Paulina Porizkova, A.I. Filters, and the ‘Shallow Dating Ponds’ of Middle Age

8 minute read
Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s Not Just You newsletter on Substack

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I don’t think I slept through the night once in the first year we lived in this apartment. Every night sometime between 3 and 4 am, massive commercial garbage haulers lumber up and down the street right underneath the bedroom brakes gnashing on trash lit up with twinkle lights like neon dinosaurs.

At the time, I had a tiny baby and she’d wake up, of course, so I’d nurse her and watch those spectacular beasts from the window. They are spotless, decorated with swirly detailing all over, like tattoos with the nicknames of the drivers in quotes. And these trucks don’t just drive by throwing trash in the back, they stop, and backup, clattering around in the restaurant trash bins the compactor growling and churning for ages before they heave off to the next block.

The baby would watch the lights reflecting on the windows and it was a show for her—an early morning Brooklyn carnival. And it’s one reason my sister still brings earplugs when she visits.

But here’s the thing, the garbage dinosaurs didn’t wake me or the children after a few months. Our ears and brains filter them out now.

Tonight I’m up late writing and I can hear the city beasties outside. I’d forgotten all about them. And it got me thinking about how powerful our internal filters are. Not only can we get used to anything rendering it invisible, but generally, we hear what we want to hear. I, for example, have a special filter that strains out nearly all compliments but saves even the tiniest criticism so that I can chew on it like the trucks.

And now our inner filters are aided by technological filters that govern what we see or don’t see. Everything from Netflix to shopping sites serve up what they think we want based on what we wanted before, or what we clicked on before. After I bought stretchy waisted men’s pants for my dad who was frail and couldn’t handle buttons, I was offered variations on that sartorial theme every single time I opened my email for months. I couldn’t convince Amazon that I was not a tall 80-year-old man.

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This brings me unexpectedly to supermodel Paulina Porizkova who wrote a post on Instagram this week about how she couldn’t convince a dating app called Hinge that she was herself. It seems as if its algorithmically driven filtering system blocks users who use the names of famous people, assuming they’re imposters. And no amount of emailing on her part could get her back on.

You might remember Porizkova from the 1980s and 1990s. She’s 56 now, a writer who is still modeling, still stunning, and a fierce advocate of #nofilter photos that show the lines on her face. And after the death of her husband, she’s been dating for the first time since she was 19.

Men rushed into the comments of her recent post to ask her out, and to suggest other apps—shocked that she was both single and potentially on an app they could log into. Everyone reassured her that she was “still” gorgeous. (Ahem.) Though many women had variations on this comment: “If you need @Hinge to meet men there is seriously no help for the rest of us.”

In her responses to the comments, Porizkova said that actually, she’d tried other dating apps, and that for women her age, the dating pool was more like “a shallow pond.” And that sent everyone into a further tizzy, well because we cannot handle it when celebrities really are just like us.

But I have a radical theory on why hundreds of men weren’t asking the smart and lovely Paulina Porizkova out online.

They didn’t see her. Because of…filters.

Many dating apps do something called “collaborative filtering” where their algorithm looks at users’ chosen filters, age and other preferences, and they combine it with what they know about who those same people actually click on.

So because of this, many men in their 40s and 50s do not even see women in their 50s when they go on dating sites. So even Porizkova was literally invisible to them. (All you need to know about the data behind this theory is this New York Times headline: “For Online Daters, Women Peak at 18 While Men Peak at 50, Study Finds. Oy.”

These filters are not only depriving men of supermodels, but they may be reinforcing all kinds of biases and annihilating serendipity. More recently some dating companies pledged to remove so-called “ethnicity filters,” but added others like political views.

I’m not sure where that configuration leaves humanity. But science tells us that we are wired to value what we’re familiar with—both in dating and in products which is where advertising comes in. So if we see the same kinds of people, and the same stuff all the time, we’ll gravitate towards them. They will seem better. It’s called the “exposure effect” and it’s why coworkers so often fall for each other. And why an older woman’s face might look aberrant to someone who spends too much time in filtered waters.

This explains why according to Pew Research, nearly half of those who use online dating apps are “frustrated.” It may also justify my recent affection for the grouchy old garbage trucks of Brooklyn. They’ve been invisible to me for years, but I’ll miss them when I leave.

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More Couth Please This charming piece discusses why the ever-evolving English language often retains the negative iterations of words like “uncouth,” rather than the positive. No one calls a pleasant person “couth” these days. But if what we say shapes how we think, then there is at least one outdated term that I’d like to bring back: “ruthful,” which once meant a merciful, compassionate person.

On Showing Up Without Burning Out: One reason many of us fall prey to burnout is the tension between caring for our own needs and showing up for others the way we want to. Mindfulness teacher Shelly Tygielski offers a new series of lessons on how these two seemingly contradictory missions can come together. One of the teachings that resonated with me is about letting go of paralyzing perfectionism and why good enough is better than perfect. Check out the full course here: The Power of Showing Up.

“If we are all collectively satisfied with good enough and we all strive to do the best we can each day with the given circumstances, then we will grow together into something exquisite and perfectly built with all our perfect imperfections.” Shelly Tygielski


Photograph by Susanna Schrobsdorff

The Maine coast is as rocky and fierce as ever in summer.

Photograph by Susanna Schrobsdorff

Biking at dusk in Brooklyn.

Follow me on Instagram for more photos: @SusannaSchrobs

🔥Thanks to all of you who sent me incredibly moving stories of burnout and life pivots. I’ll respond to each of you this week. And it’s not too late to send your thoughts on burnout to me at:

Next week I’ll have an in-depth piece on burnout with insights from you and experts including the authors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski, and Amelia Nagoski.


Our weekly acknowledgment of the creatures that help us make it through the storm.

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