It’s completely bizarre to me that I have been in a relationship since before dating apps were a thing. The idea of being able to swipe left on someone is something that didn’t exist when my partner and I got together, and I often wonder how something like Tinder would have changed the outcome of my romantic relationships had they been available when I was 21.
Back in the day, a few people dabbled tentatively with e-Harmony, to mixed results, but with the advent of Grindr, Tinder and the like, it’s become more acceptable than ever to meet your date through an online service. And people do. 17% of married couples in the last 12 months met through a dating app, which is a really impressive statistic when you think about the horror stories you’ve heard from your friends. So, they do work for some people. But they also don’t work for many people, and, naturally, there are a plethora of theories as to why. As a person that has been in a relationship for seven years and has only ever used Tinder when someone has allowed her to play with their account at a party, I can’t ignore the feeling that these platforms offer an amazing opportunity to meet people outside your social circle, but at the same time, are encouraging people to view each other as utterly disposable.
I’m not going to explore this theory, it’s been done to death. You look at a picture, it doesn’t tickle your pickle, so you swipe left (I had to google that). At first, my thoughts on this were that it’s a similar situation when you’re on the dance floor at a nightclub, or sitting on the couch at a friend’s house party. You scan the room and mentally give potential suitors the yes or no. Sound about right? I thought that real life was equally superficial and that dating apps just cut to the chase more efficiently. So I ask you to consider this. You see a guy or girl at a party and think they are attractive. Next time you go outside to smoke a cigarette, you pick a seat near that person, and you overhear them talking, and realise that their high pitched squeals about their passion for Justin Bieber are not to your liking. So you ditch the idea. Sure, they have a pretty face, but you want someone you can talk to. You stay in your seat and happen to get talking to someone you didn’t notice, who, on closer inspection, has dreamy eyes and an attractive proclivity for forming perfectly nuanced arguments. He or she has been there the whole time but you never even gave them a second thought.
The funny thing about looking at a picture of a person with the objective of dating them is that it’s well documented that people don’t know what they want. Being overwhelmed by choice is the modern curse, and is thought to lead to greater levels of dissatisfaction and misery. If you ask me what my type is, I’d tell you that I’m into dark haired, dark eyed South American guys. If you asked me to pick a movie star that I find sexy, I’d choose Orlando Bloom. In reality, my boyfriends have included two blondes, one hairy Italian and one vertically challenged Eurasian. I didn’t know what I wanted, and I’m not alone. And even if some of these relationships didn’t work out, they were part of my journey, mistakes I made in order to learn about what it takes to be happy. Either way, deciding that you’re attracted to a person based on a photograph clearly only represents one side of the story.
The other side, one might argue, is chemistry. The assumption is that once you match with someone on a dating app, you go with a date with them and you either have chemistry with them or you don’t. The problem is that, in my experience, that’s not the way it plays out in real life. I have met boyfriends through hobbies, work, and friends. There was no instant spark with any of them (except my current partner), in fact I can safely say that with 3 of the 4, I’ve been actively interested in someone else when they made a move on me, pushing their way into my romantic consciousness, resulting in a relationship. So they weren’t right for me, but does that make it a mistake? And is a mistake such a bad thing? Making mistakes is how we learn what we do and don’t want, mistakes are how we learn to be happy.
My concern, as an old fart, is that it feels like there is a lot of over-analysis happening in the very early stages of the dating cycle. People immediately ask themselves, is there chemistry/ attraction/ common ground? We start gazing deep into the distance, trying to predict whether he’ll have an affair, or remember your anniversary, or be a great dad. People go on first dates and expect fireworks and surety, but ask yourself, did you turn up to your first day of a job, meet the team over lunch, and immediately feel romantic chemistry with one of your colleagues? Is it the romantic context of a date that encourages people to think that romance should be active and present at all times? If your pulse doesn’t quicken, does it really mean that he’s a dud and doesn’t deserve a second date? Goddamn, whatever happened to getting to know each other?! When one close friend told me about a recent first date on Tinder, her words were something along the lines of “there was no spark”, and I was proud of her. I thought, go girl! Don’t settle! But who says that giving someone a couple of dates to come out of their shell is settling? The idea that you can truly know someone enough to spark with them on a first date is ludicrous when you really think about it. Like a job interview, there is no way that everyone represents themselves accurately on the first meeting. Even most job candidates get a second interview, so I urge you, if he or she is not a scary or horrid or smelly, go on that second date! Going on a second date is not settling. It’s being thorough.
It makes sense that success in the world of online dating is dominated by outgoing, conventionally attractive people. Forget it if you’re shy, or a weirdo, or have that slow-grow beauty, or dress in a less-than-flirtatious way. You’ve missed your chance; it’s over before it began.
Perhaps we all need to date more like we did in our twenties, which was, by my recollection, almost by accident, until something better came along. So you’d have these experiences with relationships, you’d figure yourself out, you’d gain confidence through being wanted, you’d give people a chance. Now that we’re in the “settling down” zone of our early thirties, people seem to have this sense of urgency, which I totally understand but don’t at the same time. We are flicking through potential partners like we would a magazine at a hairdresser, terrified of wasting time or settling. Here’s the thing. People are like magazines. You buy it, take it to the beach, flick through it once. You’re relatively interested; nice pictures, good headlines. Then you give it a second read later when you’re on the couch and find an article that you didn’t see before, so you make a mental note to come back to it when you have time, read it properly, ponder it. When you do, it prompts you to look something up online, learn more. After two or three reads, you’re done. You put it on your shelf and commit to buying next month’s issue, because it has proven itself to you. Do you invest in a magazine, only to throw it away after you’ve flicked through it once? No (at least, I hope not)! I am not asking you to subscribe to a magazine without ever having read it, but I am asking you to at least read it properly on at least two separate occasions before passing judgement.
Many people regret failed relationships, but I don’t, because those men have made up the rich soup that is my life. None of them cost me anything at all. Yes, there were terrible heartbreaks, but life is nothing with heartbreak and disappointment and picking yourself up and moving forward, it really is. And people are allowed, neigh, entitled to break up with a person that they aren’t in love with. That’s not a crime. What is a crime is writing someone off before you can possibly even begin to know them. So, from a person that’s never used a dating app in a real way, here’s how I think you should use them. Swipe right on people that don’t look like a serial killer. Try to go on one date every so often, and if the person isn’t a serial killer in real life, go on another one with that person. They might surprise you, or you might surprise you, and if not, you’ve lost nothing but your Wednesday night.