Collage by Casey Johnston
When I told my boyfriend I needed him to pretend to be my ex for a story about a breakup service, he promised to commit to the role. So, I placed my “order,” for a handful of pothos cuttings I’d forgotten at his apartment, giving Postdates my address, along with his name, cell phone number, and a description of the thing I wanted back enough to pay the service to get it (but not enough to “confront” him face to face). “Hi, this is Postdates,” read the text he received from the service. “Remember Katie? They’re requesting some of our stuff back using our service. Click here to get started.” “She is a bitch,” he wrote back, committedly, and then he clicked through to complete my request and initiate the dropoff.
That’s the Postdates guarantee: the parody service, a riff on Postmates, will literally send a courier to your ex’s place in order to pick up an item (or items!) of your choosing, sparing you the agony of the awkward post-breakup small talk and the possibility of yet another argument (if, for example, your ex “is a bitch”). The service is still operational in New York City and Los Angeles, where interested parties can plug in their payment information for a chance to get their stuff back for a $29.99 flat-rate, plus extra charges for “emotional labor” and the actual fee for the courier to snag the goods.
The process of Postdating was pretty simple. I navigated its website to click through a variety of relationship types, which range from “one night stand” to “divorced,” plus options like “seriously,” “friendzoned,” and “went back to your ex” in between. Each relationship category has a few preset items that users can request: former live-in partners can demand cast-iron skillets, drills, or dog bowls, while people who “casually dated” can ask for toothbrushes and laptop chargers. Every relationship category also has the option to request a “custom item,” which makes the preset options feel more like commentary on the flow of goods in a typical relationship than anything practical. (It also feels like a chance to flex exactly how well the website replicates the Postmates interface—which, to be fair, it definitely does.)
After my method actor boyfriend confirmed his address, Postdates set up a time to send a courier to his apartment, who then ferried my plant over within the hour. While I didn’t get a text from Postdates notifying me that the courier was on the way, I did get a sympathetic smile from the man who dropped off the big, brown bag with its Postdates label, sealed with pink heart-shaped stickers that said “tear me apart” on them. Overall the experience was easy, sure, but painless? At the price tag, not quite. I’ve paid a shameful amount of money to have things delivered to me in my lifetime (late night McDonalds orders, copies of my birth certificate “for work,” second-hand designer shirts I wouldn’t have bought if I tried them on first), and even I balked at the price: $71.48 to move a houseplant from one Brooklyn apartment to another. Of course, I wasn’t really paying for the plant—I was avoiding my no-good, dirtbag “ex” and getting my stuff back anyway.
The most important thing about Postdates is that it technically functions. The second most important thing about Postdates is that its functionality is completely besides the point, according to creators Atlas Acopian, Suzy Shinn, and Brian Wagner. Previous collaborations between Acopian and Shinn bring the messaging into sharper focus: The pair conceptualized and launched parody sites for Amazon Dating (get next-day delivery on a new partner) and ScrubHub (an April 2020 collaboration with Pornhub featuring videos of people washing their hands) to similar, viral impact.
According to its creators, the revulsion to the idea of hiring a gig worker to literally pick up your dirty laundry is the entire point of Postdates. “We wanted to [ask,] ‘Are we willing to just redistribute all kinds of labor, including emotional labor and navigating potentially weird situations?’ If I don't want to just text my ex and be like, ‘Hey, can you leave my shoes outside, so I can go get them,’ would I pay a company to do it? Do we need a tech startup to do that?” Wagner said. “We don’t think so, which is why we made one ironically to illustrate that and hold up a mirror and be like, look, do we need this? Because this is what's being funded by VCs right now.”The creators insist the service is satirical and meant to skewer broader trends, but it still generated nearly instant angry buzzon Twitter from people worried about an angry ex taking out their post-breakup rage on a “Postdates courier.”The creators tried to anticipate this situation: Both parties need to consent to participate in the exchange, and the person sending their ex an item is the one who must provide their address, meaning it’s hard to imagine a realistic scenario where a courier is sent to an apartment without its inhabitant’s knowledge. “We've been extremely, extremely focused on making sure that there's consent from both sides and everyone knows what's going on,” Wagner said. (And while Shinn said they specifically sought out and partnered with two companies that pay their couriers a living wage, it’s hard to imagine any gig worker in the U.S. is getting paid enough to break and enter on a delivery run.) Practically speaking, I don’t see someone who was looking to enact revenge on an ex doing so through the avenue of Postdates—and not just because the service isn’t likely to exist beyond the span of a few weeks. Still, there’s something purposefully unsettling about hiring a third party to navigate an intense, potentially emotional experience. “It’s all about, ‘What price am I willing to pay to avoid this confrontation so I don’t have to deal with it?’” Shinn said—the same calculation people who use delivery apps find themselves doing regularly. Would I rather order an Uber when there’s surge pricing or transfer trains three times? Would I rather spend three hours trying to put together my bed frame, or should I just hire a TaskRabbit? Would I rather risk getting COVID-19 at the grocery store, or shell out for InstaCart? “Obviously, this service doesn’t exist in itself right now, but it’s not very different from stuff we already have,” Acopian said. As of last week, Postdates was in the process of fulfilling somewhere between 30 and 40 requests in NYC and LA, although after subsequent coverage in Rolling Stone and on the Today Show, that number might have swelled—but Acopian says she and her co-creators can only keep it running for so long. “We only have a certain amount of bags and resources to actually do delivery,” she said.To be honest, unless my ex was in possession of my social security card (or my Airpods), I’d probably eat the loss instead of falling into the warm embrace of the gig economy to get my stuff back—or, worst case scenario, ask a friend to grab my shit for me. After all, $70 is like, almost four meals on Postmates.Follow Katie Way on Twitter.