Let’s be honest, modern dating is no walk in the park. In an unforeseeable turn of events, the days of black-tie balls and courtship have morphed into swipes, cryptic texts and sliding into DMs.
And despite the old-school definition of ‘tinder’ as an object that sparks a fire, all that the modern day app seems to ignite is a finger that’s limp and achy from swiping too much (aka Tinderitis). Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. So, in a valiant effort to reassure you that you’re not alone, here’s a list of cheerful reasons why modern dating sucks.
It’s Confusing AF
Everyone and their mum has been on a dating app these days, Tinder alone has over 10 active million users per day and then there’s Bumble, Happn, Grindr, The Inner Circle, JSwipe….need I go on? I mean, just think of all those people – over 91 million to be exact. Have you ever felt, lost, overwhelmed, consumed within a sea of swipes?
You’re not alone. Jonathan, 23, tells me, ‘It’s really fucking stressful. It’s so stressful, it’s exhausting, there are so many people and you’re trying to be something different for each of them.’ Felicity, 22, also says her experience of modern dating has been a negative one, ‘It can be so frustrating with all this messaging and more frustration comes with the wide variety of choice.’
What Jonathan and Felicity are experiencing is cognitive overload; given too much information, we are simply unable to process it all. Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist and Chief Science Advisor at Match.com describes this as the Paradox of Choice, ‘That’s the problem with the sites and the apps, when you’ve got so many choices, you’re not going to end up committing to anybody.’
She tells me that the brain has a ‘sweet spot’ ranging between 5 and 9 individuals and once we surpass this spot, we hit cognitive overload and it all gets confusing AF. She laughs, ‘I met this guy, he had 12 dates in one week, he couldn’t remember all these women, he had to have a spreadsheet. And of course you end up with no one.’
Dates seem to come along nowadays as frequently as horses bobbing around a fairground carousel, one eHarmony study even found that it was normal to date 6 people at once. This often leads to the feeling that there’s someone better, just around the corner. But as Professor William Brown, co-author of conference report Love Across the Atlantic, explains, ‘love has become a market, which in turn means competition.’ And with more chance of finding your bae, there are also more avenues for failure.
Fisher’s advice – whether it’s through Facebook, a dating app or at a bar – is to ‘stop after you’ve met 9 people, wherever you are, just stop and get to know one of the 9 better.’
It’s Brutal AF
Ghosting, Simmering and Icing are all common parlance now and stories of sexually threatening behaviour on dates seem to pop up all too regularly. Gina, 23, tells me that she got sick of, ‘people cancelling at the start date time, people failing to show up altogether or not even initiating a date at all and just wanting to sext and send or receive erotic photos.’ Nice.
When over 80% of millennials have been ghosted, it’s hard to disagree with Gina when she says that, ‘people’s morals and etiquette surrounding dating has changed entirely. People don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings by not turning up or ditching someone after one date by blocking them on Whatsapp.’
Jonathan argues that these actions are partially a result of people dating more, ‘If you increase the number of dates that you go on and you decrease the standard you set through romantic interaction – there’s going to be an increase in the number of people you’re inadvertently or deliberately a prick to.’ He likens it to people who are social butterflies, ‘they’re always letting people down.’
Young daters can also hide behind the façade of social media, Felicity tells me, ‘you might never see the direct consequences of your actions and it’s far easier to hurt someone when it has no negative impact on you.’ As we’re not privy to the recipient’s reaction, we are stripped of emotional responsibility when interacting online.
Aaron Ben-Ze-ev, author of Love Online: Emotions on the Internet, describes this as the ‘disinhibition effect’, which suggests that people in cyberspace feel more uninhibited due to factors such as invisibility and dissociation, often resulting in the use of rude language or even hateful comments. A problem not exclusive to dating apps, it is reported that 42% of female online daters have experienced some form of verbal abuse online.
To add insult to injury, if you have been dumped, ghosted or worse, the pervasion of social media means it’s increasingly difficult to eradicate that person from your mind. Felicity gasps, ‘I hate the involvement of social media. You can always see what people are doing and that can be negative and stressful if you’ve just stopped dating.’ So, don’t be shy in hitting that unfollow button.
You’ve Gotta Be ‘Chill’
Modern dating is all fun and games, am I right? It’s a party of swipes and no one’s looking to settle down just yet. And if they are, god forbid they admit it. Brad, 24, tells me that looking ‘chill’ is fundamental to flirting for him; ‘the overthought about not looking keen is the most shamefully embarrassing thing. It’s meticulously thought out.’
He adds with a knowing wink, ‘Come on, you’ve done it.’ And I laugh because obviously I have. Felicity tells me, ‘I’m guilty of it too. You want to play it cool and chilled to not seem overly keen as that’s more attractive, but then it presents a problem as you end up maybe not presenting yourself as true.’ It’s like we’re all complicit in this farcical game of ‘chill’. And good luck telling the difference between somebody whose playing it cool and somebody who genuinely doesn’t give a toss.
In a culture where the pill has revolutionised our freedom and Kim Kardashian became one of the most famous people in the world through a sex tape, Erin, 24, tells me that nowadays ‘sex comes first.’ She adds that while sometimes we all just have an itch that needs scratching, ‘It’s almost ‘lame’ to admit to wanting anything more than sex.’
However, Brad tells me his reason for acting so chill is one of reputation, ‘my older sister has friends who are so keen to find a boyfriend and they have reputations of being crazy people. That’s something so scary and just not what I want.’ Resultantly, he argues that ‘you’ve got to manufacture a reputation for yourself like ‘ooh I don’t give a fuck.’
Fisher argues that these sorts of reactions are human, ‘You’re going to find that anywhere in the world. People are scared of getting rejected. Rejection is one of the most powerful things. We feel vulnerable so we protect ourselves.’ While this can be a defence mechanism, Fisher also thinks it is part of the wider social trend of millennials being less willing to commit.
Gina has observed this trend, ‘they’re too scared to commit and someone coming on too strong means they might have to commit to something.’ Fisher argues that while many may shun the noncommittal attitudes and activities of younger generations as ‘reckless behaviour,’ looking at the wider trends she has realised, ‘all this sleeping around is not reckless, it’s caution.’
We are perhaps the first generation to live the consequences of divorce and Fisher argues that we’re ‘terrified’ of divorce, particularly ‘the economic, the financial, the personal and social fallout.’ In response, Fisher says singles today are biding their time, ‘what we’re really seeing is the extension of the pre-commitment stage, or what I call commitment lite.’ Fisher’s overall term for this is slow love, ‘where marriage used to be the beginning of the partnership, now it’s the finale.’ And is that such a bad thing?
DW, There’s Hope
While it’s quite fun to lament at the dating apocalypse triggered by Tinder and the like whilst wagging our fingers into the heavens, we often forget that it is not an alien invasion but an application. An application which users (even ‘snowflake’ millennial users), are perfectly capable of critiquing.
Erin acknowledges, ‘I feel like we, as millennials, are aware that our dating scene is going to shit, so more effort is being put in to be original and different.’ Literally everyone I interviewed said they were now sceptical of dating apps or had just stopped using them completely. While Erin viewed Tinder as ‘boring and repetitive’, she told me, ‘If it’s a “natural” meeting, I have tones of enthusiasm and excitement.’
This idea of a natural or organic meeting seemed to come up a lot, Gina also ‘realised that actually if you were going to meet someone, it was more likely to happen organically. I absolutely hate that word in this context as it is so cliché. But it is so true!’
A large part of what people seemed to view as organic was dating friends or friends of friends. Jonathan added that he thought, ‘the reason that people are like dating’s a minefield, dating’s a nightmare, is because it’s exhausting to be someone you’re not, it’s exhausting to force a round peg into a square box. I’ve always seen the escalation of a romantic relationship as just being the next logical step in a friendship. If you honestly want a rewarding relationship, it’s just an organic thing that happens.’
While apps like Tinder promote the fairytale ideal that ‘any swipe can change your life’ and a connection can emerge from a moment of serendipitous fate, everyone I spoke to seemed sceptical of this. Far from ‘any swipe’, Brad told me that, ‘I think the actual pool of people you would be willing and happy to date – is scarily small.’ Having been on several unsuccessful dates through apps, where he just thought, ‘why am I here?’, he has resolved, ‘I just think mutual friends are key as it means shared interests’ and there’s now a number of apps including HappyGo and Hinge that are harnessing just this. Read more about Hinge here.
Ultimately, our social identity forms a large part of who we are and resultantly, who we’re attracted to. And science backs this up, Fisher explains, ‘the data shows that we do tend to fall in love with somebody from the same socioeconomic background, same general level of intelligence, same general level of good looks, same religious and social values, same economic goals.’ The trick, she tells me, is that ‘we go, to some extent, for the mystery within the familiar.’
All names other than that of the experts have been changed for anonymity.
Amber Roberts can be found tweeting at @AmberRoberts6