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The reality behind dating apps

By Kent Wong, February 13 2020

I wonder how Shakespeare would’ve approached dating apps. There is a famous Shakespearean sonnet that asks what love means. He argued that love doesn’t change despite circumstances around the lovers changing. In plain English, real love is perfect. I’d like to think this is true. But, I think Shakespeare would have some reservations over dating apps. Could you imagine if Juliet had simply swiped left on Romeo? The two would have lived, but then they wouldn’t have found love! Oh so tragic, but in a very 2020 manner.

Think about it — the first smartphone was invented in 2007 and Grindr was the first real smartphone dating app, which debuted in 2009. It wasn’t until 2012 when apps like Tinder and Hinge came into the scene with heterosexual dating. That’s when the flood gates opened and the masses came in droves to swipe left or right — or maybe a Super Like here and there. I think it would be safe to say that we as a society are essentially guinea pigs right now to this whole dating app experiment as it’s still very much in its infantile stage. Though some critics have argued the “golden era” of dating apps has come and gone, let’s look at how it’s changed the dating scene.

Let’s first look at some general stats to get a feel for the college dating scene. In a 2019 American survey, over 5,000 college students across the United States revealed that only four per cent prefer to use apps to find dates. That means only the front row of Peter Tracey’s econ class prefers dating apps. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the class doesn’t use them, they just don’t like them, as 75 per cent of all 18–24-year old’s use Tinder. Sounds like a love/hate relationship already.

But there must be some silver lining in this dating app thing, right?  I interviewed some friends over why they use online dating apps and the consensus was that it’s fast and efficient, plus you can potentially meet up with people you wouldn’t have normally run into in person. I can’t argue with that. I asked my “dating app fan” friend who is now a consultant travelling around cities for work and she loves dating apps. When it comes to hookups, she admits that often she would be secretly checking out Tinder while being out with colleagues at a bar. She realized that despite going out and being in a very new and social environment with plenty of potential guys in the immediate vicinity, she would rather just swipe left or right. She says that this does allow her to quickly filter people or just to see what’s out there pretty risk-free. I think we’ve all done that and probably a huge reason why we all begrudgingly have had these apps installed. It can help take the edge off if you’re not comfortable with random encounters but want random encounters — just with some control.  A wide appeal is also just how large of a net they let you cast. You can get a date with someone you probably wouldn’t have normally crossed paths with. But a recent development with these apps is to find friends — is that what society has become? Uber a new friend for the weekend? About half of all college-aged dating app users have used the said apps to simply find friends. I’ve tried this on Bumble, where you can switch to looking for friends and I’ve had some decent success. Great then. No one is going to be lonely anymore. Ha, right. Stats show that people — and young people at that — are lonelier and experience more anxiety than previous generations. So, wait, these apps aren’t working? Oof.

On the flip side of things, many of the people who I interviewed about the dating apps all circled around one major issue, which was the inability to gauge chemistry and body language. We look at each other and gauge facial expressions every day. Could you imagine going on a date where both of you had paper bags over your heads and communicating with pen and paper? Well, that’s sort of what these online dating apps are, in a sense. All you can do is judge someone from a hypercritical glance lasting no more than a few seconds and then you swipe left or right, then proceed to message. You then show up and that chemistry is there or isn’t, and suddenly all those text messages mean little if there’s no spark. Then of course, there are the negative behaviours that stem from these apps. A third of all college users have reported sexual harassment over the apps, with an overwhelming amount of harassment being reported by females and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Contrary to this “digital wall” dating apps may offer, they can also dehumanize you and allow people to say things they probably wouldn’t otherwise in a face to face encounter. Survey Monkey collected responses from millions of users who made a survey on the subject using their platform and the findings aren’t surprising. A little over half of all adults dislike dating apps regardless of gender. Users found that there’s more risk with online dating as there’s none of the social circle to help you vet the crazy ones out or find common ground with social circles and that 50 per cent of all respondents admitted to lying about their age, height or income while using these apps. Glass half full or half empty, that’s for you to decide. 

But to say that these apps don’t work would be false, as the success rate is a little under 45 per cent.  With so many different types of dating apps out there, there’s a type of dating app almost for everyone. I suspect with time many people will realize these are great tools when approached and used appropriately. But I just feel they’ll never be able to imitate that spark that randomly happens when you start talking to someone in the line for coffee in MacHall, or the time you said hello to some stranger in that SU club meet and greet and you both hit it off from there and now you two are all about that Netflix and chill. So, some food for thought for next time you swipe left — the outcome may have been different if you met in person. Maybe that special someone was right in front of you in that Timmie’s lineup you endure every day, but you were too busy staring at your phone. Big oof.


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