The Perils of Swiping Right
Full disclosure: I’m 31 years old, and I found love in what can only be described as “the old fashioned way,” i.e. in person, as opposed to online. Though I spent many years single or in quasi-relationships, it wasn’t until I hit my mid-twenties that I entered into a relationship that would prove itself long-lasting and sustainable. The man who would ultimately become my husband was an old friend from high school whom I reconnected with when I was back home for a friend's birthday.
Dating apps were just becoming popular as I was leaving singledom, and while I dabbled a bit with Tinder, I never felt at ease with it. Of course, in the years since, many new dating apps have popped up, with internet-bred relationships becoming increasingly common-place. Many (if not most) of my single friends are on dating apps, and our conversations often center around how frustrating, but convenient, this form of dating can be.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard the question “how do you meet people today, if not on an app?”
And that sentiment isn’t unfounded, given that studies suggest dating apps are now one of the most popular ways to meet people. According to an October 2019 Pew Research Center study conducted among almost five thousand adult Americans, roughly 30% of adults of all ages have used a dating site or app, though not in equal measure. Younger adults, those aged 18–29, used dating apps in much higher volumes (nearly 50%), with this percentage tapering down by age (only 16% of those over 50). Though exact app numbers are elusive, Match Group (the company that owns Tinder) reported an average of 5.9 million Tinder (paid) subscribers, with a 2019 revenue of $1.2 billion — a 43% increase from the prior year.
Now, in a culture of stay-at-home orders and social restrictions, we’re lonelier than ever, yet unable to meet new dating prospects in-person. So it’s unsurprising that the use of dating apps is not only a convenient way for people to pass time during this pandemic, but also one of the only viable channels to meet anyone new.
With this in mind, I think it’s worth mentioning that despite its rise in popularity, the use of dating apps is far from foolproof. In fact, given the instant gratification embedded within the apps, paired with an inherent lack of intimacy and accountability, it’s easy to fathom how they may be difficult to navigate when on the quest for love — or at least, when seeking something tangible. Especially today, during an era where it feels like we have no other (or better) options at our disposal.
Here are ten important reminders for anyone looking for love in a swipe-right culture:
1. You have a lot less control over your future dating potential than you believe you do.
There are a lot of factors that go into making a relationship —individual tastes and personalities, life stages, emotional baggage, etc. It’s not about what you say (or don’t), how quickly you reply, or how cool you act. So much of our attention when using a dating app goes into image management — downplaying our insecurities, enhancing our perceived strengths, and creating a digital persona meant to attract the person we’re interested in. They will discover who you are eventually, you might as well set the stage from the get-go by being authentic. If someone isn’t ready to commit to you, attempting to manipulate the variables is futile and only serves to delay the inevitable.
2. If someone decides to ghost you, that’s on them — not on you.
Disappearing on someone without the consideration of forewarning is a cowardly way of ending something, whether it was a relationship set in stone, or simply a casual communication. If someone ghosts you, they’re telling you loud and clear they don’t have the maturity or desire to step up. “Ghosting has a lot to do with someone’s comfort level and how they deal with their emotions,” said Dr. Vilhauer, the former head of Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center psychotherapy program. Take ghosting at face value, and try not to waste any more of your time on someone who spares none of their own telling you a proper goodbye.
3. It’s about striking a balance between prioritizing a virtual stranger but not putting them on a pedestal.
Don’t cancel your already-set plans with friends to FaceTime with this new person you’ve matched with. Do follow through with the plans you made to call him or her at nine o’clock. Remember, integrity goes two ways: it holds you accountable for your own behavior, and it also requires that you hold others accountable, too. Just as you would let someone know if you’re going to be late, you should expect the same courtesy in return. And speaking about accountability, there’s nothing worse than a person who gradually disappears from their regular life the moment they have a new love interest living in their phones. If someone is taking you away from your life, instead of adding value to it, this should be a cause for concern.
4. You only know what this person is choosing to reveal, not who they really are.
It takes a lot of time and experience to fully know and trust someone. Proceed with caution and take your time. Trust is something that’s earned, not merely a given. Do not default to fully trusting a person you don’t know well, or have never met in person. The less you know about a person, the easier it is to idealize them. The gaps in our knowledge easily get filled by who we think they might be, or how we envision they could think. But this says more about us than it does about them. Inevitably, the more we get to know someone, the less romanticized their identity becomes. If we still find them attractive at that point, it’s safe to bet we like them for who they are, not for what we wish they could be.
5. Just because someone is on a dating app doesn’t mean they’re ready to commit to you.
And this stands to reason even if they explicitly tell you they’re looking for a relationship. Many people are on dating apps and are in absolutely no state to be dating others. Some of whom are actively engaged in a serious relationship or are legally married. Some just enjoy the thrill and ego boost of matching with a stranger and stringing them along. Remember to gauge a person by their actions, not simply by their words. If what they say and do are not in alignment, default to how they behave and treat you. And if you take your time in getting to know someone, you’ll better be able to discover what their intentions are, and whether you’re both looking for the same thing.
6. Matching with someone online will not solve your problems (though it may add a few more to the pile).
I know this should go without saying, but it bears spelling out just in case you need a reminder: don’t expect a new love interest to solve, or absolve you from, any lingering issues in your life. Sure, you don’t have to have it all figured out for someone else to love you. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that overt self-destructiveness makes this goal a lot harder. Do your best to take responsibility for your life before you invite someone else into it. Knowing who you are before you enter into a relationship gives you a better idea of where you end and where your partner begins.
7. A red flag is your intuition suggesting something is off.
Red flags are beacons from lessons you’ve already learned. They serve as warning signals telling you to proceed with caution. The reason you get that gut feeling is that something feels oddly suspicious, and it’s likely something you already associate with being a “relationship dealbreaker”. Your past heartache isn’t futile, it teaches you things to look out for, and which traits to avoid. Besides, better to learn early, rather than after you’ve invested a significant amount of time and energy into a relationship. Learn to trust yourself by following through when you stumble upon a red flag — they’re there for a reason.
8. Pay attention to how you discuss things with your friends.
If you find yourself feeling the need to defend your dating choices to your friends, particularly without them overtly prompting you, it’s likely because you’ve either led them to believe the choices you’re making are questionable, or you’re trying to convince yourself. For instance, feeling the need to say things like “this time is different,” or “I was just being neurotic” when explaining or justifying the person’s behavior. Making excuses for someone you’ve just met should at the very least mirror your behavior and indecision back to you. You don’t need to justify something that isn’t already suspicious, or that inherently goes without saying.
9. Listen to how this person frames your appealing traits.
This is something I started paying attention to as I got older and became more invested in those whom I chose to date. What someone else saw in me — what they found most attractive, particularly at the beginning — told me a lot about their values. Ask yourself: does this person solely compliment my physical appearance, or do they hone in on particular talents? Do they find me interesting, or have they told me I’m out of their league? Are they interested in talking to me and getting to know me, or are their conversations always sexual in nature and single-focused? The answers to these questions can help shed light on someone’s motivations, interests, and intentions.
10. Don’t discount meeting people organically.
Just because all the cool kids are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s the only way it’s done. Vanity Fair referred to apps like Tinder as contributing to “the dating apocalypse,” and asked: “Can men and women ever find true intimacy in a world where communication is mediated by screens; or trust, when they know their partner has an array of other, easily accessible options?” Similarly, The New York Post made the bold claim that Tinder is “tearing society apart,” arguing that instant access to sex will override a person’s ability to work hard and build a long-lasting relationship. “This is more than a dating apocalypse,” the article argues, “this is the marriage apocalypse.” While it may feel more vulnerable to strike up a conversation in person, remember that online dating is still a relatively recent phenomenon, and many lasting relationships were forged prior to the internet era. Oftentimes, things in life requiring hard work are those that reap considerable rewards.