By Marina Mestres
Tinder, bumble, hinge, grindr … dating apps flood our phones, but what about our hearts? In a world where we have forgotten what human interaction feels like, online dating has become a mechanical way of satisfying our need for romance. That is, if dating apps can be successfully romantic at all.
One often faces two types of reactions when opening a profile on dating apps. One half of your friends will have been insisting for months that you do so, and will even offer to help you choose photos and build a bio; the other half will probably roll their eyes and go: “are you THAT desperate?”. Regardless of what side you are initially on, the most likely case scenario is that you know several people using tinder, bumble, hinge etc. and that you’ve heard a handful of horror stories, including, but not limited to: ‘the one where he went in for a smooch and sh*t himself’, ‘the one where he got confronted by his girlfriend about cheating’ , ‘the one where he bought drugs from a stranger on the way to his place’, or my personal favourite: ‘the one where his house was covered in blood stains and he had a kid he had never met’.
I must recognise that I have never been an advocate for dating apps. A hopeless romantic myself, the idea of meeting someone by swiping right on their mildly-appealing selfie has always seemed both narcissistic and borderline robotic. My only attempt to start a relationship through Tinder ended with me receiving a three-page PDF after a three month relationship, detailing everything that was wrong with me and I had to change. Am I the only one? Do most people face sitcom-like situations when opening a dating-app profile? Or are we allowing a few horror stories to overshadow a truly great feature of living in the 21st century?
The weird, dangerous, and rock-bottoms of online dating
Sometimes I wonder whether traditional dating exists anymore; if there were any remains of ‘old-school’ meet-cutes left, they disappeared from this world alongside human-touch during the pandemic. While our current dating world may look nothing like it, many of us continue to indulge in classic romcoms and pop-culture that idealises the ‘star-crossed lovers’ narrative. We crave a relationship that starts by ‘catching each other’s eye across the dancefloor’, or by ‘accidentally tripping and falling into his arms’. These examples may be a bit exaggerated, but they share something dating apps can never give us: an ‘it was fate’ moment. From Romeo and Juliet, to Notting Hill, Pride and Prejudice and even The Mummy, Gladiator or Guardians of the Galaxy, literature and pop-culture stories are built on the unrealistic expectation of meeting your lover in an unconventionally swoon-worthy way. Clearly, none of these stories would start with: “I was bored, and he seemed cute, so I swiped right and we matched!“
The issue extends beyond ‘how did you meet?’ stories. From unsolicited nudes and sexist comments, to racial slurs, xenophobic insults and stalking; dating apps allow the perpetrator to brush problematic behaviour under the internet’s carpet, without ever facing any consequences. This, alongside the risks of getting catfished, ghosted, spiked, harassed, or even worse, eliminates all the appeal of even trying to find someone online. During one of my quests to find dating-app horror stories online, I encountered the story of Karina. Karina had been quarantining with her boyfriend, who she’d met online, for four months, when she discovered he had been keeping several personas on dating apps, meeting women under fake profiles, and had even catfished her before they had met in person. While this is an extraordinary situation, it goes to show trustworthiness should not come at a cheap price.
When asking my friends for their opinions, a few highlighted how men are “frightfully abusive” on dating apps, or free to “objectify and abuse multiple women”; someone had even been sent a phrase that read “real love means using your p**sy to block the wind when he lights his joint”. Set aside the potential dangers of meeting a stranger online, and you’ll be left with the awkward silences, dry conversations and concerning fetishes you may face in a date.
Nevertheless, regardless of all the negative stigmas that come with online dating, statistics show that 17% of couples nowadays have met on dating apps. The fable of ‘a friend of a friend that met the love of her life on tinder’ is no longer a myth, but a very real story for over a quarter of the population, including most of the people whose opinion I asked for when researching the topic.
“I met my husband online”
Yes. This was an actual quote from someone who sent me a message on Instagram. When I first started this article, I expected a few ‘the friend of a friend’ stories that spoke about platonic couples that had met online, but I never foresaw the outpour of support for dating apps that I received. From introverts who praised the fact you can meet people even if you are shy, to people who had met several long-term partners through tinder, pros were mentioned a lot more than cons. Even people who claimed they had been closed off to love beforehand, had met their soulmate on an app. Sure, like with everything, if you meet a lot of people, you are likely to encounter a few creeps, but I seem to be the only one who still feels awkward swiping right or left for love. Is old-school romance dead then, or am I just out-dated?
The answer is: neither. What I have concluded from my brief study is that we are just lucky to live in a time where romance is not limited to a certain type of stereotypes. Romance is where and what we want it to be, as cringey as that might sound. The reason why we view ‘meeting someone by chance’, or ‘bumping into someone in the street’ as more romantic than matching with someone in an app, is because society has shaped us to believe that certain gestures are more acceptable than others when showing someone affection. In Psychology Today, Dr Davis wrote an article on how romantic gestures in movies can ruin our perspective on what a real-life healthy relationship looks like. Expecting a partner to do grand gestures, buy certain expensive gifts, or even meet you in a specific way can lead to the false belief that your relationship is mediocre. You only need to do a quick google search to be overwhelmed with articles on women and men sabotaging their own happiness because of what society expects their love life to look like. Particularly, I invite you to read Kristina Rodulfo’s 2016 article for ELLE, which left me re-assessing my own relationship trauma with a simple quote:
“I invested and obsessed so much in romanticizing perfect beginnings that I barely ever made it past the starting line.”
Maybe nowadays you do not need to wait in the rain, or cross the whole country to tell someone you like them, but that doesn’t mean the relationship you get from it will be any less meaningful, romantic, and long-lasting. One participant’s opinion really stuck by me, as she reflected that she doesn’t care at all if she first met her partner online, as otherwise she wouldn’t have got to know him. Maybe, she would’ve had the fairy tale beginning with someone else, but she would’ve missed out on all of the incredible experiences her partner and her have shared. This is the reason why you crave meeting someone in the first place: not for one magical instance, but for every moment after that.
Hence, romance is not dead, just different to what it used to be… as are TVs, phones, jobs and even human touch. Times change.
Pre-judice, Pre-covid and Pre-nuptials
So no, it’s not your ‘friend of a friend’ who found love online, but quite a few people in the world actually. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is time now to abandon the prejudice people are flooded with when they confess to have met someone online, or to have even opened a profile; a prejudice that forces friends to make up excuses for why they downloaded tinder, went on a date, or even decided they no longer wanted to be single. They are not ‘desperate’, they are not ‘hopeless’, they are just trying to meet someone in the 21st century, and in a post-pandemic world.
Equally, lets not ignore the alternatives that still remain out there. Studies show that 31% of people would still rather meet someone through a mutual friend than online, while 20% would like to find their partner at university. One should not feel anti-social just because they don’t believe dating apps are made for them. I, for instance, worked up the courage to slide into someone’s DMs recently. I felt like there was potential for a meaningful connection, which there was, and messaging them felt to me more natural than swiping on tinder. Similarly, we need to normalise asking people for their number, or approaching someone in a bar or public space.
Statistics don’t lie, there is no right or wrong way of letting someone know you want to get to know them, as long as it is done in a respectful and consensual manner. Romance is not dead, dating apps did not kill it, they just put it, quite literally, within our reach, a luxury our parents and grandparents did not have.