, but high on his newfound power drank four or five “special” drinks from the craft cocktail bar, Canon, ordered the foie gras, and racked up a $200 bill in less than two hours. (I had one drink and shared an appetizer. I was not impressed.)
He spent the entire time talking about his job and the opportunities it was going to bring him. He didn’t appear to have any other interests—he certainly didn’t seem to have any interest in me. I am a journalist, so I am very good at asking questions to get people to talk about themselves. But this was like squeezing blood from a stone.
This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. I’d moved back to Seattle, in particular to Capitol Hill, because when I’d lived here during the ’90s it was a beacon of diversity for weirdos. (I stress “weirdos”—there are few people of color in Seattle.) The weirdos were: young gay boys, old hippies of varying sexuality, straight artists and musicians, softball lesbians, punk-rock dykes who played house music, metal musicians, ravers, or people into the fetish scene. They were not straight, white guys from flyover country or California imported by a software company. They spent their time doing things other than making Jeff Bezos more money.
The problem has become pervasive enough in Seattle that when I went with a few girlfriends to Pony, one of the last true gay bars on Capitol Hill, I was shocked when I found out that the adorable pair of 25-year-old boys talking to us were heterosexual. They were there because—as one of them told us—”It was the only place on the Hill on the weekends where there are no bros.”
After I posted inquiries on Twitter, I was besieged by women with similar stories of entitlement and dullness in the men of San Francisco and Seattle.
@Iamuhura wrote: “I honestly am thankful every single day that I’m no longer single. Tech dudes are generally 7s looking for 10s. But they think they’re 11s and spew that entitlement wherever they go.”
Even men had something (nasty) to say: Wrote one guy to my request, that I “want to hear about your dating life + how the men in the tech industry have changed it”: “I think you accidentally said ‘changed,’ but what you meant was ‘ruined forever with their awfulness.’”
Why were they so awful? What was it about guys who work in tech that made them worse than lawyers or other white-collar industries?
In a way they exhibit some of the same qualities of those professions—ego, arrogance, and unlimited amounts of cash. In San Francisco, said Violet, “There were a lot of men to date with disposable income who wanted to take women out. It’s just, it was so boring,” she said. “My dating life went from dating artists and writers and going on cheap but exciting dates, to men who thought the ability to buy someone an expensive meal made them interesting.”
Because there are so many people in tech in Seattle and San Francisco, it is like the men in tech have eaten two previously diverse and interesting cities whole. The phenomenon of programming taking over as one of the top white collar occupations (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and mathematical science occupations are “projected to add 967,000 jobs in 2014,” the fastest growing in professional occupations), and the new breed of programmers that are being pumped into the tech sector—derisively dubbed “brogrammers”—is explored deeply by Nick Parish in Cool Code, Bro: Brogrammers, Geek Anxiety, and the new Tech Elite. (Full disclosure: I edited this eBook.)
With the advent of programming as a mainstream career, the nerdy, awkward programmer who liked Game of Thrones before it was a TV show has been supplanted by cocky, arrogant guys who, in another life, would go into finance. It is bad enough that I’ve include a line on my OKCupid account: “NO: Brogrammers.”
“SF, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Man Jose (I mean, San Jose) are all tech-centric, and a potential problem there is that it can attract residents who want a certain kind of lifestyle—namely, a successful but very hectic one,” said Swiryn. “It’s a magnet for a lot of Type-A personalities. And while there’s nothing wrong with that personality or lifestyle, it can create a proportionately homogenous population, making it harder to find a balance with people which is necessary in any successful relationship.”
When everyone is exactly the same, you don’t get exposed to different worlds the way you would if you met someone who was a metalworker or a sculptural artist, or an actor, or an industrial designer, or a university professor. Books they read, plays they go to (or star in), people they know, parties they go to—these things are hopefully different than, but complementary to, your own world. The hope is, you’ll learn something interesting, and vice versa. When I went to Paris, I went on OKCupid dates with several men as a way to see the city and perhaps have a romantic excursion; one worked at a movie production studio, another was a video editor; one guy worked in finance; another was an interior designer. Each one was thoroughly different than the other.
Homogeneity in and of itself isn’t “bad,” said Parish. “It’s just not exciting. Part of the fun of dating is the intermingling of worlds, and the thrill of new experiences or new environments. A basic, beige scene full of clones is counter that, and emotionally stifling.”
“I don’t see increasing sameness as leading to anything but narrow-mindedness and dysfunction,” said Violet. “Add ego to the mix and it’s dangerous.”
The new tech bros have one thing on their brains—making money. They are different than the programmers I knew from ’90s, many of whom were also artists—musicians, photographers, DJs, involved in underground and alternative subcultures. They were freaks. Coding was as much a creative activity as a means to making money. If you got into computers in the ’90s, you were already a little weirder than the rest of the world, you already thought differently. Now that computing is trendy—and economically fruitful—it’s attracting a different kind of person altogether.
“I can see exactly how the tech group in the ’90s may have been more interesting because they actually were disrupting things. They changed culture, and you can’t do that without not only a driven focus but also a wide lens,” said Violet.
Today, she said, “I went out with so many guys who thought they were a part of some big revolution, but who looked to me like any establishment dude in a suit. There was a lack of awareness that they are the establishment now. They wanted it all, to be treated like a tech revolutionary and to be fawned over like a millionaire banker. Who I was got completely lost in the mix.”
“The sad thing about guys who exhibit these brogrammer qualities is they seem to fall short of greatness in both worlds,” said Parish. “They’re not purely macho or purely geeky, they’re somewhat pretenders in both, and I would imagine that’s very obvious to most women.”
For her part, Annie Pardo sees at least one comical upside to the endless stream of dull tech men: “These dudes are easily recognizable with their PCs, backpacks, pulley ID badges, short buses.”
You can see them coming a mile away. There’s just enough time to run.
Photo credit: Flickr user Slworking2