The popularity and prevalence of dating apps was already on the rise before the pandemic, but global shutdowns seemed to guarantee that anyone and everyone looking for romantic (and social) connection downloaded at least one.
Online dating is now so popular that studies suggest it’s the third most common way to meet a partner in the U.S. This does vary somewhat by age group: if you’re a millennial, it’s likely that most of your friends have used, or are currently using, a dating app.
If you think back to, say, 2012, the year Tinder was created, you may be able to vaguely remember a time when the idea of meeting your life partner on an app was inconceivable. You may be able to recall the first time a friend shamefully admitted to going on a Tinder date, and telling yourself: “I would never do that.”
Well, times sure have changed.
But what do some of those changes look like?
For one, dating has become a much more private activity.
While you may have already been inclined to keep your dating life private, using dating apps leaves you no other choice but to date in a silo. While using an app, you are connecting with limitless amounts of potential partners while alone, scrolling through your phone at your kitchen table, your desk, or in bed at night. This is a notable shift in how we approach our romantic and sexual lives.
A decade ago, meeting potential romantic and sexual partners almost always required some semblance of being out in the world. Either you’d meet someone through a mutual friend or coworker, a shared hobby or place, or simply while out at a bar.
As dating becomes progressively more private and disconnected from other areas of our lives, this presents enormous freedom — the freedom to explore your sexuality without judgment, the freedom to meet people you might never have encountered in real life, and the freedom to choose how you and when you meet potential partners.
Of course, this freedom does come with some challenges.
Dating apps have changed the way we think about love and relationships, and made us a lot more picky.
There are endless options to choose from, and dating apps give us the sense that there’s always a better match just around the corner. Being discerning about who we date is never a bad thing, but the “grass is greener” trap is easy to fall into in modern dating culture.
If you’ve ever used a dating app, you may have also noticed how easy it is to fill up endless hours, eyes glazed over, swiping through nearby singles who all end up looking equally unappealing after the 200th dating profile you’ve scrutinized in one sitting.
Many people say they downloaded (or re-downloaded) a dating app out of boredom.
Just like other forms of social media, endless and aimless scrolling through dating apps is almost second nature to us. It occupies our brain just enough to avoid thinking about anything else, and it can sometimes give you that brief sense of excitement or quick confidence boost that keeps you coming back for more.
As with most technology, there are many ways dating apps has changed our lives for the better, and equally as many ways they have challenged us.
It’s easy to blame our faults as a society on the technology itself — our disengagement with the “real world,” our lack of romance, our proclivity to evaluate potential partners with a quick glance, swiping them out of our lives without ever really acknowledging them because we know there has to be a better match if we just keep scrolling.
But let’s not forget that these tendencies existed before Tinder decided to capitalize on them. Dating apps give us the ability to explore a side of ourselves that has always been there, the side that always wonders if there’s someone better for us just around the corner, the side that seeks out ways to numb our brain because this feels better than constantly being present in the world.
With the freedom of choice that dating apps provide us, we are also free to choose how we use them. Approaching dating apps with intentionality can help you avoid endlessly swiping instead of being present in your life, and being aware of your goals in using an app may make the experience more fulfilling. But in the end, the search for connection is still innately human, and along with the unavoidable disappointment and heartbreak that comes with it, true connection will always still be possible — no matter how automized our dating lives become.