It was early days, but Flo was feeling positive about Jack, a man she had been seeing for three months. The pair met on Hinge, Flo sliding right in after Jack’s pithy lines made her smile.
Their first date, a couple of drinks after work, had been the most fun they’d had in a while. The couple met twice a week after that: more drinks, dinners, movie nights; Jack even took Flo to a warehouse rave with his best friends.
She was never given a tag, it didn’t seem necessary, but a blush warmed Flo’s cheeks whenever her name lit up her phone. That was until one day, Jack stopped texting. No explanation, no response: Flo had been blocked, her WhatsApp messages to Jack now dotted with a lone gray tick.
“I was upset,” reflects publicist Flo, 24, a year later. Like all quotes in this piece, he speaks anonymously to protect his privacy. “But this kind of thing happens all the time. I’ve been ghosted before and I’ll be ghosted again. But part of me thinks what the hell is the point? It makes me just not want to bother going out.”
Flo’s sentiments are echoed across the spectrum of singles who feel increasingly down and tired in the arduous quest to find love. A 2022 US study showed that four out of five adults “I was experiencing a certain degree of emotional fatigue” of online dating. Elsewhere, Hinge’s research found that 61 percent of its users find the modern dating process “overwhelming.”
It’s something Jasmin, a 28-year-old writer, has felt at times over the past three years. Having met his two previous partners at school and at work, he decided to try his hand at dating apps.
“I switch between an abundance and scarcity mindset,” he explains. “There are times when I feel overwhelmed, I’m matching with so many guys. It almost feels like a game. But then translating those matches into real, decent dating experiences is so rare that it feels like there’s nothing.”
Since the arrival of Tinder in 2012, apps have greatly altered the way we date. They certainly aren’t going anywhere anytime soon: 300 million people have a dating app profile, and by 2035 more will he met his partner online than in real life.
“Dating apps changed the landscape of digital dating because of the collection of convenient features they brought to the table, which I’ve called ‘convenience intimacies,'” he explains. Dr. Rachel Katz, a digital media sociologist at the University of Salford who researches dating apps. “They are often image-based, mobile, geo-located, use a swipe mechanism and have a ‘consent to chat’ feature. People took an active role in choosing who they wanted to match with.
“People like the convenience that these features allow. But at the same time, that convenience can also bring negative experiences: transactional language, ghost language, and objectification. Also, there are fewer social ramifications of these behaviors in apps dating compared to real-life interactions, it is possible that repeated negative experiences can lead to dating app fatigue.
“Decision fatigue and the paradox of choice may be part of what people find frustrating about dating apps.”
The convenience of having a large number of connections may have come at a cost to the quality of communication between the parties, adds psychotherapist and couples counselor Hilda Burke.
“Dating apps make initial matches text-based,” he explains. “In his book Silent Messages, Professor Albert Mehrabian developed the theory that only 7% of meaning is communicated through what we say: 38% is through tone of voice, 55% through body language. We’re so reliant on text on dating apps that we only get 7% of what that person means. It allows ambiguity to develop.”
This growing barrel of uncertainty and additional layers of gray area may be contributing to “mismatched goals” between appointments, Katz adds.
“People use dating apps for a variety of reasons, including dating app tourism, hooking up, chatting to combat loneliness, boosting self-esteem and finding a long-term partner,” he says. “Different mentalities, times and spaces affect these usage goals. There are also clashes about when to convey these goals and how to thereby ghost or let the conversation turn sexual too soon.”
But why the growing vocal backlash against dating culture now? Perhaps a decade of exploring an increasingly vague hellscape has left singles exhausted and fed up, explains Jodie Cariss, therapist and founder of own spacea mental health service that runs regular Slow Dating events.
“The amount of instant gratification and choice that is available to people, coupled with the distance that being behind an app gives us, makes the dating world much easier to hide without investing too deeply in the ‘human being behind the apps,’ he says. “We become more hidden and disconnected, and perhaps lonelier because of it.”
For Flo, making a connection over the preamble of text messages is her least favorite part of the modern dating process. “I feel like a lot of the conversation is stuck, all the chat is the same,” he explains. “I’m not much of a texter myself. But when someone I’ve matched with doesn’t text me for a day, I think they’re instantly ghosting me.”
Ghosting is an increasingly common phenomenon. A study conducted this year by the University of Georgia found two out of three people have ghosted someone they were dating, and has been a victim of ghosting.
“It’s depressing that it feels almost flattering when someone is polite enough just to let you know they didn’t feel a spark,” explains Flo. “It seems like dating someone is like having a tab open and people close that tab when they’re done. In a city like London, you’re unlikely to see a game again, there’s no repercussions. It makes me wary since from the beginning and I keep my dates at a distance.”
This lack of responsibility isn’t relegated to straight dating: Dan, who has been single for four years, has seen an influx of “cruel” behavior from guys he’s matched with.
“It’s almost like people have an appointment for content now,” says the author and broadcaster. “I’ve seen people sharing wild Grindr screenshots on social media just for likes. I think we need a big ethical shift in dating. We’ve fallen into this ugly hole of treating people badly because we can. We to remember that we’re dating the person, not the phone number.”
After having a string of poor dates, Flo has changed her priorities. Tired of sliding, she is emphasizing the established platonic relationship. “I was alone in confinement,” she said. “When the restrictions were eased, I wanted to spend time with friends and family and have a guaranteed good time, rather than going out on dates. Now with the rising cost of living, I’d rather spend money seeing friends than going on dates that aren’t going anywhere.”
Jasmin adds that time is a resource she is sick of wasting. “I’m open to meeting someone, but if I’m happy with my life the way it is now,” she says. “I know I have to give it time to get to know someone, but I have my own place, a good job and good friends. It would take something special, but we’re all holding back the dates or hedging our bets on a lot of options.
“I’m sick of the dystopian and clinical nature of dating apps. Control apps like Hinge and Tinder do this to try and get you to pay for the premium version, joking that you might meet ‘The One’ if you pay. I feel bad for apps to determine who you’re with, so I try not to use them as much.”
Jasmin is not alone in choosing to meet people in real life: in 2021, Eventbrite saw a 200% increase in attendance at speed dating events. Meanwhile, apps like Thursday and Bumble are trying a hybrid approach, offering real-life events alongside app messaging.
For Dan, she meets more men in bars and clubs, and finds that she has better luck making connections that way. Meanwhile, Jasmin has started approaching boys at concerts and the gym.
“Dating is a bastard, but the pandemic and the cost of living has shown that we are ready and able to adapt our way of dating,” explains Dan. “We continue to date under the given circumstances. Whether it’s apps, real life, or somewhere in between. The way we find ourselves is marked by the current climate.”
Jasmin agrees and is optimistic that the general feeling of despondency around dating will lead to a kinder, more considerate way of dating.
“But dating fatigue will always be something that everyone will have to juggle,” she adds. “It’s always going to be messy and complicated because people are messy and complicated. It’s never going to be easy and painless.”
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