A dialogue about misogyny in modern dating opened up in sometimes cringey and sexist, always hilarious inter-generational interactions
Back in 2014, Erika hit a wall of online dating fatigue. After a handful of unremarkable dates, the novelty started to wear off as explicit messages demanding blowjobs rolled through – the usual experience for women dating men online. At the time, she was looking to break into stand up comedy, and started messing around on dating apps “for jokes”, swiping right on every guy she matched with and asking them one of two questions: “Wanna come over and watch Orange is the New Black with me?” or “Come over and eat me out”. Erika wanted to see how men would respond to the same kind of messages she kept receiving as a sort of “fuck you”, but unsurprisingly, answers were skeptical and dry.
At the time, Erika was only swiping through guys in their 20s. She’d always had a thing for older guys though, and had a special talent for charming friends’ dads, she tells Dazed. “I think for me, American dad culture was always kind of comical. My parents are immigrants so the whole tinkering-away-in-the-garage-listening-to-Springsteen thing was something I saw from afar with my friends’ and neighbours’ parents or on TV,” she says. However, she stresses that Swipes4Daddy – the Instagram account snapping her convos with older men, the IG profile pic set as hot dad Sandy from the O.C – was “never about me dating older men,” but rather, “to understand why they treated me the way they do.”
She explains: “I also think my interest in older single men is grounded in jealousy of men in general. From an early age I felt that I could never accomplish what a middle-aged man can do.” Erika describes this demographic as one “that seems to get away with a lot of things, as evidenced by dads who will say things like ‘don’t worry, I only have my kids a couple days out of the month so I have time for you.’”
Part of the attraction, she says, comes from a desire to disrupt the ways predominantly white, middle-aged men have traditionally “set the standard for what’s attractive, what’s funny, what’s entertaining, what’s my salary. But at the end of the day they’re nothing special and in no way better than me or any other young person.”
“It became my duty to make fun of the guys that never get made fun of”
Erika firstly started playing around with her app's age settings. “I wanted to see how high the ages went, but they stop after 55+, which said to me that this app really was for a younger crowd,” she says. “So the wheels began to turn. Who over 45 even knew about Tinder? My parents could barely understand Facebook at this point.” She set it at the highest age group (45-55+) and began swiping right.
But there was one interaction with one particular guy that really bothered her. He sent her a series of dirty texts, and when she didn’t respond, he just get kept going, relentless. “It was funny,” Erika says, “but it also made me sick. The juxtaposition of his profile photo of his son sitting on his lap to the dirty texts was something I couldn’t get out of my mind.” This particular conversation inspired her to start the popular IG account, where she anonymously combines her love of all things dad-related with timely and hilarious critique of online dating culture. “It became my duty to make fun of the guys that never get made fun of.”
Erika remains anonymous because she’s been on the receiving end of some nasty DMs from guys accusing her of exploiting the men she matches with, or being ageist. She defends this: “They should know better. I’m not going to pity someone for being divorced when oftentime their texts showcase why.”
“Women have been the butt of jokes for years, but suddenly it’s scandalous when a 24-year-old who Instagram posts a few screenshots showcasing the stupidity of the world’s ‘standard’ – white, middle aged men.”
Still, Erika says she’s enjoyed some genuinely interesting conversations with a few of the men she’s matched with, particularly those with interesting careers, with topics ranging “from Erykah Badu to really grounded and empathetic conversations about feminism.” The account uses some “inherently ‘dad’” moments to “balance the sometimes wildly offensive things” she comes across. “My favourites to this day have probably been the dad that wished me ‘Good morning’ for a year, or the Boston dad who would talk about the intelligence of birds with me.” Occasionally she uses these positive interactions as teachable moments to raise awareness of issues like pay disparity, childcare, catcalling, and consent.
The goal of creating Swipes4Daddy, Erika explains, wasn’t to shame her matches for being interested in younger women. “I don’t blame men for swiping on women half their age. I just want to get at why,” she says. “I ask questions about what they expect me to be like, or why they want to date someone half their age – to which they list the obvious stereotypes; more free time, less jaded, tight skin, and tighter pussies.”
“There is so much men and people in general don’t see or experience, or women who don’t realise that this behaviour is wrong or questionable”
With many of her matches, Erika says she points out and dispels some of the sexist myths she encounters, while also raising the question: “What makes a mediocre older man so sure he can land someone half his age?”
Unfortunately, she’s found “good guys” to be few and far between, and she doesn’t often screenshot their interactions. She’s never met up with any of her matches and doesn’t intend to, though she doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with dating an older guy “as long as it’s mutual”. She adds, “If there’s anything I can respect about the dads, it’s their respect for time and honest communication.”
Many guys she matches with send messages that aren’t too far from the blowjob texts she used to get from twenty-somethings, like going from “‘Coffee?’ to full-blown erotic fantasy,” she says. “They typically ask if I’m in school, which I think they get off on, but usually I tell them I work in a cryonics lab, or occasionally I’m Liza Minnelli’s assistant, an heiress to an amusement park. I try to go against any misconception they have of millennials. If they’re looking for a wild night out, I’ll challenge that by requesting something brutally mundane or remind them that millennials are too in debt to enjoy themselves.”
Unfortunately, Erika has had conversations devolve into things she isn’t comfortable with. “(It’s) men being blatantly racist, pedophiles, or having extreme fantasies with little to no provocation. One dad said he’d love to see me slumped in the back of his car,” she adds, “it’s easy for someone to see my account and think ‘oh those poor dads, they don’t deserve to be made fun of,’ but the reason why I think my posts are warranted is because there is so much men and people in general don’t see or experience, or women who don’t realise that this behaviour is wrong or questionable.”
The way many older guys use dating apps, Erika observes, is different in some ways then it is for guys her age. Older men she interacts with tend to be more confident and some are more open to meaningful connections.
“Dating in my 20s has been a game of postponing dates and being ghosted – if you’re 60, the opportunity to bonk a 24-year-old will probably never come again,” she quips. Dating apps can, for many, be a way of living out fantasies. “They fetishised my age and things like ‘the softness’ of my skin and how I can’t possible be ‘jaded’ yet. Honestly, they all sounded like Ed Gein.”
Some of the messages she finds most irritating and disturbing are comments on the different hairstyles in her profile pictures. “The dads love to tell me which they prefer… it feels like they want to groom me into being something they want – kinda like a sex robot.”
Swipes4Daddy has also been a space to explore dating culture more generally, finding that some ways men feel about women can find its way across generations. “I think that if there’s anything my posts have proven, it’s that men think women are really stupid or simple,” Erika says. This plays out in what she calls a ‘Tinder algorithm’ of small talk, followed by rapid invitations for drinks that if aren’t accepted, fall into misogynistic tantrums that she’s captured in screenshots. Most women dating online have experienced the violent name-calling that comes from an initially nice, trying-too-hard guy who gets rejected. Erika also references the Aziz Ansari story published earlier this year, and the way it brought to light complex sexual misconduct that permeates modern dating.
Though “the jokes write themselves”, there’s more to Swipes4Daddy than funny interactions with clueless guys, tapping into some upsetting trends in the ways some older men use online dating that suggest generation-wide, outdated, and sexist ideas about young women and millenials. “It was clear they all grew up on the same kind of porn – wanting me to come to their doorstep in a g-string and red dress. They also expect a 1998 Girls Gone Wild experience, but I did my best to upset that. It all felt very antiquated,” she says.
Though she posts most conversations strictly for laughs, she maintains that she made the account with the intention of creating a dialogue about the sexism and misogyny that can underpin online dating for women who date men. “Dating culture sucks,” she says. “By posting my conversations with dads, it gives younger men an opportunity to see what it’s like for women.” She hopes her humour might inspire younger guys to look inward and examine their own dating practices. “They can pick up on what I’m making fun of and see it in themselves, hopefully then changing their behaviours,” she says. “I’m basically warning them: this is what you can become.”