clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Elle Magazine's E. Jean Carroll Creates a Money-Making Breakup App That's Evil, Evil, Evil

Spoiler alert: Kara Swisher makes a cameo.

E. Jean Carroll has been the advice columnist at Elle magazine for some 22 years, and if you haven’t read her, you oughta. She speaks directly to the heart of a certain kind of young woman — the kind who asks, “Is this chapeau insouciant enough?” before plunking down her Visa. Carroll is a perfect blend of sensible, salty and sympathetic.

But even if you know all these things, you may not know that Carroll is an early adopter, tech-wise, and has been quietly making things happen online since the early oughts. And now she’s got a game in the App Store. It seemed like the perfect time to sit down and have a virtual hot toddy via Skype, as she was “up in the mountains” on a vacay.

The game, Damn Love, is available for iPhones and Androids, and it’s as simple as a game can get: You’re shown two people who are madly in love. Your object is to break them up. Shown a pair of options, you choose the ones more likely to stir up shit, given each person’s personality and proclivities, and the quicker you can make them split, the more you increase your evilness and rise through the ranks.

Wait. Who wants to be evil? Oh right, everyone. It’s called catharsis. But it goes deeper than that, according to Carroll.

“I’ll tell you, it’s as simple as Pong,” she said, her brassy voice rattling cheerfully out of a laptop speaker, her flaming hair pinned up and barely tamed, and her rescue dogs snoozing in the background. “Are you old enough to remember Pong? This is, like, the dating equivalent. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. But it’s fun.”

Carroll has been mixing fun and dating for years. She has been doling out advice on Elle, as well as on her own website . And she also, in 2003, founded with her sister Cande, a site where women would recommend their ex-boyfriends to others. It was bought by The Knot in 2005, though Carroll remains in an emeritus advisory role.

Then, in 2011, she co-founded, with Kenneth Shaw (formerly of One Kings Lane and Microsoft),, an elite matchmaking service that costs $600 a month and boasts an 80 percent success rate. “We have these trained matchmakers and they’re lovely, and they’re young, and they just do matchy-matchy all day long. We match the unattainables. It’s in high gear and doing great. We went through the Stanford startup accelerator … My head’s still spinning. Those are the smartest people.”

But after creating so much love, Carroll stepped back and took a look over her career, and noticed something odd. “Here’s what I’ve noticed,” she said. “The increase in letters [to me] over the last 22 years? You could be dead and [still] notice it. Why are people breaking up, breaking up, breaking up? Because of dating apps.”

Because it’s so easy to move on? “Yes!” she crowed. “Every single person on Tinder just broke up with someone. Except the married people, and they’re about ready to break up. Everybody on OK Cupid just broke up. Even our clients on Tawkify just broke up. All these dating apps, oh my God! There are thousands of them causing all sorts of breakups! Because everyone wants the next-next-next.”

“People are so torn apart and ripped to shreds by their breakups, even though they only just met the guy and had 15 texts and two nights of incredibly hot sex,” she said. “All these breakups! They really can tear you to shreds. I thought, it’s time to show people what the signs are. You’d better learn how to break up. I am showing you exactly what not to do.”

The characters in the game are recognizable and desirable. The situations are drawn from Carroll’s years of paging through reader mail. With kicky illustrations by James Lake, it’s a treat for the eyes and visually fresh. And Carroll says it’s already making money.

“I’m not disclosing how many downloads,” she said. “I’m not gonna give you some bullshit number. I am making money on this game. People can buy protection from The Hag (a nefarious witch who shows up when you get deeper into the game), and you can buy higher rankings. You know. It’s like Candy Crush. You just want to play, play, play.”

So what’s the best way to break people up? Ignore their core values, Carroll says. “Hey, one of these characters is a stereotypical egomaniac Facebook engineer bro,” she added. “And the way to break up with him fastest is to not know who Kara Swisher is.”

Oh. Well, sure. We’d dump that date, too. Fast, fast, fast!

Update: This version of this story corrects the number of years Carroll has worked for Elle, the name of the cartoonist and the profitability of the app.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.