Like any good millennial, you can often find me swiping through the sea of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes to be found within a seven-mile radius from whichever dark corner is currently being illuminated by my phone screen. Of all the many apps available, I’m a Tinder gal myself—I find that a strong sense of brand loyalty really comes out to play on the issue of dating apps—and I’ve used it to meet people all over the world. With the help of my trusty app, I’ve crashed Iowa State University parties while in town for the 2016 caucuses; I’ve discovered the secret world of full moon parties on a nude beach in my hometown of San Diego; I’ve compared U.S. and South African beauty standards in Cape Town; and I’ve kissed lots and lots of faces in Boston, where I went to school, and right here in New York City. Tinder and I have an on-and-off relationship, as I frequently delete it when I feel like I’ve exhausted its potential to inflate my ego and then redownload it when I feel like I need shake things up in my life. Overall, my usage of dating apps is relatively normal and, dare I say, healthy for a sexually curious and ambiverted 20-something in 2018.
That all said, my opinions of dating app culture aren’t unconflicted. Do I wish that I didn’t have to try to sell a very carefully curated and shallow image of myself to a thousand strangers everyday just to feel like I have any chance of touching a warm body in the near future? Sure. And then, of course, there’s the question on everybody’s mind: How does the use of dating apps affect our ability to meet and “court” (ew) one another in real life? I don’t necessarily have the answer to that question, but based on my limited knowledge I actually believe that most young people—emotionally stunted and socially confused as we may be—secretly crave connection, even if we don’t necessarily know how to forge it, or simply refuse to. I’m convinced that most people in my generation are massively hopeless romantics, but we feel disempowered from turning quiet desires into real-life romance.
Based upon my personal history with dating apps, I have a lot of material to which I can point for evidence of such. First, I do need to acknowledge that I know I’ve been very fortunate with my Tinder experiences. In real life, I’ve managed to avoid the creeps that so many women rightfully complain about. In truth, I’ve really only been on one horrible date with a Tinder match, and the worst parts about it were the tone of his voice and the frequency and inaccuracy with which he used the qualifier “quasi” in a sentence. For all the terrible and awkward meet-ups that you hear about resulting from online dating, I’ve had shocking success—and, empirically, I can say that’s because the people worth meeting up with through a dating app are near exceptional communicators to begin with. Dating apps have revealed ease of conversation and personality to be a much rarer and much more valuable form of social currency than we ever knew it to be before the era of the swipe. On Tinder, you will simply not have luck if you fail to be a stellar communicator; you will either be forgotten or unforgettably awkward. There’s no middle ground anymore; you can no longer get by on good looks alone. You really have to stand out.
Perhaps the sheer volume of other single people parading around our phone screens does numb our emotional intelligence a bit. Maybe what feels like constant disappointment and rejection and confusion does confuse our ability to determine what’s really an “appropriate” way to date in the modern era. But dating apps are not ruining communication in person. They are simply making it much more of an art form, where only the best rise to the surface.
Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes