What Have Apps Done for Dating in the 2010s?

It was love at first sight with Tinder in 2012. Now, as we near the end of the decade, we millennials know no other way to love. “No labels” is the default setting. Ghosting is pretty much par for the course. Collectively we’re all playing the largest ever game of “Who cares the least?”

nother day, another swipe. It’s been a long, long time since those first, heady days of downloading a dating app on your phone with a happily-ever-after on your mind. The landscape now has fewer Princes and Princesses Charming, and more unsolicited nudes and ghosts. From a fantastical fairytale to grim, Snyderesque realism, online dating grew up this decade.

Like most millennials, my introduction to dating apps was second-hand. In 2013, at a crowded party, a recently single friend had downloaded Tinder. As he swiped left and right through women, six others weighed in on each. We were excited by this gamification of romance: meeting, dating, hooking up, and getting into a relationship suddenly seemed within reach. It was unprecedented. It felt like a shortcut through all the messy parts of finding someone, and to those who were in relationships at that time and watching it all unfold, it made us a little bit wistful — like we had somehow missed the bus.

Tinder launched in India in 2012 and then Hinge, OkCupid, TrulyMadly, Bumble, and others followed very quickly. Before apps, millennials’ love lives like that of generations before them had been defined solely by circumstance — schools, colleges, or workplaces, usually. Calls to our school crushes were to their landlines, hoping and praying that it would be they (and not their parents) who picked up. Later, we may have gotten our own cellphones but meeting someone was very much something you did in real life — you got common friends to introduce you and you tried to hang out with them between lectures. You’d have to take an active interest in whatever band they were playing in (easier said than done), be deeply invested in their business ideas, and pretend to love their favourite movie. Dating was a process of slow discovery of one person, not a carousel of superficial interactions with many.

It’s now 2019 and we’re all on dating apps. We took to them like Raj takes to Simran in DDLJ. After all, in real life, finding the holy triumvirate (someone single, interesting, and interested) is difficult. Apps promised the holy triumvirate before we even stepped out the door for the first date. Did you wish you could vet potential dates through social media before even saying hi? Very possible. Ever wondered “What else is out there?” The apps showed you exactly who else was out there.

Why, then, is everyone so tired of dating apps? Because something about them also seems to bring out the worst in people. A friend met a guy on two consecutive days for two consecutive dates, but he showed up to the second date with a very visible love bite across his neck. Another was pursued hotly for a week for a date and ghosted the minute she said yes. Yet another, in the most Mumbai of all problems, “really wanted to meet but couldn’t” because one would go nowhere north of Worli and the other would go nowhere south of Bandra. There are worse problems still, of course — just like in real life, people can be flaky, unreliable, uninteresting, pushy, and sometimes downright creepy.

But most importantly, after six months, anyone on a dating app can confirm one thing — each person they’ve spoken to has blended into the next, with the result that they can no longer recall the most basic details about them. You could see them in the street and not realise you’ve already traded facts about career plans, interests, and previous relationships and made plans and cancelled on them thrice. These are all markers of systemic issues. The perception of infinite choices leads to a sense of replaceability. The legitimisation of “no labels” and non-exclusivity as the default setting leads to constant insecurity. Ghosting, once considered the rudest of all behaviours, is pretty much par for the course. And you may bring your lofty ethics to the game but once you’ve been through enough three-week situationships that go nowhere, you find yourself treating people the way you’re being treated — with a distinct lack of respect or commitment. Disappointment creates cynicism, and cynicism leads to more disappointment. Collectively we’re all at fault because we’re all playing the largest ever game of “Who cares the least?”

For a generation that started from landlines and passing notes, grew up with burning CDs for each other and endless chats on MSN Messenger, and graduated to first hiding and then declaring their relationships to an excited group of friends, dating in 2019 feels like an unwelcome and extended third act, something we never signed up for. There was a heady excitement to meeting someone new ten years ago; the best we can seem to summon up now is cautious optimism. Everyone I know misses the days when you met someone organically and tried to figure if you could “like” each other. Gen Z-ers will say that it sounds like a very inefficient way of doing things, millennials will vouch that it actually had better outcomes.

But even as we complain about the third girl to go AWOL this week or the fifth guy who thinks explaining cryptocurrency to you is flirting, we’re aware of the silver linings. Ten years ago, our dating pools were so restricted that we met versions of ourselves. Now, I’m genuinely thankful to have met interesting people with lives and perspectives I’d never have encountered otherwise. Infinite choice on apps may be an illusion, but it’s also a very handy tool to remind yourself that the world doesn’t stop spinning if you put an end to a toxic relationship. And there’s something to be said for the openness that apps have engendered; as everyone becomes more comfortable owning up to what they really want: the polyamorists, the commitment-seekers and commitment-phobes, the seekers of “just a good time”, and relationshippers.

And finally, while we can all complain about how apps have “ruined” romance, the minute you meet someone you genuinely want to pursue something with, more likely than not you’ll revert to your naïve 20-year-old self with irrational optimism, texting, phone calls, showing up to their band’s gig, being deeply invested in their business idea, and pretending to love their favourite movie. No matter how much we grow up, some things never change.


This article was originally published on Arre