The decade's most triggering comedy
In theory, online dating should be great. There is a wide range of dating apps and sites with differing personas. Singles have so many more options and can scroll through carefully polished profiles as they wait for their post-brunch Ubers. The reality, however, is less romantic. What appears to be the perfect modern solution for the age-old challenge of finding a life partner may actually be making your goal more difficult.
Yes, certain sites, like Christian Mingle and eHarmony, cater to those looking for a serious relationship or marriage. And many are.
Yet the more mainstream applications and sites seem to have alternative end goals. As Jon Birger, journalist and author of Make Your Move: The New Science of Dating and Why Women Are in Charge, has pointed out, in the 2019 annual report of Match Group — the parent company of Match, Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish, — the words, “married, marriage, wedding, couple, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, husband, and wife” do not appear.
Such dating apps make a profit, not by creating permanent couples, but “by attracting new customers and by retaining old ones,” Birger notes. “A lot of apps like Tinder make money off advertising, too. So, every time a Match or Tinder member gets married and stops using the apps, that’s one fewer paying customer.” Further, he adds, “Tinder, Match, and OkCupid do not want to get you off the market. They want to transform you into lifelong shoppers.”
Match Group “admits as much in its annual report, boasting that ‘successful experiences … drive repeat usage.’ Translation: Start dating someone terrific on Tinder, and you’ll keep returning to the app to find someone even more terrific.” For many, the combination of this perverse incentive structure and the addictive nature of the apps leads to a cyclical lackluster experience that goes on for years.
Of course, dating applications (like job placement services) must be mindful of maintaining a positive reputation to attract people in the first place, and “marriage” not appearing in the annual report of Match Group is also a reflection of shifting views on relationships. Yet, it is also the case that dating applications develop and promote a virtual dating culture of their own, sometimes mimicking how women and men normally tend to interact with one another, and other times exacerbating and elevating the most negative of human impulses.
The user-selected filters (such as height preferences) on the sites and apps vary. Some are more robust and substantive, others sparser and shallower. All have benefits and downsides. They necessarily narrow a daunting pool of people.
But many apps impose additional algorithmic filters of their own that give top priority to looks, and users are sometimes filtering out people virtually they might very well consider in person. (Physical attraction is certainly important, but dating profiles that are almost solely comprised of photos, like those on Tinder, operate as hook-up advertisements.) There is a delightful mystery to attraction and compatibility that defies algorithmic precision.
Personal filters are also only useful if users know what they’re looking for in a partner, which is not always the case. Those in their 20s seldom have a clear and immutable vision of their futures, as indicated by the fact that the average college student changes his or her major at least three times. Further, in “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: Report of a 25-Year Study,” University of California, Berkley professor Judith S. Wallerstein and San Francisco State University professor Julia M. Lewis found that children of divorced parents are often unsure of what to value and look for in their future spouses. And the generations migrating to dating apps are the least likely to have been raised by both parents.
Unsurprisingly, men and women filter through profiles in different ways. Men tend to take a scatter-shot approach, liking a high number of profiles in hopes of a few reciprocations they will later comb through in more detail. They generally outnumber women on the apps, sometimes two to one. As a result, women can become overwhelmed and bombarded by messages from men who may or may not have read their profiles. Women’s way of filtering is to raise their standards and sometimes dismiss men for minor flaws or infractions. Many men and women imagine there is someone better out there and become addicted to the slot machine-like experience of scrolling through seemingly unlimited profiles.
In addition to being deflated by cognitive dissonance, female users of dating apps and platforms can develop a skewed perspective of men. The majority of female online daters have been sent an unsolicited sexually explicit image or message. Individuals who utilize dating apps are more likely to engage in sexual deception, have negative drinking and sexual behaviors, and have adversarial sexual beliefs (“e.g. how much participants agreed with statements like ‘Sex is like a game where one person ‘wins’ and the other ‘loses’”). These are not preconditions for positive interactions and can influence future dating behavior; women, more than men, report being single because they are afraid of getting hurt.
Women “swipe right” only about 30% of the time, and men with above-average combined income and education receive about three times as much interest than those with average income and education levels. Dating app algorithms also boost the most “liked” profiles. As a result of these dynamics, a small percentage of male users receive a lot of attention. Often, they do not want to commit to a relationship, and a hook-up culture prevails.
Some will find online dating exciting for a while, and others really will find love. But what’s next for those who, finally frustrated with dating apps, give up on romance altogether? Many still wish to have a family. Turns out, there’s an app for that too. Just a Baby, which matches co-parents and sperm and egg donors “is like Tinder on prenatal steroids,” and the app Nodal is “Bumble for surrogacy.”
Such applications seem like the next step for those left unmoored by the tech trajectory. As one Millennial woman preparing to freeze her eggs for the second time remarked, “I believe social media has ruined dating: It’s a hook-up culture, and no one gets to know each other long enough to know if they would be suitable partners beyond the romantic sense. Oftentimes I’d go on meaningless dates, get stood up, blown off, or ghosted. How will those odds ever lead to a successful marriage or kids? Likely it won’t. And it’s rather exhausting.”
The dynamics of dating apps are disheartening, and polls indicate that about half of users have found the experience very or somewhat negative. This could open up the opportunity for creative ways of introducing singles in person, like speed dating, matchmaking, or singles’ events. Moreover, being cognizant of the negative impacts of the tech trajectory and where it leads will hopefully encourage singles to prioritize more traditional and embodied means of meeting: through friends, family, and at church.
That’s easier said than done, and to be sure, it requires a fair amount of work. But considering the exhausting and dispiriting experience of online dating today, surely it’s worth the effort.
Brenda M. Hafera is the assistant director and senior policy analyst for the Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.