OOne of the first things I did when a long relationship ended in 2019 was download a dating app – mostly motivated, I must admit, by fantasies about my ex’s reaction to seeing my profile. Since then, I have never really stopped. I sit on it during TV commercial breaks, waiting for the microwave to ring, in all those pockets of time when I used to listen to my own thoughts. In my bed, I lie on my back scrolling until my hand tingles because all the blood has flowed out. Yet, despite my commitment, they didn’t find me a boyfriend, or even much sex. In fact, they did the complete opposite of what I thought they would do when I first heard about them. They don’t make anything easy – they make it much harder.
I was in college when people around me started using Tinder. I had a boyfriend at the time, so I never signed. But I remember being jealous of people who did. It would make it so much easier to find someone, I figured: you wouldn’t have to waste evenings chatting with people in the smoking area only to find out they have a girlfriend, or open the door to rejection by writing your name on a napkin and giving it to a waiter. You just had to decide if you like the look of someone, wait for them to do the same and if so, you can both meet and have sex, or date , As you wish. Applications would make the ambiguity of attraction explicit, obvious.
Granted, my first experience with apps was fun. As I walked out of the subway station to my date, I pulled out my headphones and thought about how exciting it was to spend the whole evening getting to know this stranger. The apps allowed me to interact with people outside of my comfortable circle of journalist friends. There was the delivery boy I met in a pub five minutes from mine who liked heavy metal because he had heard that if you listened to it at the gym it made your heart rate go up; who pointed to the corner store where he could never buy liquor because the owner knew his mother. There were disappointments too, like the guy who spent 12 minutes trying to find this video of him on ketamine because it was “really funny” (it wasn’t). But even when things didn’t go as planned, they were still in motion, there were opportunities, there were people saying, “Are you for Thursday?”
Over time, these dates have become rarer. Instead of asking you out, they would ask for your Instagram ID and then occasionally send you flame emojis in reaction to the selfies. If you did end up meeting, they often disappeared after the third date, or you would. I started to feel like everything fell into your hands. Finding an appointment was tiring, if not impossible. Apps put many hidden obstacles in your way to find someone, and after a while people stopped trying to get around them.
Part of the problem is that apps give you so many options that no one ever seems to be the right one. You might have had a lot of fun with this sexy throaty laughing lawyer, but the girl with a meme about landlords on her profile might seem like more your type. So you stop answering, often without explanation, and it’s easier when you met on an app because they don’t know any of your friends, don’t work in the same building as you, don’t run into your world. You can ghost them without any repercussions on your actions. No judgement.
Even the thrill of meeting a wide range of people quickly fades, because after a while the algorithm seems to identify your type and starts showing you countless carbon copies of the same person. (To me, that usually means a guy in a fleece with a little earring doing documentaries.)
In retrospect, it seems pretty naïve of me to think that apps would lead to connections. Hinge’s tagline is “Designed to be removed”, but if that were true it wouldn’t have much of a business model – which is why every day you’re tempted by a notification stating your “most compatible” on the application.
Ten years after Tinder’s reign, are we going to start leaving? There have been signs – recent articles about the decline of apps, articles offering tips for meeting people offline. But going back in time may not be so easy. Apps allowed us to separate our romantic lives from general socializing, so now when you go out you don’t really think about meeting someone – it’s become something you do while you wait for the water of the shower warms up. Sometimes I’m with real hot men at a party and don’t even check them in until the next day when my anxious brain is spinning all night obsessing over every mistake I’ve made.
Of course, love always happens, despite everything. People respond even when they are tired from work, they show up at 6.30pm on Tuesdays even though it means they will be fined four pounds for missing their spinning class. “We have to break the cycle! commanded my friend who met her boyfriend on an app. “Get through nonchalance!”
A few days later, I had the opportunity to try. I matched with a man I had matched with three times on different apps. “Not you yet,” he messaged. To which I replied: “Here we go again”. There was something oddly romantic about it – like we were these star-crossed lovers, brought together by several different methods of algorithmic organization, all the stats and patterns pointing us in each other and then away. . If only we could fight through our lethargy, through another “so how was your weekend?” conversation, maybe we could find something real. Maybe we’ll stick around to learn each other’s favorite type of sandwich, the birthmark on top of their shoulder. So I told her that I was free that week, even though I had to take a train to my parents’ house. I took this into account when developing my hair washing schedule.
Needless to say we never met.