When I joined the dating scene 17 years ago (oh my gosh, I'm old!) people met at weddings, parties, bars, through friends or work. When online dating first appeared, it was regarded as a bit of a taboo, raised eyebrows and spoken about in hushed tones with the implication that it was weird if you "couldn't" meet someone the traditional way.
Nowadays the norm is downloading an app, swiping left or right, chatting about relatively boring things before agreeing to meet up in real life and see how it goes. Romance is when the person you've been seeing deletes Tinder.
I'm still trying to wrap my rather old fashioned head around this approach because, despite seeing the benefits (widening options, convenience for hectic lifestyles, accessibility) and having many friends who have met their S.O. online, I am more struck by the negatives (not just my fear of crazy stalker killers) and think that perhaps in our quest to digitalise dating, we've lost the human aspect of it.
I've noticed that people don't talk to one another anymore. We are in an era of instant gratification, we can have anything at any time and that now extends to romantic dalliances. These apps dehumanize people and objectify them: We swipe left or right based on purely physical attraction, when in reality, chemistry and attraction can manifest after a good conversation, shared joke, or simply time. By limiting our interactions to online, we are potentially losing out on those moments that build truly great relationships.
I'm not, for a single second, saying they can't exist within the confines of those who we've "matched" with, nor am I discounting the importance of being attracted to your partner but simply pointing out that attraction stems from more than a great smile and chiseled abs. The last person I fell in love with was someone who, while good looking, also made me laugh beyond what I thought capable and it was THAT which resulted in me finding him the sexiest man on the planet...something I might not have discovered if I'd come across him on an app.
The online dating from 5 years ago, the Match.coms of the world differ greatly from popular culture apps like Tinder. The former are based on algorithms promoting compatibility whereas the latter is far more superficial.
Tinder, Bumble and even some of the more old school sites also provide a security blanket that we don't get in real life dating:
1. There is no sting of rejection and little risk. If you "like" someone who doesn't "like you back," the sinking feeling of rejection, warm face, and moment of self doubt doesn't occur. Your ego remains intact. In fact, you're probably swiping right to so many people that you won't even know someone hasn't swiped back for you. There is little risk.
2. Instant gratification trumps establishing a bond. I have harped on and on about the importance of chemistry and how it either exists or not, but digital dating allows us to make almost no concessions for the notion that, often times, things build over time and we can't get a read on a person or situation over a coffee. Before we had endless options, we'd go on several dates with someone before declaring them a dud. These days, our expectations are so high, and we are so addicted to this notion of perfection that if the first date isn't great, we move on to our next match. Again, i'm certainly not suggesting we settle for mediocrity or continue to date weirdos, but fireworks and cartwheels aren't always instantaneous.
3. The probability of your ego being validated with a match within each session is high. In real life? Not so much. I don't care how gorgeous, smart, or engaging you are: everyone has dry spells but with dating apps, you never do. There are always more options.
4. You don't have to do much work. It's all there in front of you. When you're out-why speak to the cute guy/girl a few steps away? That's effort-plus what's the point? You have someone at your fingertips. It means people go out and essentially remain insular within their own group-which is a bit sad. Romantic component aside: the world is full of fascinating people and some of them are standing beside you as you order your g&t. You can never have too big of a network.
5. We don't see people as people. I'm all about not putting all of your eggs in one basket but "chatting" with six to seven people at any given time is impersonal, not to mention, completely exhausting. It also means they're basically interchangeable and relatively forgettable. It becomes easier to ignore them, ghost them, or write them off for a minor offense. I have often spoken about not settling for less than what we deserve, but am finding that tolerance levels are at an all time low. (I am as guilty of this as the next person, writing someone off for a text that I perceive as dumb or dislike the tone of.) We don't care because we don't actually know the person, we haven't invested anything real so therefore it's easier to delete them from our memory. (To be fair, texts are so often misconstrued from people that we DO know, that strangers barely have a chance to make it past our screens to real life.)
I've had countless conversations about this recently, trying to figure out why. Why people don't speak to one another anymore and the answers are identical: "dating apps are easy" and some variation of "fear/risk/rejection." In our mission for efficiency and self preservation we're losing the plot and a bit of our humanity. What happened to doing something that scares us? Or the fact that with great risks come great rewards? If you read an interview with the world's most successful people, they talk of risk, the unknown, and how they forged ahead anyway, following their dream. Because in their mind, the positives of potential far outweighed the negatives of failure, or the unknown of not trying. Why not apply these same techniques to love?
I don't think the answer is to forgo dating apps and sites, because, negatives aside, there are positives, namely the ability to meet someone you would not otherwise meet. What I am saying is that we've gone too far in the other direction. Just as online dating was once met with incredulity, IRL (that's "in real life" for those non millennials) connections are now met with the same shock and wariness. We thinks it's weird and are suspicious if a stranger sparks up a conversation with us, something must be wrong with them. Smiling and eye contact is received with a stare down.
It's almost comical that despite many seeking out a long term partnership, actually securing one is a challenge. It doesn't seem to matter if our end goals are the same, we struggle on the path of getting there for simple and obvious reasons: chemistry, compatibility and commitments. I think the answer is to combine the both: embrace the opportunities and options presented by digital, but don't stop real life interactions. Talk to that cute girl/guy at the other side of the room. Worst case scenario they scream and run away (unlikely) but maybe, just maybe they'll turn out to be the love of your life.
Thanks to everyone who partook in conversations around this subject, including: my friends who met via app; men I met via app who patiently spoke with me about this; friends; and the IRL romances who have kept my standards high, my heart full and my idealism intact.