There was a time, somewhere near 2012, where mobile dating apps like Tinder represented something of a revolution. There were three problems in the online dating market; stigma, accessibility and unrestricted messaging. The first two meant that many people wouldn’t even sign up in the first place, the last one meant that those who did were quickly driven away. If you were a man, you might have to send hundreds of messages a day to get just one response. If you were a woman, you could be met with an overwhelming deluge of unwanted messages.
Mobile datings apps set out to solve these problems. They were easy to set up, it was an essentially free product and you had to actually match with someone before you could message. And so the three biggest problems with web-based online dating were eliminated in a stroke. Tinder was introduced to west coast college sororities and fraternities, and it soon spread rapidly. Within two years of its initial release there were 1 billion swipes on the app, producing twelve million matches and the average user was spending ninety minutes on it every day.
Around the same time, smartphones got a whole lot better, and 4G connectivity meant you could swipe wherever you fancied. I remember spending entire evenings with my late twenty-something housemates, all of us in need of a partner, swiping away on our phones together – occasionally celebrating when the chime of a match came in.
Did it actually lead to dates? Yes, certainly. Around 2014 I remember using the app and meeting matches whom I wouldn’t have normally have been able to meet (or more likely charm) through my normal method of heading to bars and nightclubs in London. A few fizzled out quickly. Some were early examples of ‘ghosting‘- the practice of going silent rather than letting the other partner know you don’t want meet up again – but I moved on, because you could always meet someone else quite quickly with Tinder.
Over a few years a couple blossomed into relationships. I have to say that as it goes, Tinder worked, and not primarily for the ‘hook-up’ culture it’s been renowned for. A few of my friends got into long term relationships from it.
But somewhere along this journey something began to change. It might just have been something to do with getting a little older – people get busier, want something more serious, and other things associated with more responsibility in your early 30s. But people’s behaviour when using dating apps just seemed to get a lot worse.
I would regularly go through the process of having interesting and pleasant chats with people, arranging a drink, only for them to disappear when it came to the final arrangements. After a while, ghosting became the norm. It seemed like far more people were happy to adopt behaviour that had been seen as harsh just a couple of years before.
Why was this? It’s difficult to know for certain, but I have a few hunches. The rosy early days of online dating – where people were giddily using the apps to actually meet people – seem to have passed. Singletons now accept dating apps as part of life, and one that can present a limitless range of prospective partners. But actually meeting up seems to be the exception, not the rule.
So Many Options… So Little Time
Added to this is a kind of dating fatigue; people have been on just enough bad dates to make them think that being nice is a waste of time. The lack of a real-world connection with matches means they can easily be cut off without feeling guilty. No point wasting ten minutes getting into a debate as to why it’s not working, or why you don’t want to meet up – just cut them loose or block them. If they are just one of many you are messaging then there are no emotional strings attached.
This leads to a kind of catch-22 of a situation. People might converse with as many matches as they can, only for those matches to do exactly the same. Because all people are always aspiring to meet those they are most attracted to, people are prepared to drop conversations in an instant if they think they can meet someone they are just a bit more attracted to. Dating apps have given people so many options, that they’ve made people just too ‘busy’ to actually meet all the other people that they converse with.
And with the whole process of app dating comes a massive time sap of distraction and attention, that is hard to match within anything in real life. Maybe it’s time to put the phone down and think of some alternatives?