While Bumble recently blocked Sharon Stone’s account after multiple reports came in claiming her account was “fake”, figures like Channing Tatum and Pete Buttigieg – who met his current husband, Chasten, on Hinge – turn to dating apps. Margaret Valenti discusses the pros and cons of an emerging generation using dating apps as the primary avenue to form romantic relationships.

Everything is online these days, even dating. It is nearly impossible to get a date without going on a dating app first and even if you manage to find companionship outside of a dating app, the online world is a key element in forming and maintaining relationships. Everyone from celebrities, politicians, and people from around the world turn to dating apps. They are convenient, easy to access, and largely free to use. Whether you are on them to expand your social circle or experience romance – short term or long term, close by or far away – dating apps seem to be where society is going when it comes to finding a partner for a night or for life. Instead of relying on a friend group or a social setting, generally close-knit environments, the internet allows people to access each other more broadly. Yet, there is something wrong with looking at a picture and a short biography and finding that to be a reason to either ‘swipe right’ or ‘swipe left’ in a society that wants to expand its understanding of ourselves and each other. 

Dating Apps

While Bumble recently blocked Sharon Stone’s account after multiple reports came in claiming her account was “fake”, figures like Channing Tatum and Pete Buttigieg – who met his current husband, Chasten, on Hinge – turn to dating apps. There is even a dating app, Raya, that caters specifically to the entertainment industry and involves a very exclusive entrance process to be allowed to create an account. The app requires a referral by a current member and approval by the membership council. Different apps cater to different crowds. Hinge and Tinder cater typically to the straight community while sites like Bumble and Grinder seem to have more LGBTQIA+ users, though obviously there are exceptions. The apps and websites get even more specific. On TVs in the U.S., there are constant ads for Christian Mingle and Farmers Only, and in India there is a website called Overweightshaadi.com. All around the world these dating sites seek to connect people, but what will they do to us? What will dating look like in the future; a future that will likely contain more apps?

One of the biggest concerns with dating apps is that there are a lot of creeps out there. Instagram accounts like @tindernightmares dedicate themselves to submissions of people, usually men, who send particularly disturbing messages to recipients who are usually women. My personal favorite @tindernightmares submission is “I want to cover you in green paint and spank you like a disobedient avocado.” Sometimes, in text format, it is hard to tell whether people are joking or not, one can only hope. I receive my own array of creepy messages on dating sites that make me question what really goes on in people’s minds and the scale to which we all live in the same reality. Many speculate that the internet turns on people’s unfiltered thoughts and allows them to do things and think things they would never do, say, or think in their everyday life. 

Safety

For Gen-z, especially women that are online dating, the experience of essentially growing up with dating apps being a fundamental part of dating outside of school life, safety is a serious concern. Not only are there creeps who type in completely insane messages, but people are pretending to be someone they are not. While this does not seem to be the case with Sharon Stone’s account, it does happen. Someone who could be charismatic online could have a history of being sexually violent towards their partners and not necessarily have a criminal record. Women always had issues with safety in the dating world, now there is an added online component for Gen-z that will make things much more complicated. Yes, Gen-z will be able to bridge connections and do things no other generation did before all due to the increase in access to the internet. That broadened horizon will also bring new and more dangers to Gen-z, especially as we experience and enter the dating world. Especially as we begin to leave college. The effects dating apps will have are largely to be determined, both positive and negative.

There are plenty of well mannered, kind people on the internet and the shadow of anonymity or the thrill of a dating app should not excuse the type of negativity seen so often on the internet. It is one of those things that one would describe with the statement “manners and basic respect are not something people should need to be taught by the time they are old enough to use the internet unfiltered, but clearly, they need to be”. There is no basic etiquette for online spaces, and while there are some sites that will restrict certain language, views, and images from their platforms, nothing is perfect and dating apps certainly do not censor people. 

Success . . . ? 

Still, people find success using these sites. I have many friends who now have long term relationship which started online and others who use dating apps frequently. A friend of mine, however, is embarrassed about their experience with dating apps, often crafting a different story to tell people how they and their current partner met, despite the success of their relationship. Around their parents, they still feel the stigma attached with going on dating apps to meet people. A certain promiscuity associated with dating apps makes some people, even people my age, very against and even scared of dating apps. Just as in life, people have different methods of finding romance and the Gen-z experience with dating apps is very much a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences.

When examining the experience of gay men in Chile on the internet over the last twenty years in an article titled “How has the Internet Determined the Identity of Chilean Gay Men?”, a Chilean man talked about his experience with the internet – on sights such as PornHub — setting unrealistically high expectations only to realize that reality is not the internet. “It would have been healthier to discover sexuality on my own,” he said. Whether a relationship starts on the internet or not, the expectation should be that the relationship in real life will not be what it was online. Still, the experience of online dating for younger gay Chilean men broaded the scope of their worlds, allowing them to escape a sense of isolation with their own experience: “the virtual world can be considered of more vital use to Chilean gay people than heterosexual people, because of the stark necessity to safely find more people with the same sexual identity but remain behind a screen.” While there are more opportunities for them to meet now, as that sense of isolation begins to break apart, Chile is still a conservative country regarding how they consider any sexual identity that is not heterosexual. There is still a fear and anxiety surrounding dating apps, but ultimately it is still a common way for gay Chilean men to connect with each other.

Personally, even when I find a person I like on one of these apps, I find online communication an insufficient way of sorting out who someone really is and whether we would be compatible together. Still, I have issues with forming relationships outside of dating apps. It relates to my own personal anxiety, past relationships and experiences, etc. that require me to have a real connection with someone before considering going on a date.

Many people want to jump into a date — a two hour long movie or a sit down dinner — within the first couple of back and forth statements. Perhaps people feel pressure to date in such terms in the modern day, as dinner and a movie is definitely a more traditional date. Yet, the quickness with which people want things these days has me on edge. I cannot come to terms with sitting down for a whole dinner with someone after five sentences or less than twenty four hours of knowing them. It is why, for me, dating apps may not have the desired effect, but this is not the case for everyone. Regardless, sharing experiences and relationships online are very different than experiencing relationships face to face. The internet has a way of augmenting reality.

Problems For The Future 

A book titled The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World published in 2013 examines the relationship between younger generations and dating apps. It suggests that the “hook up” culture that arose over the last fifteen years is a result of the increased consumption of online, easily accessible pornography. The book states that “researchers found that today’s college students are hesitant to enter into committed relationships, preferring instead to cycle through a series of casual relationships based on sex instead of romance”. There is also a correlation between increased online presence and the prevalence of stalking, sexual violence, and lack of sexual satisfaction. Many young people find kissing a more intimate romantic gesture than oral sex. With these dating apps comes a quick and easy way to involve oneself with another person and, for some, bonds are stronger in their relationships developed online rather than their relationships developed through social interaction. However, that is not the case for everyone and with more online consumption comes a sense of isolation from social interaction and perhaps a lack of empathy. It concerns many that the up and coming generations raised on these apps with an increase in their online presence may become less empathetic due to less social interaction.

The same applies to dating apps. Ultimately, The App Generation concludes that “the quality of our relationships in this app era depends on whether we use our apps to bypass the discomforts of relating to others or as sometimes risky entry points to the forging of sustained, meaningful interactions”. Technology – dating apps are not inherently good or bad, it depends on the reason for use. Do we use these apps to expand our horizons and start meaningful relationships or do we simply find it safer to talk behind a keyboard or a touchscreen? It is important to decipher the reasoning because it may determine whether the apps will succeed or fail for a person; a person who finds it safer to communicate behind a keyboard or a touchscreen will not have success on a dating app. There is no desire to actually meet anyone in real life if the preference for creating relationships comes from a place of hiding rather than of welcoming. It could happen, but if there is no active desire for it the chances of meeting in person are much less likely.

Ultimately there are two concerns when it comes to dating apps regarding Gen-z, a generation raised on technology: Are we using social media to hide from or broaden our horizons? And how do we keep ourselves safe in a place that is largely still the “wild west”? The less and less Gen-z relies on social interaction to determine the character of their peers the less empathetic and more isolated some may become. Growing up with technology has its faults and its benefits, but what it does do is bring about a world that is still largely unknown to many. It is uncharted territory, not always unsafe but uncharted. It is wise to exercise caution in such places and the world of dating apps is one of them.

Since these apps are largely unregulated, they do not have anyone’s safety as their chief concern. Social media and dating apps will now always be a part of dating life and they are largely beneficial in terms of a broader access to people. Yet Gen-z cannot ignore the inherent anxieties surrounding these apps. It must be a push and pull relationship to create positive experiences without being naive about what the internet allows people to do and the lack of regulation on dating apps. It is how and why we use these apps that matters. Make sure you have the right reasons for signing up for dating apps: not to hide from the world but to open your own, not to trick or scare people but to connect with them. 

The use of dating apps needs to center around connection, break from isolation, and create authentic identity. Gen-z will play a huge role in determining how these apps will function in the future and it is critically important that these dating apps open doors and do not close them, which also applies to any other form of technology. Using it wisely may lead to connections we would never discover otherwise. Let’s make sure that we use dating apps to expand our knowledge, world view, and connect with others, that when we use technology of any kind we use it for this purpose alone. 

Margaret Valenti

Margaret Valenti is the Editor of Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.