The decade's most triggering comedy
The online world of romance is changing as young users demand more from their dating apps, but the question remains as to whether these changes will make a difference in the overall sense of isolation affecting young people.
Young people have grown accustomed to using the internet to find love, and more recently, to discover friendships. Potential relationships are endlessly dangled in front of users, but this can prove altogether overwhelming. As it provides a constant, inescapable reminder of the countless possible connections at one’s fingertips, the internet can further deepen the feelings of loneliness hanging over this generation.
Over the course of the past several years, online dating has moved from a solitary practice sometimes met with stigma to a more common way to find a romantic partner. The number of people using online dating techniques has held steady in recent years. According to a Pew Research survey from 2022, 30% of U.S. adults said they had “ever used a dating site or an app,” which was the same as three years prior. The most popular service was Tinder, with around 46% of respondents saying they had utilized it. The app recently released its Future of Dating Report, which showed that people in Generation Z are more interested in making sure they are taking care of themselves when it comes to dating — and are interested in finding romantic partners who agree. This demographic also puts certain characteristics on a pedestal, like loyalty and respect — coming in at 79% and 78%; and 61% of them put a high value on open-mindedness.
Tinder’s Global Relationship Insights Expert, Paul Brunson, sees promise in the new generation’s dating style. Brunson stated that “Gen Z will have the most successful marriages yet. Why? Because they’re investing in emotional well-being and clear communication.”
Yet despite the positive outlook and high rates of activity on these apps, users are not entirely satisfied with their results. A recent Currys study out of the United Kingdom found that Tinder had the highest rate of success out of 15 apps and sites. However, the notorious swipe-right/swipe-left app still had a lower success rate in 2022 than it did the year prior, a drop of about 5%. Almost every online dating venue showed a dip in reported successful relationships.
The low levels of success might be causing another movement as well. The younger generation is using dating sites for purposes other than finding romance — they are simply using them to make friends. Bumble BFF is a new way the ladies-first dating app is helping users find friendship. Conversely, Gen Z is turning to social media sites like Instagram to romantically connect with people instead of dating apps like Tinder. According to a February report from YPulse, 39% of 13 to 39-year-olds had “met a romantic partner on social media.” In contrast, only 29% had found someone to date on a dating app.
Instagram’s 2023 Trend Report supported this, pointing out that social media can create a more comfortable environment for people to share their feelings and emotions than being in person. “More than half of Gen Z social media users feel more comfortable being vulnerable online and over text than in person. On Instagram, DMs and messaging continue to drive connection and conversation between friends and love interests,” the report noted.
Gen Z may be shifting the way they date online, but the fact that online sources are needed to make friendly connections points to a deeper void in the social circles of young people. It could also be an indication of a change in culture: the rise of remote work and schooling has led to an inability for many people to easily find peers with whom they might connect.
While Gen Z searches for meaningful connections, they have retreated from doing so in classic ways, such as through traditional religion. According to the American Survey Center, “Generation Z is the least religious generation yet,” with 34% of them unaffiliated with a religion. Data from the Springtide Research Institute found that one out of three Gen Z adults said they believed in a higher power, which was an increase from 2021. However, many have said that they are more interested in non-denominational and interdenominational practices rather than traditional religion.
Even as they search for spiritual alignment and relationships over the web, this is still a generation awash in loneliness. The more connections people make over the internet does not appear to have a positive correlation with how connected they feel to those around them. In fact, the high amounts of time spent online might ultimately drag them down. According to Pew Research Center data from 2018, 45% of teenagers aged 13 to 17-years-old said that they were online almost constantly, with 44% saying they were on it several times a day. Almost a third of Gen Z and Millennials say they feel lonely often or all the time.
Thanks to the internet, the opportunity for friendship and romance appears to be readily available at any time. The disheartening reality, however, is that not everyone can be reached.
The younger generation is searching for connection — whether to a spiritual being or to one another. The internet can provide this initial spark, but it threatens to replace real interactions with a false sense of intimacy. It will ultimately be up to the users to decide if it will benefit their generation and generations to come — or not.