My qualms with dating apps: The new shopping experience

Photo of a iPhone homescreen, focusing on dating apps
Maddie Fruman/Staff

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I’ll be frank about my experiences with dating apps. I’ve navigated Bumble and Tinder a tad bit during strange periods when the dating river had run dry, during which I went on a total of three quite regrettable dates. Each of those were troubling and deepened my suspicion toward the plausible turnout of the apps. I was fully aware of how much I hated the way in which they’ve morphed our standards of meeting people, but I repeatedly chose to fall victim to them. In hindsight, I can’t help but wonder if dating apps are ruining our perception of organic relationships. 

The first experience of my short-lived dating app saga began with a seemingly interesting guy on Tinder. We talked over the phone for a few days and he seemed sweet, in an underwhelming, Los Angeles skater sort of fashion; he touted his reluctance to hold a job and living on his friend’s couch as what made him edgy. In short, the date was an utter flop. It began with a few drinks in Echo Park as he showed me his various tattoos of skate brands, one of which was the logo of Spitfire Wheels up in flames on his right calf, complemented by Thrasher’s slogan, “Skate and Destroy,” on the left calf. Before I knew it, he had lulled me so heavily into boredom that I drank enough Moscow mules to consequently throw up in the park. I quickly caught an Uber home and never spoke to him again. 

The other two dates can essentially be summed up as one repetitive regret; it appeared that neither of their Bumble profiles had used photos from within the last three years, and both of them were looking for something far more serious than I was. Those dates made me nauseatingly self-aware of the dating hole I had fallen into — completely lackluster and practically oozing with desperation. 

I haven’t used any dating apps in quite some time, but even when I had, I couldn’t explain my purpose in doing so. It was a vicious cycle of knowing I wouldn’t find anything genuine, doing it anyway, being completely unenthused, deleting my accounts and then starting over. I’m not entirely sure what trapped me into signing up for them in the first place; I’ve had several very meaningful relationships that began organically and have dated plenty of other people who I met the old-fashioned way: by going out and not being afraid to engage with strangers. I knew that I didn’t need these platforms, yet I was lured into their trap time and time again by the temptation that maybe, for once, it would work out. I can’t explain how I made the mistake of returning to these apps, but I’m vowing to myself to not make it again. This begins with boycotting the apps all together. 

The reasons for my boycott are extensive, but they begin with the nature in which dating apps contort the first interactions of a relationship. The butterflies of an in-person conversation with a stranger simply cannot be replicated by swiping right or direct messaging. I live for the nervous moments of uncertainty when you first meet someone — when you’re too afraid to make eye contact, but also too afraid not to. 

I live for the nervous moments of uncertainty when you first meet someone — when you’re too afraid to make eye contact, but also too afraid not to. 

Swiping through face after face of complete strangers cuts out all of the effort of working up the courage to make the first move. When I’m swiping left for 10 straight minutes on far too many shirtless profile pictures, I may as well just be window shopping. It takes the act of dating and turns it into a consumer experience; I’m simply adding a bunch of men to my shopping cart, then deciding later if they’re enticing enough to check out. The entire experience has become almost as senseless and iniquitous as shopping on Amazon. I shouldn’t be able to add a person to my queue of potential boyfriends as easily as I can add laundry detergent to my Amazon cart!

And just like shopping, satisfaction never seems to instil itself. After going through the repetitive steps of getting to know someone, sending them songs, maybe a selfie or two and then finally going on a date, you will always have the reassurance that you have an app full of other contenders. We’ve completely lost any obligation and willingness to work something out when it fails to meet our standards. 

Which brings me to another point: Dating apps have morphed our standards for meeting people. I’m speaking entirely out of experience when I say that we use these platforms looking for very poignant characteristics, limiting ourselves from a scope of experiences and opinions. I set a handful of rules for myself on dating apps: It’s an absolute no to anyone who posts shirtless pictures, and nearly always a yes to anyone who climbs. In the normal world of meeting people face-to-face, I’ve always been lured by people with strong personalities who like to get outdoors and listen to funky music, but there’s no way to detect how authentic someone’s bio truly is. Almost like a product on a shelf, they’re just marketing themselves for the right consumer, and I will never be comfortable with the inauthenticity of it. 

On the flip side, I would be lying if I claimed to not market myself. My bio is carefully curated to not say too much, but just enough to lure in the type of people who would get a kick out of it. I connect my Spotify to attract people with a similar music sense, and I throw in some pictures outdoors to grab the right crowd. It’s not quite inauthentic, but it will never show who I fully am. 

When I would go to a bar or party pre-pandemic, it was difficult not to notice how flirting has changed for the worse as a result of these apps. I like to pride myself in being able to talk to people I may never see again, but while I’m almost far too eager to confront an attractive stranger, too many of my friends would rather cling to their phones and hide in the shadows. It feels as if dating apps have given us the ability to duck out of real in-person contact, knowing that they have copious options just a few swipes away. It’s created a buffer around our fear of rejection; when you’re in the constant loop of swiping left and right, you may forget you ever swiped right on someone who you were, in fact, rejected by. But when you confront someone vis-à-vis, you have to reckon with the fact that they may not be interested. 

All in all, I fear for the world that dating apps have created. I fear that we have cut out the nature of meeting someone for the first time that I value most: the giggles, blushing and butterflies. It’s created too much certainty that each person is at least interested at face value, removing the chance to muster courage and strike up a conversation. Dating apps have taken all the worst parts of capitalism, including the endless shopping that can never be satisfied, and applied it to something that should be intimate. They’re an easy outlet for the times when we don’t know how to just be alone, providing endless shallow interactions with people we may never even meet.

Contact Nat Gott at [email protected].