On a recent night out facilitated by Tinder, my date and I were sitting at a quiet table, discussing our mutually favorite bands, telling funny stories, sharing our intimate hopes and dreams– the usual things one does upon meeting a stranger from the internet. Our eyes were locked, until both pairs couldn’t help instinctively glancing down at his phone as the screen lit up. A Tinder alert effectively letting him know another girl was interested beckoned. Upon checking my phone at the end of the date, I found that I, too, had new matches waiting to chat. We had a nice time, but the glaring red notifications on our phones nudged us to see who else was out there. “It was a lot of fun,” my date texted later the next day, before apparently ceasing to exist. Never hearing from him again after that, I was back to the drawing board of 2,235 other matches.
“Congratulations! You have a new match!” Unfortunately, so does your date. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Zoosk– the list of ways to meet people via your smartphone today is an extensive one. With the rise of users on dating apps comes the rise of choices. More often than not, these choices lead not to finding the perfect match, but to an overwhelming number of options that eventually interfere with any kind of real commitment.
Most of the apps work with the same general premise: you put in who you’re looking for (age range, gender, the distance you’re searching within), connect to Facebook, and the app does the rest. With access to your social media profile, the apps can pull from your photos, let people know where you go to school, where you work, and what Facebook “likes” and friends you have in common with a potential match. Add a brief description of yourself in the bio section, and get to swiping (swipe their profiles left to reject them, or right to see if you’ve matched).
Ashley is a 30 year old bank director living in New York City. She averages three to four dates per week; none of these dates are with the same men. “I’ve tried everything at one time or another,” says Ashley, in reference to the apps she’s used. “Hinge is probably my favorite,” she says, noting the dating app that only shows you people that are a link in your friendship chain, however distant (they could be a friend, of a friend, of a friend, and so on). “But I like Bumble, too” she says about another app that only allows women to message a match first. With the swipe of a finger you can hop from app to app, opening the doors of romantic possibility to thousands of people at once.
There are plenty of fish in the sea, but what does it mean for monogamous dating when several different fish are biting at your line in the same moment that your date sits across the table from you? As of the 2014 census, 124.6 million people are single in America– 50.2% of the adult population. Should these adults be in your area and using the same dating apps that you do, they could be a potential love interest. They could also be your competition.
Ashley says the longest she dated someone from a dating app lasted about three to four months. “It wasn’t really serious,” she claims. She attended a Taylor Swift concert with her reportedly not-so-significant other and his younger sister, she brought him to parties held by her extended family on Long Island. “But I could always see that he was active on Hinge.” He met the parents, but he also continued to meet new people the same way he met Ashley. “I think there’s just too many options,” she said. After several months of dating, Ashley’s partner vanished. “Radio silence.”
The sudden drop-off of communication with a flame is all too frequent in modern dating, so much so that it has its own label: ghosting. A simple Google search of the term with the addition of “dating” yields a discomforting amount of related articles. “Dating: Is Your Partner Ghosting You? Learn To Spot The Signs,” “I Asked Men Why They Ghosted Me,” “5 Ways To Deal When Someone You’re Dating Totally Ghosts On You,” the world of dating, it seems, is thoroughly haunted. In a recent article on the subject for Huffington Post, Jessica Samakow interviewed a 25 year old online-dater who attributed ghosting to the “onto-the-next mentality of online dating.” The lack of empathy, she said in an interview with Samakow, comes from thinking of a date not as a person, but as a profile. Swipe it away to see who’s next.
Apps have made it easier to meet people, but equally as easy to dispose of them and move on to the newest match. Tinder alone has an estimated 50 million users. At any given time of the day these users can swipe right on your profile, providing you with yet another potential love interest. More people, more dates, more dead ends. “It’s exhausting,” Ashley sighs, “I feel like it’s a full time job.” In the time of our interview, Ashley has deleted all of the apps from her phone. “I get sick of them, get rid of them, and then end up re-downloading a few weeks later when I get bored.” The ease of setting up a date with the click of a button is too tempting to resist. And why not, when new potential matches are cropping up every day?
After a few lines of banter back and forth, a recent Tinder match messaged me “So. What makes you awesome?” Met with my virtual scoff and sarcastic reply, he got straight to business: “I’m on this app. There are a lot of people here. I’m looking for a reason to keep talking to you,” he wrote. “Sell me. Or don’t.” Uninterested in a person who holds auditions before having an actual conversation, I opted for the “Or don’t.” The message was gross, and unsettling, but it was also a straightforward way to attempt to sift through the options that apps present.
“Without Tinder, there would be no chance of us meeting!” an optimistic caption says on the app’s webpage beneath a photo of a smiling couple. However, with Tinder, and the plethora of other available apps, there’s a chance of not only meeting that other person, but connecting with hundreds more in a single night. Nancy Jo Sales examined the rise of “hookup culture” with dating apps for Vanity Fair. “It’s just a numbers game. Before, I could go out to a bar and talk to one girl, but now I can sit home on Tinder and talk to 15 girls,” one of her interviewees said. This truth applies past hookup culture, even when the end goal is something more than having sex with as many people as possible. The virtual bar that dating apps create allows the decorum of focusing your attention on one conversation, one person, to fall by the wayside.
Our ability as humans to be compatible with more than just one person is thrown into the spotlight in the world of virtual dating. This match and I have 15 common interests, but this match is only a mile away. This match is a funny conversationalist, but this one has a law degree from Harvard. The grass can always be greener, and the fertilizer is the swipe of your finger that requires no more than a second of your time.
In a booth at the dive bar Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village, I strained over the in-house band to hear what my date, a new match from Tinder, was saying. “I got out of a four-year relationship three months ago,” he nearly had to shout, before continuing to give far too many details about an ex to a person he met on an app.
When the date was over, I considered suspending judgment, and sending him a message thanking him for the evening. “Maybe a second date could feel less like a therapy session,” I thought. I never got around to texting him, though. When I looked at my phone, a notification with a familiar flame icon beside it distracted me. “Congratulations! You have a new match!”