Adventures in dating apps
Updated: Oct 1, 2019
After being asked by my newly-ex boyfriend during a post-break-up drink why meeting someone on Tinder was any different to meeting them in real life, and being unable to answer from experience, having not ever really dated in real life anyway, I attempted to suspend my scepticism and experiment with dating apps. It's a fun and addictive, never-ending exercise (as if I needed anything more to scroll and swipe my way through) which led to the discovery a new level of dissatisfaction that comes with access to an endless number of potential suitors; the fleeting gratification of a 'match' or a vaguely engaging exchange usually wears off in about 3 and a half minutes.
Depending how vaguely engaging that exchange is, whether a sense of humour, intelligence, and some interest in my life is indicated, I decide whether or not to give a fraction of my limited free time to someone I'd otherwise be unlikely to meet, let alone have a drink, or even a meal with. It's good going if I spend this much time with an actual friend once or twice a week - someone with whom I've found, formed and fortified the foundations of a relationship across shifting landscapes and through the through the parallels of time.
I've managed to go on a grand total of 3 dating-app-dates so far this year, which, considering all previous attempts have resulted in me deleting the app within 48 hours (which it turns out is quite common), minus one painfully bumbling Bumble date, is pretty good if you ask me. All 3 were perfectly lovely, though the first was a bit of a cheat; I signed up to Tinder whilst on holiday in a surfing spot on the Moroccan coast, so the pool was already narrowed down to a certain kind of guy. I had dinner the same night with an absurdly handsome German man, but despite the romantic setting of the beachside restaurant, lanterns and mint tea, whilst I admired his face, I felt very little anything anywhere else. He wasn't the greatest conversationalist but I got to chat about the things I'm interested in and succeeded in making him laugh, which made me feel good about myself, so I guess it was worthwhile.
My first London date was a for coffee and custard tart in Primrose Hill, delightful at the best of times. My new-found and one-time, companion was a very clever Jewish boy who blinked frequently as we discussed class, aspiration, social values, international development, and our relationships with work. It was an insightful afternoon spent with someone who felt like a family friend.
The next shot in the dark was on a busy weeknight in Soho where the lack of seating anywhere eventually led to an apologetic confession on his part that he had Soho House membership, and we just so happened to be outside the un-assuming entrance to said establishment. I quickly put away my 2 for 1 Pizza Express voucher, never again to emerge from my purse on a date due to the painful over-familiarity induced by its appearance in my hand. These boundaries are tough to learn - how not to behave as you would with a boyfriend or best friend, even when it's freezing and you're getting a cold and there are no seats to be found in Soho.
The plush private member's club provided a comfortable and elegant sofa next to an open fire on which we made ourselves comfortable for the next couple of hours. All signs of apologist class concealment dissolved in the first cocktail along with most of the self-consciousness; it's truly amazing how quickly and drastically two people can relax in the course of one drink. I wonder if perhaps there's some of the 'cab driver effect' in dating-app culture: the ability to a) reinvent yourself b) say things you might not say to someone who knows you and maybe to even c) be more vulnerable than you'd be with someone you love and want to love you, all in the knowledge that you might never see them again - unless of course you (and they) want to.
Therein lies the conundrum: will you want to see them again? Even if you do initially, as you walk to the bus stop with that warm fuzzy, wine-induced feeling, how quickly will it fade in the faces of a million other profiles, pressures and distractions, without roots of affection grown over time? Perhaps that's where oxytocin helps, if it's not drowned out by relentless testosterone and the omnipotent, inescapable, invisible forces of natural selection. You could fall in love with anyone, but what if it really could be anyone? When unrestricted by circumstance and freed from the reliance on 'fate' or any prior (non-digital) connection, the possibility is literally endless; but when I'm confronted by too much choice I tend to go into a kind of paralysis.
So, is there a chance for anyone genuinely looking for an partner to actually find one using a dating app? I know people have, but I personally struggle to take any online prospect seriously; it feels too conscious, forced and loaded. There are 57 million Tinder users around the world and the majority are 18-24 year olds. 54% of US college students think of Tinder and Bumble for hook-ups, whilst 45% use it mostly for ego-boosting procrastination. Women are at least twice as likely to match with men, who typically swipe right less discriminately, and the median time for a woman to receive a message of, on average, 12 characters, is 38 minutes, whereas a man will averagely receive a message of 112 characters after 2 minutes.*
Tinder's long been thought a go-to for hook-ups and has now embraced that reputation, recently launching a 'single lifestyle' advertising campaign. There are also other styles of dating apps, like Hinge and OK Cupid, which incorporate a little more personality in their people browsers. 59% of adults now think of online dating as a good way to meet someone, as worldwide spend on dating apps almost doubled from £234 million in 2016 to £448 million in 2017, making up 3 of the top 10 apps by UK consumer spend (6 of the 10 in France)**. Overall, Tinder revenue was predicted to reach $800 million in 2018, whilst Bumble is now worth $1 billion*. This profitable and growing market will need to keep its audience engaged - so are relationships on their agenda?
Whatever the algorithm and its underlying idea of compatibility, I can't see how the habits fostered by dating apps can help us to have realistic expectations of each other and relationships, develop the capacity for commitment, ability to be satisfied, or attention span necessary for falling and, more importantly, staying in love... if that is still what we ultimately want.
Regardless of what I might ultimately want, I'm enjoying meeting new people, having conversations, and the confidence boost was much needed. For now, seems to be doing me some kind of good; let's hope I'm self aware enough to know when it no longer is (if I don't lose interest already). I'm treating my experience of the apps as an opportunity to practice dating, something I've virtually never done, in preparation for when an authentically romantic situation serendipitously occurs - if I look up from my phone in time to notice.
In the meantime, it's nice to know that if you do want some easy virtual or actual sex with someone you don't have to care about, Tinder is there to hook you up. Like viewing houses, dating apps show you what's 'on the market' - the question of whether it's good to know or not remains. All I know is that I don't want humans to be a commodity when it comes to love.
* Iqbal Mansoor, Tinder Revenue & Usage Statistics 2018, http://www.businessofapps.com/data/tinder-statistics/
** Belton Padraig, Love and dating after the Tinder revolution, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42988025