Are dating apps making us lonely?

“I can’t find anyone genuine.”

“Nobody wants a relationship anymore.”

“I feel like an option.”

“He won’t commit.”

“All the good ones are taken.”

These are the kinds of things I constantly hear from my single friends when I ask the dreaded question: “How’s the dating going?”

I don’t think all the good ones are taken (hello, I’m still single) and I do think people still want relationships but they also want it all, and hey, who can blame ‘em? Life’s short and we want to experience everything. We also want more than ever to make the right decision. But it’s a lot harder to decide between thirty-one flavours of ice cream than two, and that’s what online dating often feels like. Except there are 500 flavours and it often feels like they are all bland variations of each other. Nobody wants to settle for whatever is just on offer. But settling is not the same as actively choosing and it’s easy to confuse the two.

There will always be something better, something we didn’t choose. There will always be someone hotter, wealthier, fitter, smarter or funnier. The grass will always be greener. But I guess you have to decide if you want to jump from pasture to pasture or if you want to nurture the one you’re in. People are more often choosing to jump from pasture to pasture. Some just like the thrill of something new, but many have no idea how to even nurture a pasture.  They don’t even know where to begin. Add to that the fact that there are a lot more pastures on our horizon these days and it’s no wonder that nobody wants to make a choice.  

Perhaps this is why people are single now more than they have ever been before. It’s predicted that 1 in 4 young people today will reach the age of 50 without ever having been married.

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Add to this the fact that Generation Z are reporting feeling lonelier than ever before and you have to wonder what’s going on.  But it’s not just young people who are experiencing loneliness, we’re all lonely and we’re lonely all the time. Even those of us in relationships are lonely, even those of us who have lots of friends are lonely – lonely, lonely, lonely.

But are we actually lonelier than ever before? Or are we just more acutely aware of our loneliness these days? Now that we have so grossly overstimulated ourselves with social media, do we just need stimulation all the time? Or is seeing smiling couples and dramatic proposals and lavish weddings and exotic holidays on social media making us compare and hence, question our worth more than ever before?

It could be any or all of these things. But our desire to be seen, to be known, that factor is of vital importance to us. And usually the person who really sees us, who knows us better than anyone else, is our other half, our partner, the love of our lives. So it’s no wonder that we search for the ‘one’ and we refuse to settle for anything less.

Social media, dating apps, online content, they all feed our voyeuristic desires, to see what’s out there and compare (usually to our detriment) but at the end of the day, you can’t hug your phone. On dating apps, you aren’t really feeling seen, you aren’t being fed and nobody really knows you.

We live busy lives, we don’t have time to get to know the deepest darkest secrets of every person who crosses our paths. But the possibility of a true partner in crime, a lover, a soul mate, encourages us to believe that someone could truly know us, if only we could find them. The idea that this private, hidden part of ourselves where we house our deepest, darkest secrets could really be known and shared and understood and accepted by someone else is why we keep searching. It’s why we don’t give up.

But are we just a bunch of Yins looking for our Yangs, who when we find each other will finally be whole again? I don’t think it’s as simple as that or as romantic. But we need to be fed and we need to be seen. This yearning to find that special someone is a hunger that haunts every human being at some point.  Unfortunately, you can’t wait until that guy you met on Tinder turns 65 and finally emotionally matures.

Online dating is supposed to be easier than real life dating. It takes the fear of rejection out of the equation. It avoids us the awkward conversations we otherwise might have to have with someone we aren’t interested in. You only match with people that want to match with you. But I think the thrill of dating is when the stakes are high. When you could be rejected, when you have to play the game, when you have to approach that person you’ve been sneakily stealing glances at all night, or they might leave the bar and you may never see them again. There should be a sense of urgency. High stakes are where the fire is. But online dating apps level those stakes out, lower them, and often cause them to disappear completely.

An online dating backlash is surely looming. Online dating is sterile. It’s impersonal, shallow, bleak. It’s the opposite of what dating should be. It also allows us to wallow in our insecurities, in our anxieties. It makes us lonelier. We need to have more parties. We need to talk to each other face to face. We need to be prepared to look a stranger in the eyes, to hold their gaze, to flirt, to be brave again, to climb back out of our phones and out of our own heads.

Bring on the backlash.

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