I don’t think it would shock anyone to hear that today’s dating practices are very different from those of previous generations. But while it’s commonly understood that these practices have changed, I think it’s less apparent that the fundamentals are changing as well.
Dating in the modern-age becomes more technologically-geared with each passing day. Every time a new dating app drops or a new dating website launches, more people of our generation flock toward the new dating medium: the internet. “It changes the way that we interact with everyone,” said Allister Quilon, a junior studying English at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing, but it is still a very new thing, and it is important to recognize that the paradigm is shifting.
For those of you who don’t know, Tinder is a location-based dating app that presents you with pictures of other members in your area and allows you to “swipe left” for those who don’t appeal to you and “swipe right” for those who do. Tinder is mostly geared toward physical appearance—though there is space to provide a short bio beneath your picture—and allows you to make quick decisions based on the physical attractiveness of the person of interest.
It takes the original style of internet dating and flips it on its head. Instead of getting to know someone first through the exchange of words and a series of conversations before exchanging photos or meeting in person, now we can do the opposite and cut right to the chase. If we are physically attracted to someone we can then choose whether or not we want to get to know them, or even simply whether or not we want to sleep with them.
Because its defining feature—“Tinder,” as in flammable material that is used for getting a fire started—prioritizes physical attraction, Tinder is ideal for short-term dating and casual sex.
What is a little disconcerting is how much searching through potential dates on internet and mobile dating sites feels like online shopping. “It seems so reductive and commodifying,” said UMass Boston senior and women’s and gender studies student, Stephanie Geheran. In the true capitalist model, it is a marketplace; you have to find a way to make yourself marketable.
Before the onset of the internet and dating sites, meeting people required a much more personal approach; interactions weren't as calculated as they are today. You can gather a lot from body language, tone of voice, and the overall demeanor of a person. In many ways dating sites take the human aspect out of the equation entirely, at least for the beginning stages of the connection. “I’ve seen a couple research studies that say that you’re basically objectifying yourself—it’s selling yourself. You have to try to look at yourself as a commodity,” said Quilon.
And just like any marketplace, competition is inherent. How you present yourself is key to your success, and the manner with which people manipulate their results betrays a lot about our society. “There [are] actual people who are making a business out of teaching kids how to be successfully masculine on Tinder,” noted Quilon.
Most of our generation has an alternative to compare online dating to, but what about kids who are growing up with internet dating as a new norm?
I don’t think that the next generation will lose their ability to meet people in person, nor do I believe that they will lose their ability to form romantic connections in person. It does seem, however, that this way of doing things will become less like the norm and more like the exception.
Even within our generation it’s easy to see that the tables are turning. It seems as though people are significantly less inclined to strike up a conversation with a potential partner in person than they are to online. It also seems like people are less willing to make commitments to one person when there is a database of possibilities at their fingertips.
“If you learn to date through Tinder it’s like learning to have sex through porn,” said Quilon. And that’s an interesting comparison to make. And whether or not you are discouraged or intrigued by the direction things are heading, it is certainly something to think about.