We’re standing, shivering, in the lobby of my building. We are four women, ready for a night out, starting with a reservation at a trendy new restaurant about 2 miles away. I watch as my friend Jen pulls her phone from her bag and breathes a sigh of relief as her pointer finger pulls up the Uber app. “I’ll Venmo you $5,” I say, even though I know the ride will barely crack $8; split between four people, $2 would be more than enough for reimbursement. But the additional $3 is a thank you for taking on the risk of all of us riding on her account. I’m a finance writer. I make it my job to know how to be smart about money. I know what I’m doing is idiotic. But for whatever reason, the quest to keep my Uber rating at a perfect 5.0 trumps all financial logic. Ever since Uber made it possible for riders to see how they are rated by drivers, "What’s your number?" has taken on a whole new meaning in my social circle. The New York Post recently ran a story on how people who have low ratings (and low, in Uber parlance, means under a 4.5) have trouble getting cars quickly. Not only that, but according to some of the people interviewed, a low score shatters their self-esteem. “I’d be lying if I said my score didn’t make me question my likability as a person,” said one of the subjects interviewed in the Post story. I get that. I so get that. To me, the 5.0 rating is a sign that I’m doing something right, a sign that despite the fact that I sometimes don’t respond to texts, despite the fact that it took one whole week to send an acknowledgement that I received a birthday gift from a family friend, despite the fact that I occasionally flake out on social engagements an hour before they start, despite the fact that I know I can do better in my everyday life, I’m a good person. I say hello, I don’t argue over music choices, and am always happy to chat about my day and ask my driver about theirs.
To me, the 5.0 rating is a sign that I’m doing something right.
But what caught me by surprise was just how much I wanted to hold onto that 5.0 rating. If I have a babysitter who watches my toddler in the evening, I’ll often call her an Uber home. But all of a sudden, I worried: Babysitter A can be a bit surly to strangers — would her attitude on the eight-minute ride home to her house cause my own rating to sink? I began giving my babysitters $5 extra on their way out, imploring them to add that as a tip at the end of their ride. So, anyway, that’s my system: Ride on other people’s accounts whenever possible, be as chirpy and friendly as if I’d had three cappuccinos, and make sure to throw a few dollars in for a tip at the end of the ride. I know that’s insane. But I’m not alone. My friend Sam still holds a grudge from the time he sprang for an Uber after a wedding and one of his friends threw up, dinging his rating and causing him to have to pay a $150 cleaning fee. His friend offered to reimburse him, but for Sam, what really stung was his new 4.4 rating. “Look, I appreciated that my buddy reimbursed me, but I use Uber all the time. So it’s like…when I’m stuck in the pouring rain trying to get home and I can’t get an Uber, I am not happy.” Another friend, Jenna, has a similar story. She recently went on a third date and was appalled at the way her date treated the Uber driver (which she had booked through her app). “He was giving directions, but not in a Hey, this works best way — in a really know-it-all way. And we were going to my neighborhood, which he clearly didn’t really know. He was just doing what his own personal GPS was telling him.” Sure enough, when Jenna checked her Uber rating a few days later, she’d tumbled to a 4.8. “I blame him. And I guess I would have felt the same sense of outrage if we had been in a cab, but I think the rating has this long-term repercussion: It shows your behavior matters.” It does matter — but, as I also recently learned, it’s totally random, an algorithmic equation that has nothing to do with who we are as people. After I had my girls' night out with my friends, we rode home, still on Jen’s account. When our friend Stacy hopped out at a light close to her apartment, I slammed the door behind her.
The driver turned around and glared. “You slammed the door really hard.” I squeaked out an I’m sorry. But I wasn’t apologizing to the driver so much as to Jen. As we tumbled out of the car, Jen broke into laughter. “I don’t care. I think it’s hilarious.” A few days later, over an “I’m sorry” coffee, we dared to check her rating. It was a 5.0. Meanwhile, somehow in the intervening week, I’d tumbled down to a 4.9. Blame Uber karma. Blame a less than sociable babysitter. Blame the fact it was an Uber-intense week, or a driver's slippery thumb. Whatever. The point is, I wasn't perfect. But I was okay. I'm done making my Uber rating an essential element of my self-worth. I'm a 4.9, and I'm happy to be in charge of transportation for the next girls' night. Especially if everyone can Venmo me $5 in the process.