Are Dating Apps Preventing Us From Actually Dating?
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
It’s a lazy Tuesday evening and I find myself at The Bowery Hotel, nursing an old fashioned and people-watching. I make eye contact with a few of the lobby lingerers, wondering if any of these stylish strangers might be my soul mate. Losing interest in the crowd, I turn to my phone and open up Raya, a new dating app for “creatives” where the black-and-white profile pictures show off blowouts and screenshots of people’s “artistic lifestyles.” That’s when I wonder if Diplo’s tour photographer is my soul mate. After a few likes, I jump to Hinge, the dating app that sets you up with friends of friends, wondering if my travel partner to Barcelona has known my soul mate all this time. Then I go to Happn, which matches you with people who “happen” to walk by you. Is Sammy, whose profile photo shows him feeding a bottle to a baby tiger on a recent trip to Thailand, my soul mate? A couple more yes swipes and I continue on with my night—all the while thinking I’ve put myself out there today. I’ve made an effort to meet someone.
I never have issues matching with guys on dating apps or engaging in "you ready for the weekend?" type conversations. I can set up a phenomenal dating app profile conveying my silly personality, active social life, and desire for adventure — a skill I could and should start charging for. I majored in witty banter and dominated the AIM game. Yet, despite all of my dating apps skills, I never wanted to convert my digital charm into a physical meet-up.
I hear a buzz from my phone and see that it’s Matt S. from Hinge with one question: “Biggie or Tupac?” I respond, “Lil Kim,” congratulating myself on an excellent answer and patting myself on the back for being proactive on my search for love. I’m putting myself out there, I think, I’m really looking. I continue to engage in the playful conversation with Matt, all the while knowing that we would never meet in person. How, you ask?
I’ve been asked “Biggie or Tupac?” twice in just this week alone and it’s not even Wednesday. While I’ve got my profile and wit down pat, it seems so has everyone else, all repeating the same shallow interaction after shallow interaction. I’ve gotten brilliant at skimming the surface without being able to get past the filtered personalities. Are we all subconsciously protecting ourselves from getting hurt? Not showing our depth or any sign of a past scar? I am all for getting my heart broken by a human in the flesh, I just refuse to get hurt by a stranger whose only proof of existence is through a free app that can be deleted with a click of a button. But instead of ending the convo with Matt, I take him with me to my next location, as if he were a Tamagotchi waiting for his next meal.
Dating Essentials for the Digital Age:
It’s become clear to me that most people on dating apps don’t actually want to date. Very rarely do I feel that the people I match with are looking for a real, meaningful relationship. I have thousands of “matches,” but they all remain small avatars in their respective apps, never messaging a word or leaving a trace of their existence. Dating app use has become a routine task, like brushing your teeth or washing your face. If you’re single, you join a dating app—even if you don’t want a relationship, a one-night stand, or a new friend. You join a dating app because it’s a social norm we all participate in to make us feel a little less alone. There are millions of people on dating apps, aka millions of people in this world who are just as lonely as I am.
So what really is a dating app, if not an app that gets you dates? Is it an app that gives you confidence and makes you feel valued every time someone likes your profile? Is it an app that makes you feel less alone while you’re watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones? Or is it an app that helps you advance your career by introducing you to like-minded individuals? Whatever the reason, we’re all on dating apps even if we’re not actively dating.
Maybe the conversation of witty banter we partake in over the dating app is the actual “date”? I could very well be on a first date with Matt right now, discussing our favorite pizza toppings and which Seinfeld episode George cries in. Traditionally what we seek out in the act of dating are connections made through riffing with a stranger we find intriguing. Since we’re getting that same attention digitally, there doesn’t seem to be a need to repeat the exercise in real life.
I choose to participate in the dating app game because my cynical heart is somewhat of a hopeful romantic, thinking there might be the possibility of meeting my soul mate. And if I don’t, I still get to fall asleep knowing a cute guy named Matt enjoys my taste in ’90s hip-hop.
Check back in next week to follow along with Jilly Hendrix’s dating life.