Written by Paula Brečak for Self Studies
The ways in which we form relationships, frame love, and understand intimacy are ever-changing. Meanings shift, societies evolve, and what was once unthinkable - like marriage out of love - becomes the norm. A particularly noticeable change in the recent decades is the inclusion of the Internet in love and relationships. Meeting someone online went from being a sketchy activity that everyone was weary of, to a very common way of looking for a romantic or sexual partner.
In 2020, about 1 in 5 women globally used dating apps when looking for a partner, whether for a short-term one night stand type of engagement or for a long-term relationship. In 2022, there were over 366 million users on online dating sites and apps, and this number just keeps on growing. In North America and Western Europe, meeting online is one of the most popular ways of finding love or sex, if not the most popular, depending on the country and the age group. Dating apps are not only our future, they are our very real present. Whether you use them or not is not even that relevant, they are still shaping how we all view, experience, and practice love.
Making Dating Accessible
The pioneers of dating apps are very easily those within the LGBTQ community. When it comes to how many couples met online vs. offline, LGBTQ couples almost always score higher percentages than their heterosexual counterparts. It makes perfect sense. If you are not yet out of the closet, looking for a partner online is the easiest way to find one. Even if you are out, approaching someone to flirt while in public may not be safe. Online dating sites and apps offer a safer space where people can be honest about their sexual orientation or genderqueerness. This makes finding a queer partner far easier than navigating a heteronormative offline dating arena.
A queer person in a homophobic town is not the only one who might find it challenging to meet someone offline. Think about introverts who would rather not go to a crowded party in an effort to get some, or about those with certain disabilities that make it difficult for them to be out and about. For people in older age groups, the difficulty can be that everyone around them is already coupled and in long-term relationships, so they have to expand their search outside of their friend group. If you or what you are looking for falls outside the societal norms on love and sexuality, dating apps can offer a connection to the people you might otherwise not be able to meet. It is a radical change for anyone who though love, relationships, or sex, might not be accessible to them. And now, so much of it is seemingly accessible to everyone.
Dating in a Fast-Paced World
In the game of dating apps, there is little time for self doubt or wrong moves. Accidentally swipe left or reject someone, and they are lost in the void of those 366 million dating apps users. Start the conversation with a boring opener, and face being unmatched. A lot of people know what they want and dating apps allow them to express that clearly. Feeling horny but don’t want to leave your place to find someone to play with tonight? There is an app for that. Wanting to settle down and have children, but tired of having to date for months before breaching this topic with a new partner? There is an app for that as well. There are apps specifically for gay men, for lesbians, for religious people, for non-monogamous people, apps that aim at establishing long-term relationships, and apps that cater to those looking for one night stands.
The speed of modern dating goes hand in hand with the speed of modern living. While previously it might take a while before it is socially acceptable to ask a partner whether they want children or not, now an app asks them that. And if their answer does not match yours, you can decide that they are not the right person for you before even meeting them. Dating apps encourage us to define what we want and to communicate it. Hopefully, once we’ve used those tools to meet a partner, we can keep using them throughout the relationship as well. We have all benefited from dating apps making it easier and more accessible to find and meet people for sex and/or romance. Finding someone, and maybe even the one, is now literally at the reach of your fingertips, just a few (hundred) swipes away.
Paradox of Choice
When the next best thing is just a swipe away, how do you know when to stop and enjoy what you currently have? Love today is a free choice - we are free to be with whom we want, to shape our relationship as we want, and to leave when we want. But there is such a thing as too much choice, paralyzing and uncertain under the pretense of freedom. Just knowing that there might be a better option and that you might be happier if you find it, can ironically lead to less happiness and satisfaction.
Whether we use dating apps or not, we cannot ignore the awareness that to find the next best thing, we only need to download an app and swipe. Leaving a relationship has never been easier. And seemingly, finding someone new, shiny, and exciting has never been easier too. When it comes to dating, the paradox of choice is led by the idea that there is an easy and perfect match for us. In reality, good relationships and lasting love are less about the perfect match, and more about the work we put into them and the ongoing choice we make to stay. When things become difficult in a relationship, it is not so much about whether you would be able to find someone else who might fit you better, but about whether you want to make this relationship work. Every relationship will have difficult moments and times that require work and effort. If you are not ready to commit to love and work, that pattern will repeat in every new relationship, no matter how good of a match you are.
Dating apps give us more choice and they simultaneously make that choice harder. But by doing so, they can accentuate how love is not about just finding the right person - that is the easy part, to be done from within your home, right through your phone. Love is about choosing your person amongst millions of others awaiting at your fingertips.