Finding Love Online?

Finding Love Online?
Madison Duddy explores how technology has changed the way we date

It’s no secret that social media has changed the way people interact. In recent years dating apps have become more popular, changing the fabric of the dating world. While most singles spend their time swiping through photos and biographies of potential matches in their area, many forget to glance up from their screens at the people walking right in front of them. The days of meeting your significant other in person are dwindling. It’s not even a choice for most anymore since few people will even give the woman or man standing at the bar the time of day. Why bother when there are hundreds of other options at their fingertips?

These apps, like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, let users choose potential partners by looking at photos of them and reading their ‘bio’. For most apps, bios rarely share much information about the person, but some apps let people be specific about their preferences, even filtering their feed so they only see people with certain characteristics. These apps essentially let people view dating prospects who are only their ‘type’.

Anne, a couples relationship therapist at Mind and Body Works in Dublin, says dating apps are a “modern phenomenon” that have become prevalent because of technology’s growing presence in our world.

“People are ‘time poor’ and are spending a lot of time at work and I think technology is taking over from what we would call normal communication situations,” she says.

Even though dating apps are popular, Anne believes they can psychologically cause more harm than good. She also says that after all the time people spend on dating apps, the relationships rarely last.

“I think it affects people’s self-esteem and I think it’s very contrived, actually,” says Anne. “It doesn’t work in the long term because people go on these apps, and if they have a lot of rejection, I think it’s very difficult for them to actually engage in relationships when they do meet somebody. I have come across clients who had a lot of difficulty in meeting somebody and when they meet someone that they might get on with sometimes they settle and maybe they shouldn’t.”

Additionally, Anne sees dating apps as superficial environments. When using the apps, people will look at most profiles for a few seconds, make their judgement, and then swipe yes or no.

“I do [think they promote superficial judgement of others] because most of it is on how they look when they see them. They see the profile and then they swipe right or swipe left or whatever the criteria is. It is not about people who meet and then the guy contacts them and they actually truly engage,” says Anne.

If you were to talk to people in serious relationships, many would say those relationships grew from friendships. Even more might tell you they didn’t initially think their significant other was their type. Although physical attraction is important, the reality is, everyone looks well in their 20s but beauty fades. Down the road, what will become the most attractive features about a significant other will not be the way they look but more substantial qualities like intelligence, personality, humour, kindness, compassion, generosity and drive. Dating apps focus on more superficial qualities and don’t consider the valuable aspects of a person that will make someone truly fall in love with them.

The unfortunate experiences can result from a lot of different issues with dating apps.”

Dr Catherine Gibson, another couples relationship therapist at Mind and Body Works in Dublin, is also weary of dating apps for many reasons, including the psychological damage they can cause.

“I have a lot of misgivings about them. Most of the people, in my experience, who would have used them are women and they would be in their 30s and they’re quite often people who have found it very difficult to meet people face-to-face or they had a really bad experience and they’re thinking ‘how will I move on from here?’. They use these dating apps and some of them have unfortunate experiences with them,” she says.

The unfortunate experiences can result from a lot of different issues with dating apps. People not only ghost other users they are talking to, but the information, from photos to personal bios, is often untrue.

“What I find is happening is that very often the information given on the app is not reliable,” Catherine adds. “Now, in fairness to people that use them a lot, they are fairly kind of aware of that, but it doesn’t take from the fact that they can be badly fooled. You can say what you like on a dating app. A lot of them say they are very careful and check everything, but how much checking is possible to do?”

When considering the dating app experience, can it compare to meeting someone face-to-face? Catherine says no and that many online relationships die after the users move past the direct message stage and meet in person.

“Sometimes when people get past the messaging stage, when they go from texting to meeting in person, they get quite a nasty surprise, and if you’re a person who’s already been hurt in a face-to-face relationship, this only adds to the pain.”

So why do so many people opt to use dating apps to meet a significant other over waiting to meet someone in person?

Dr Gibson does not see dating apps as doing away with the traditional world of dating, but serving as a supplement for people who want serious relationships and having a hard time meeting a partner.

“In my experience, they [dating app users] have been people who really wanted a serious relationship. Occasionally, you’ll get someone who has been badly burned in a relationship and basically just wants to find some time to self soothe, but in my experience, they are a minority,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a substitute and I don’t think the people whom I have met who use dating apps see it as such. There are people who are quite aware that maybe they’re stuck or maybe they’ve had bad luck and they go to try this to see if they will have better luck. It’s just another way of getting started.”

Even though most people use dating apps to expand their possibilities of meeting someone, Catherine says that users can also be too picky on the apps because they are given the tools to do so.

“Well, that [people knowing what they want] can vary quite a lot depending on the maturity of the persons involved. Some of them do, and in some ways, being too particular isn’t helpful. Some of them are just there to see what comes up and take it from there other than being very specific about what they want, what kind of person they want. And I’m not sure that one is better than the other, but if people are too focused and too particular, they are narrowing their range of possibilities.”

On some dating apps like Hinge, users can make it so they only view people with specific characteristics like religious and political views, drinking habits, drug use, height, or preference regarding children. These “deal breakers” allow members to only see people who fit their criteria. No one can be this picky when meeting people in person. More often than not, people will say that they weren’t attracted to their partner when they first met, and maybe didn’t think they were their type, but after getting to know that person in the real world, they became very attracted to them.

When someone meets you in person and likes you, they will focus their thoughts and time on you.”

Certainly, dating apps can work for a select few in finding a relationship, but realistically, most people don’t know what they want or need, so playing personal matchmaker doesn’t end well. When someone meets you in person and likes you, they will focus their thoughts and time on you. When you meet someone online, they are surely talking to multiple people at the same time and still swiping to see if there is someone better than you out there. The constant pressure to engage with people you meet online can overwhelm, especially because if they lose interest in you, they will easily move on to the dozens of other people readily available.