• Seth Van Camp

What Dating Apps Remove from the Human Experience (7 Min Read)

Updated: Feb 6, 2020

As we press on into late 2018, let's take a look at the current dating and relationship ethos. Dating websites are slowly becoming the norm as we continue to embrace technology more and more as a society. Children are interacting with phones, tablets, and laptops at younger ages every year and millennials are now beginning to widely adopt app-based dating. I see more and more of my friends revert to these apps as a way of meeting new people, and justifiably so.

There are numerous advantages that fast-track the traditional process of finding a partner and expose you to more people than ever before possible. The seemingly great part about these apps is that they have found a way to cut through some of the red tape in meeting someone in the 21st century. The most difficult and frustrating part of forming a relationship is the initial back and forth in figuring out whether someone is attracted to you or not. These apps are relatively black and white in this category. There isn't too much of a grey area. You swipe right on someone BECAUSE you are attracted to them, all trolling aside. A match indicates a minimum yet sufficient level of attraction. This enables users to enter conversations from a greater position of power, knowing that on some level, the person you've matched with is attracted to you. It minimizes the level of uncertainty and inherent vulnerability between two people. It removes much of the risk in meeting someone. And it eliminates all of the proverbial beating around the bush.

In reality, this apparent advantage actually appeals to our vanity more than we would like, and in doing so, eliminates the human element which makes us all unique. Since Tinder and Bumble are primarily based on looks, I would bet we tend to skew our swipes to those who fit within our ideal aesthetic or better and cut out the lower end of our range. Have you ever met someone who doesn't excite you as much physically, but has such an amazing personality that you find them more attractive than most other people? Often times, Tinder or Bumble users will swipe left and eliminate that type of person due to the fact that they essentially only have looks to go off of, leaving them with heightened standards and a smaller pool of better looking applicants. These platforms offer beauty at a premium and the intricacies that make us human at a discount. Conversely, I've met a considerable number of woman throughout my life who are incredibly good looking, but lack the compatibility for me to even register them as remotely attractive once I've gotten to know them.

This doesn't mean that you can't meet great people or have amazing experiences, because you definitely can. What it does mean is that the people you would normally have the opportunity to get to know through interaction earlier on can be removed as an option before they are even given the chance to make their case. There are a number of things that can never be communicated through a photo or a bio. For example, the way that someone playfully touches your arm; how someone emits a cute laugh; the way in which a person treats those around them; the level of confidence someone possesses; the way someone tucks their hair behind their ear when they're nervous; how goofy they are or how they walk. These are all nuanced parts of building a relationship. Making these discoveries is always scary but exciting. Dating platforms reduce these subtleties to safety via information release.

On these platforms, after you match with someone, you are sent into a chat where you can send each other messages and learn more about the other before going on a date. Many would argue that there isn't much of a difference between meeting someone after chatting on Tinder or Bumble and meeting someone new in general. I would argue that it is extremely different. Having the ability to chat with someone who you know is attracted to you beforehand provides another additional layer of protection. We essentially develop a safety net, effectively removing risks before we actually interact with those around us. We don't have to make much of an emotional investment and we have the opportunity to abandon ship at any moment before ever even meeting someone in person.

It's no wonder that more and more people are flocking to these apps every day. We have consummated a culture which discourages social interaction without purpose, meaning that simply approaching someone without a reason is made out to be weird. For some reason, if I were to approach a woman I saw on the street purely from an attraction standpoint, without having previously established some common denominator between the two of us, I would likely come across as a creep or a weirdo (unless I'm really good looking). But if I have a reason, for example 'Hey, aren't you in my boxing class?' or 'Didn't I meet you at one of Jenna's party's?' everything seems to makes sense.

Approaching someone we don't know face-to-face is inherently vulnerable. It involves a high level of uncertainty, a dash of emotional exposure and risk of rejection. Doing this is incredibly difficult, but its really something we should do more of. And since humans will do anything to avoid pain, we instead search for an easier alternative through technology, using Tinder or Bumble as a filter for our discomfort. On these apps, we have the opportunity to virtually approach as many men or women as we want, without having to navigate the complicated serendipity in meeting someone in real life. We don't have to face rejection. We don't have to activate any useful part of our brain. We don't even have to say anything other than yes or no in the form of a finger swipe. The closest thing we get to in our form of communication with each other is either with a trite and overly used bio that we likely didn't write, or a 'fuck yes' by way of a Superlike. By automating a process that has always incorporated an emotional intelligence component, we are short-cutting arguably the most important part of the discovery process and eliminating viable options along the way.

Avoiding uncomfortable situations is a staple of the human condition, but not one that suits us well. It indeed provides us with relief and momentum in the short term. It also creates a higher floor in regard to the level of negative emotion we are exposed to, but the orthogonal nature of numbing also intrinsically puts a ceiling on the level of happiness you can experience as well. If your emotions were displayed over the span of your life on a graph, it would look something like an ECG reading of your heart.

By avoiding things, you would essentially be flattening it out. Yes, you would be removing many of the low valleys, but with it, lowering its peaks as well.

Using these apps over time teaches learned avoidance and gratification seeking. Instead of actively taking steps to get better our communication, we take the easy road out. When we realize you don't share a connection with someone, we don't even have to reject people. We just end up removing them or ghosting them, whereas in real life, the worst we end up doing is rejection via lying or some poor excuse. At least in this case the other person knows how you feel. This brings us back towards a curious Penrose Stairs-eque level of paradox.

When in a relationship, we would all rather have someone sincerely tell us how they feel than to lead us on or lie, yet most of us fail to implement this belief ourselves. Tinder is a catalyst for this type of behaviour and is a platform that makes this behaviour acceptable, as there are no repercussions.

This is not to say that there isn't a time and place for Tinder and Bumble nor is it meant to shame people who do use it. I've used it. I will probably continue to use it at some point. Most of us have and will. These platforms definitely serve a purpose depending on where you are in your life. They can be great tools for meeting certain needs, whether that be friendship or physical intimacy. They can even provide you with successful relationships. But we need to be aware of the some of the possible long term impacts of using such a platform.

I feel strongly that meeting people among the circles in which you operate will increase your likelihood of meeting someone you're compatible with far more than swiping for hours on end will. The usage of these apps immediately phrases every interaction you have as a possible relationship before you have even categorized this person in your mind. It instills a parochial view of one of the most complex of tasks. It results in a frantic search. And when we search for something frantically, whether that is love, happiness, or money, we end up finding it in the wrong ways or completely missing it altogether. All of those things are bi-products of living a fulfilled life that you have established as your own. They are a means to an end. Not an end in and of themselves.

Find something you enjoy doing and join a community of people who enjoy the same thing. If you love basketball, go play some pickup ball down at your local gym. If you enjoy science, go volunteer and help improve scientific literacy. You will meet people who will introduce you to more people who will introduce you to more people. Go to community events, actively involve yourself, and get out of the house whenever you can. Yes, there is no doubt that these things are much harder and require more effort, but the best things in life always seem to be that way. It will without a doubt be more fulfilling.