As our lives migrate into the virtual space and apps become the tools of today, it was only a matter of time before dating went digital. While we’re buried in our smartphones searching for a shot at love, we can’t help but wonder: what if love is right in front of us and we’re too busy swiping left and right to see?
In any modern love story, the bit that we’re always dying to know is how it all began. We want to know how Harry met Sally; how poor Jack swept rich Rose off her feet; how John Cusack held a boombox over his head and won the heart of a girl out of his league. Whether it’s destiny, luck, or something as simple as chance, all of these narratives tell of how two people come together to find true love out of pure circumstance. But in today’s world of dating where we look for love on a screen and chance is replaced by choice, what prospect do we have of living out a classic love story of our own?
Visit any reputable app store and the sheer volume and variety of dating apps on the market are indicative of how the game has changed. Apps specially designed to target the race, age, sexual orientation, religion, marital status and even financial position of our dream partners are available at the tap of a finger – and we haven’t even gotten to Tinder yet. The app that has taken the world by storm has matched up a reported eight billion connections since its inception in 2012, with approximately one billion ‘swipes’ per day. With those kinds of numbers, it’s likely we’ve got better odds of securing Saturday night plans by swiping through profiles during our lunch breaks than buying a drink for someone at a bar.
Millions of people are fine-tuning their search for suitors and cherry-picking the crème da le crème of online admirers – so why does finding love feel as loveless as ever? The socially awkward now have the chance to present themselves in their best light through careful profile preparation; confident mavericks no longer need to go from club to club scouting for ‘talent’; high-maintenance singles quoting Marilyn Monroe in their bios can lay out their expectations from the get-go to avoid disappointment. Despite the tools and opportunities being at our fingertips, why do we feel an ever-growing fatalism each time we open these apps? If Tinder is “like real life, but better”, then why are we still waiting for Jerry Maguire to burst through the door to tell us we complete him? Perhaps, with all of the conveniences of social networking services to do the legwork, we’ve forgotten how to be truly ‘social’ in the process.
In addition to studies suggesting that dating apps are changing the way our brains work by oversimplifying our choices into “yes” and “no” decisions – while furthering a disconnect between our human counterparts – there are more obvious problems that hit closer to home in the landscape of app-aided relationships. Where’s the line between having casual fun and becoming a booty call? What are the rules on meeting new matches once you’ve clicked with a newfound sweetheart? How soon do you remove the app once you think you’ve found ‘the one’? As the anxiety of these questions mount, so too do our fears of commitment when there’s an endless pool of candidates to immediately substitute a contender who isn’t what we thought they’d be.
“Like the first man whom was given fire, we’ve been given speed dating on steroids – and we just don’t know what to do with it.”
Blame the Game or the Player?
Despite the bemoaned cries of pre-millennials wishing for simpler times, it wouldn’t be fair to solely blame technology for our increasingly antisocial habits. In the same way a car needs a driver in order to be considered dangerous, an app needs users to inform the kind of behaviour that prevails. As we now have the opportunity to package our personalities in ways we may not be able to with face-to-face encounters, we’re also granted a pipeline with which we can engage in unrestrained, unregulated behaviour. Like the first man whom was given fire, we’ve been given speed dating on steroids – and we just don’t know what to do with it. So we swipe past profiles that don’t tick every box, become verbally aggressive when we don’t get what we want, and send photos of our junk to poor, unsuspecting souls just looking for a Romeo. And like inexperienced drivers, some singles just aren’t ready to take the wheel.
The problem exists in applying a rational, methodical approach to searching for something that defies rationality. Like the highlight reels we curate on social media staples like Facebook and Instagram, we omit the vital things that exist between the frames of our splintered personas; the unglamorous moments that directors keep out of the final cut; the mannerisms and imperfections that can’t be translated into an app, but will win over a stranger without us even knowing it. Dating apps may’ve removed the often-brutal gauntlet of mustering up the courage to ask someone on a date, but they’ve also severed the spontaneity that makes us human – the spontaneity that could mean the difference between a fling and a lifelong journey.
Perhaps it’s time to rediscover the joys and pains of connecting as humans again, in all its awkward, unflattering, charming, and endearing glory. Maybe then, when we’re looking ahead instead of down into our screens, we’ll get to live out a love story of our own that’s worthy of turning into a movie.