online dating
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Love at first swipe

How does one fall in love? At first glance, it seems like a simple question. From the wonderful and yet terrifying knots in your stomach to the shivering anxiety in your voice as you try to say the right words but always envision yourself slipping up in some way, most of us have felt this way, or will feel this way, at some point in our lives. As Valentine’s Day approaches, it provides the perfect opportunity to look at the way young people – now labelled ‘the tinder generation’ – love, and how it is changing especially with the advent of technology.

We ‘fall in love’ in English or ‘tomber amoureux’ in French

The popularity of online dating has become a phenomenon for today’s generation. It is now the third most common way to meet a long-term partner, according to a 2018 study from the journal Science Advances. Bumble, eharmony, Tinder and many other dating apps have become mainstays on the phone screens of students. Research from the dating giant eharmony found that online dating usage among young people has tripled since 2010. But what exactly accounts for this rapid rise? The answer may appear more obvious when taking into account the anxiety many people can feel when trying to meet new people.

Online dating provides a very welcome reprieve from the uncertainty when you first meet someone. Gone is the awkwardness about what to wear, nor is there the perennial question of how to greet them. A kiss, hug, handshake, wave or smile? With the advent of online dating there is now a chance for an individual to get to know someone considerably before first meeting them. The awkwardness of getting to know someone new disappears and the entire relationship proceeds at a much faster pace. Its use is advantageous, especially in avoiding social embarrassment. A student, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated: “It’s a bit weird at first, but then you realise it is really not as weird as randomly walking up to someone at a bar!”

Nearly a fifth of people aged between 16 and 24 spend more than seven hours a day using their smartphones

It’s no surprise that young people are increasingly choosing this way to find romance. An article from The Telegraph last year revealed that nearly a fifth of people aged between 16-24 spend more than seven hours a day using their smartphones. As well as dating, smartphones have proven to be a success in areas important to students. Travelling (sometimes too often and unnecessarily) has been made easier with Uber; ordering food is now quicker with Deliveroo, and communication is instant with social media such as Snapchat. It feels natural that our generation would choose to use online dating sites when we have grown up with technology all around us in every single facet of our lives. Perhaps this is just a natural continuation of what our generation feels comfortable with: the expansive never-ending screen of pixels.

The effectiveness of online dating is not necessarily a myth either. The same eharmony study shows that 66% of people arranged to go on a date through online dating. The statistic seems to be an eminently higher percentage than what most people that prefer using traditional methods seem to achieve. It’s difficult to gauge an individual’s interests and personality from merely meeting them in a social or group setting. Very few have the social skill required to do this and online dating not only makes this process easier, but it also seems to work.

These dating sites vary in their use of scientific algorithms to find their users the perfect match. EliteSingles, which generates over 2,000 matches per month, operates by using a questionnaire that searches for nearly 30 distinct character traits. Through creating such a specific profile, it is hoped that users will find someone highly compatible as they have tailored exactly what they are searching for. Similarly, Affinity, another dating site, works by allowing its users to first take a personality test before matching. It also provides daily recommendations of other single users who may be compatible. The fact that people who sign up are being presented with multiple options every day demonstrates the ease, speed and effectiveness of online dating.

As well as science, there is much philosophy rooted in online dating. In most languages, the verb ‘to love’ is predicated with the word fall. We ‘fall in love’ in English or ‘tomber amoureux’ in French. This act of falling has been studied by philosophical thinkers throughout history. Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian philosopher, discussed the process of falling in love in 2014 book, Event: A Philosophical Journey Through a Concept. He criticised the ability to love authentically in an age of internet dating, arguing that matchmaking and arranged marriages have been replaced by algorithms and dating agencies. “What they offer us is precisely love without the fall, without falling in love, without this totally unpredictable dramatic encounter.” Online dating provides a safety net against the fall which to some extent is beneficial but can also serve as damaging for the authenticity of our relationships.

Dating online for some can turn into a chore or an obligation

On the surface, it feels as though technology has solved one of the great human conundrums: falling in love. Yet, there is perhaps an implicit failing of online dating that we can’t really put our finger on directly or analytically but that we still know exists. The act of swiping left or right, choosing to decline or accept a possible romantic interest, has seemingly drained the emotion that comes with the experience. Dating online for some can turn into a chore or an obligation, rather than a journey in and of itself. Perhaps, the desire and striving for perfection that comes out of online dating is the biggest hindrance to finding love.

Love can be considered quite a nebulous term and among the reasons why some choose not to turn to dating apps is the sense of self-commodification that leads to an artificial form of affection. How can a user’s wonderfully complex and imperfect life be reduced to a few pictures and lines of text that reflect all our best qualities and none of our worst? While it may not seem like it, this aspect of online dating can be seen as an act of self-promotion. And as more people are turning to digital sites with the hope of finding a long-term relationship, should they expect to meet the person they met online or a mere visage of what they think the person ought to be? The personality questionnaire filled out by users may include that they are funny, interested in tennis and that they love dogs, which all might be true, but what about what is not said? Algorithms can only go so far, and the information that does not come out in the online dating world can lure those who use it into a false sense of being in love with perfection that is actually rather plain.

Perhaps, the desire and striving for perfection that comes out of online dating is the biggest hindrance to finding love

Today’s younger generation are in a unique situation. They can opt for the more traditional methods of finding love but are equally now able to rely on algorithms to find suitable matches online. These dating sites come with a vast array of benefits and downfalls, though its increasing popularity in an era of anxiety and self-doubt is a testament to the role of technology in providing greater choice in a rapidly moving modern society. However you choose to love this Valentine’s Day, make sure to love well.

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