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  • Lindsey Millerd

Dating in the digital age

I remember seeing and eHarmony commercials around 15 years ago and thinking how strange the concept of online dating was. Meeting a stranger over the internet? No way that would catch on. Right?

Fast forward to 2023 and now 30% of Americans have used a dating site or app and 40% of new couples met on one according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. Sleek apps like Bumble, Hinge, and Tinder are especially popular amongst young adults. The COVID-19 pandemic definitely boosted virtual interactions, but we probably would have seen similar growth in online dating either way. More and more digital platforms have been created to serve various needs, especially social networking. Just like LinkedIn is meant to create professional relationships, a dating app helps you create romantic ones.

The attraction of meeting someone online

Dating apps are seen as an easy way to expand your dating pool. You have access to everyone on the app within your dating radius, so you’re not limited to those you happen to meet in your daily life. And as an introverted person myself, I definitely see the draw of meeting people online. Profiles are the expedited equivalent of someone introducing themselves and I think many would agree that sending a message feels a lot easier than approaching a stranger in person and having to ask if they’re single.

A 22-year-old female said she tried Hinge because she had recently moved to a new state and “felt like it was a good start to branching out to new people.” For her, the process of getting to know a potential partner starts with texting first and then eventually upgrades to FaceTime calls if it’s going well. “I value emotional intimacy a lot, " she said, continuing that after seeing how they connect over a few calls, that’s when she would go for an in-person date.

Texting and calling first is a good way to test the waters before meeting up. You can build that connection and trust so that when you go on a date, they aren’t as much of a stranger. From a more practical view too, it saves both parties the time and money of an in-person date with potentially zero chemistry.

Apps definitely also help streamline the somewhat uncomfortable yet important conversations. A profile can display one’s dating intentions, political views, religion, and much more. A 24-year-old female who uses Bumble, explained how she’ll typically gravitate towards those with similar values to her. Most people will want a partner with similar beliefs and lifestyles, so having it all laid out upfront is super helpful for that.

The direct clarity is also especially helpful for the LBTQ community. According to the same Pew survey, 28% of straights tried online dating compared to 51% of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Sexual orientations and pronouns can be displayed on your profile to avoid any wrongful assumptions and unwanted attention. You can easily refine your search pool with filters or even use a specific app for your preferences in almost any aspect.

The downside of perfect profiles and overflowing options

While most users reported a positive experience with online dating, it isn’t a large majority. 46% of users reported an overall negative experience and that largely might depend on your intentions with the apps. For starters, even though you’ll be exposed to more people, they won’t necessarily be meaningful connections. 44% of users said they wanted to meet a long-term partner and 40% said they wanted to date casually.

“It can be very emotionally draining since most online relationships don’t last very long,” said a 21-year-old male. He had tried dating apps for about 6 months but found many were looking for one-night stands or flings, while he wanted something more serious. Especially in Hawaii, it seems that a lot of people on the apps are students, tourists or military personnel who are only here temporarily, so it really depends on the users in your area.

Paying too much attention to the number of matches you get on a dating app can also be damaging to your self-esteem. Just like counting the number of likes or followers on any other social media, it can become a metric for one’s worth. If you don’t get many matches you might feel insecure and while lots of matches may boost your confidence, it’s an unhealthy way to seek validation.

The design of most dating apps also makes it easy to judge based on looks. A cover photo needs good camera quality, lighting and a photogenic person of course, for someone to even read your name sometimes. You curate your best shots that capture your “personality” and beauty and judge others on how well they show theirs. And that’s not inherently wrong, after all, the whole “love at first sight” ideal existed long before the internet. But as someone who doesn’t agree with the idea of falling for someone purely based on looks, I think dating apps are further encouraging this shallow behavior.

Being friends before dating is a great way to start a relationship, but online dating makes that nearly impossible since both parties are there with romantic intentions. When there’s no feelings involved, not only will you be more genuine because you’re not trying to impress them, but you also won’t be looking at them through rose-colored glasses. While you might not be immediately attracted to a classmate, coworker, or mutual friend, you won’t just push past them like on a dating app. You’ll still spend time getting to know them and if you develop a crush, it won’t be focused on looks, but the important things like how they treat others and how they make you feel.

And while online dating has some upsides on the surface, even those perks can be problematic in some ways. Just like ordering at The Cheesecake Factory, having too many options sometimes makes it harder to make up your mind. We dissect and compare potential partners, and even after choosing someone, might be thinking about the other potential partners out there instead of focusing on what’s in front of you. “The seemingly infinite supply of options allowed me to care less, to distance myself, to treat people like items in an online shopping cart,” Larissa Bersh wrote in her article, “On the paradox of choice, Tinder.”

Not only the quantity of people, but the format of apps can create a calculated and rather emotionless process. If someone isn’t ticking all your boxes, it’s easy to move on to the hundreds of other options that are just a swipe away. Many see conflicting religious or political views as an automatic dealbreaker, and while it’s nice to have commonalities, a partner does not have to be your clone. Only associating with people like us is closed-minded and contributes to the further divide and unwillingness to listen and respect opposing views. My dad said it best, “your world doubles” when you can share different perspectives and learn from each other in an intimate relationship.

The future of romance

The popularity of romance books, reality dating shows and now dating apps are prime examples of society’s obsession with the search for love. Unfortunately, we don’t really care about everything that comes after that, and that attitude is what leads to a lot of potentially negative interactions. Everyone’s time and effort is precious, so let’s encourage openness and respect in every stage of a relationship. Rather than just romanticizing our soulmates, let’s also learn how to be better partners, looking inward before judging others.

While online dating may have its concerns, that’s not to say it can’t be successful. With the right approach, it truly isn’t that different from meeting people in any other setting. I know a good amount of people that met their significant other online, and they seem to be in happy and healthy relationships. One of the earliest couples I heard of meeting through a dating site has been happily married for almost a decade now!

Throughout history, new inventions have allowed for the expansion of our dating pools. With advances in transportation first physically closing the gaps, now software development is connecting us in an even broader and efficient way. There’s no harm in using our modern-day resources to improve our lives, but make sure it is actually benefiting you. Everyone’s experience with dating apps are different, so just check in with yourself and adjust your mindset or methods as needed.

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