When I was a junior in college, I was working on a newspaper staff at about the same time Tinder hit the scene. It started out as almost a joke and I remember thinking it was tacky and it would never last. Alas, it was inundating the dating market on my campus and monopolizing conversations for much longer than I expected. So I pitched an article to my editor about what this app meant for love and what it could be doing to our world.
Her response horrified me. She said if I was going to write about it, I would need to talk to people who use the app – all kinds of people. How would I do this? By getting myself on Tinder, of course.
It was a little unorthodox but I took a lot of deep breaths and tried it. I downloaded Tinder, made myself a profile, and started swiping. I had a pre-written message to send to my matches. Basically it was: “Hey, I’m a reporter and I’m not actually interested in you. Do you want to answer a few questions for me?”
As expected, the responses were mixed. Some of them said nothing. Some of them said things I can’t repeat. Some of them were very kind. I actually met a brief boyfriend in the midst of the experiment, but that’s a story for another day. The editors in the newsroom loved reading my most recent responses and screenshots of my ‘research’ are still used in a class about journalistic engagement to this day.
What I ended up learning was a lesson about the Millennial-driven dating culture. More specifically, a shifting expectation surrounding our relationships – or lack thereof.
We all know what dating used to look like via Cary Grant films and stories from our grandparents. Things have changed a ton through the past few generations. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of married Americans is at its lowest point since 1920. People are generally waiting much longer to get married, if they’re getting married at all, and the whole practice has become much less important. The Millennials are exploring their options for a lot longer and developing their own lives before they join with another. I am definitely on that train myself.
It’s natural to expect outdated traditions to devolve and the culture to change with passing generations. What’s concerning about this particular change, though, is the implication it seems to have had on our dating integrity. After lots of swiping and typing for that article, I started to realize that most of the men I encountered were falling into a few very defined types – all of which are effectively ripping apart any semblance of honorable courting we have left.
- Ego boost addict. I was utterly shocked by the number of men who told me they swipe right for everyone. Sure, they could have lied to mask the slight embarrassment of swiping right for a journalist who wasn’t actually interested in them, but I do believe most of them were quite serious. They swipe to their heart’s content so that their app becomes a complete report of the women who swiped right for them, aka a quantified reminder that they’re not total losers. This is a thinly veiled confidence issue that I’m still amazed so many of them readily admitted. The problem with this is that it effectively eliminates all vulnerability from the process for one half of the people involved in the interaction. As much as we all dread it, vulnerability is required in the dating world. We may end up looking stupid sometimes and that’s just the established price for finding what you want.
- Window shopper. Some of the men I talked to were involved with other women, ranging from serious girlfriends to cohorts of casual flings. In some cases I was appalled and felt guilty even speaking with them. This is the one that revealed the truly disgusting nature of the current state of dating: no one is happy with what they have because they think there might be something better out there. When your phone doubles as an endless carousel of presumably available people, it’s impossible not to wonder if you’re with the right one.
- Super cool casual guy. These are easily the worst. They come in two sub-groups. One of them is 100% honest about what they want. These are the ones with a string of photos at every bar in town, usually with scantily-clad ladies hanging all over them. They’re quite proud of themselves. They have no hesitation saying exactly what they’re looking for. The other one thinks he’s actually hiding what he’s going for. He has an obscure book quote in his bio and insists he’s “just interested in meeting and talking to people.” Gag. He’s way too concerned with making you believe his intentions are honorable. Spoiler: they’re not. With so many options at our fingertips, there’s a growing resistance to commit to one person. There’s nothing wrong with having a casual attitude about dating and relationships, but apps like Tinder make it way too easy for these cool casual types to avoid commitment at all costs. It’s becoming the norm and people who want a real relationships have trouble finding them.
I have a family history of very early marriages quickly followed by babies and I’ve always had a different plan for myself. Like my Millennial peers, I’m in no rush to settle down and I’ll take my sweet time finding the right person, even if it means I never do. But in the meantime, I expect the dating realm will continue to horrify me for the most part.