Swipe left, swipe right, swiped out.
It is Thursday night. You had a fairly long day at work and yet felt motivated enough to make it to the gym. After all, the weekend is almost here and you want to embody that wellness warrior you envy on Instagram. You get home and deliberate which TV show would pair best with your favorite meal. Being the multitasker that you pride yourself on being, you begin swiping through your most recent matches on Bumble. Soon, feelings of disappointment creep in. So, you make the logical decision to try another app, hopeful that your soul mate has swiped right to you – all whilst watching the season finale of Billions.
See, it doesn’t really matter which generation we’re speaking about, because this epidemic doesn’t discriminate based on age. Yes, I’m speaking to you X’s, Y’s and Z’s. Dating apps, like many other apps, were developed to help increase productivity and efficiency, all while decreasing intimacy. We turn to the very thing that has destroyed our sense of intimacy to find our most significant other. Thus, we’re buying more time yet spending more of it alone.
Now, many of you reading this may feel triggered as you recall that one friend of yours who, in fact, did meet their match, as you flashback to the overused and ultra-creative hashtag #HeSwipedRight. So, is it possible that you too may meet your life partner as you perfect the sport of swiping? Of course it is, because the reality is that almost anything is possible. Yet, the greater concern is at what expense?
As a psychologist, I like to consider the deeper meaning of things, especially when it comes to human behavior. The dating app dilemma is plaguing us, not because we’ll be doomed if we never find our special someone, but because it is limiting our experience of healthy rejection. The rules are easy, and the equations work in our favor. He swipes right, you swipe right, and you match. You swipe right, he swipes left, and no one will ever have to know. The opportunity to come into your “vulnerable power,” as Brene Brown would put it, is no longer feasible. No space is left to experience the feelings and emotions that are tied to putting yourself out there, so nothing can truly be celebrated or mourned.
After Tinder, many apps entered the market, with competitive levels of success. Every one of them marketed a different story, such as female empowerment, religious affiliations, and educational exclusivity. The deeper meaning here is not their creative marketing campaigns but the misconception that you’ll be able to make a choice. Let’s be honest, you probably spend more time reading a nutrition label, then you do reading someone’s Tinder profile. The time it takes to decide whether someone’s photo is enough to expand your desire to spark up a conversation is one millisecond too long from meeting the next person. We’re trying to save time here, remember? But countless studies have proven that the more options we have available to us, the more difficult it is to know what we enjoy and, ultimately, the more dissatisfaction we experience once we’ve made a choice. In response to the increasing number of options available to us, our expectations of finding this perfectly packaged human increases, while our own internal package continues to feel incomplete and insecure.
You see, they all lure you in by selling you the same deeply and emotionally painful idea that you’ll be found. Conscious or not, every human being has struggled with the feelings of wanting to be discovered. Any beginner-level psychology class will tell you that one of the earliest ways an infant feels safe enough to explore the world is when they begin the stage of social referencing. Social referencing occurs at 8–10 months of age when an infant looks to their caregiver’s facial expression to figure out how to proceed in a certain situation. The truth is that this isn’t just a phase and humans continue this way past the age of 10 months. Dating apps feed into this deep-rooted fantasy of feeling seen, giving us enough time to temporarily distract ourselves from our inner disappointments. Yet, feelings of disappointment linger, as countless conversations are taking place and none of which allow you to feel truly seen. Therefore, obviously, instead of dealing with those heavy things we call feelings, we swipe away in hopes to strengthen our chances of being found once again.
The difficult truth is that whichever way you look at it, people are becoming increasingly more depleted by the mere idea of human contact. “Ugh, my boss wants to talk to me again!” or “this is so awkward – she already wants to talk on the phone.” We see everywhere around us that people are even choosing to express their deepest fears to a robotic therapist as long as they don’t have to engage with real-life intimacy.
Truth be told, a dating app could connect you with that special someone, but it also may be leading you to feel more lonely. Perhaps, the next time you’re at your local coffee shop, turning to the person behind you to say “hello” won’t feel like the day’s most daunting task. After all, he or she may just be your match.