Dating has changed over the years -- from the formal courtship rules of the 19th century to the going steady rules of the 1950s to the lax laws of the free love movement to the sitcom mores of the 1990s.
But technology has revolutionized dating in the 21st century by shaking up the dating pool, changing how we interact and what we expect from those we court as romantic partners. Gone are the days of dating the boy or girl next door -- now we swipe right and determine what mile radius is actually realistic to set on our dating apps.
From op-eds in countless newspapers and magazines to the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times to books like Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, the world has taken notice of the extreme shifts in dating habits. Traditional modes of dating are rapidly being surpassed by the likes of Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match.com, and other online dating apps -- instead of looking for love in our friends or the people around us at the bar, we look for it on our phones.
How People Meet and the Dating Pool
Dating apps have completely revolutionized how we meet people and the size of the dating pool. In the past, we were relegated to our neighbors, the people we attended school or worked with, and those we might meet through our friends. Sociologists found that the majority of individuals ended up marrying someone who lived within 5-10 miles of them.
Nowadays, we can cast a much wider net with the assistance of dating apps. While most people tend to still look for people in their immediate vicinity, you can launch a search on dating apps that covers the entire world if you’re so inclined. Of course, there will always be those who “meet cute” or are high school sweethearts or find each other via some other in-person channel, but dating apps make it possible to evaluate hundreds of possible matches on a daily basis.
For the most part, this is a good thing. It means we’re that much more likely to find that perfect match. However, dating apps have also made us more selective and more indecisive. When there are seemingly endless options of who to date, it’s hard not to feel anxiety over your choice. You can start to worry about whether you have the “best” person or if there is someone better out there. Carol Lieberman says in her book Bad Boys that dating has gone from “a romantic serendipitous meeting to a virtual shopping spree.”
This can be exhausting for users, scrolling through profiles hoping to find that one special someone and sort out all of the bad matches. What’s more? It can run the risk of making us too choosy in our quest for perfection.
No one should settle, but as Aziz Ansari explains in his book, “If you are in a big city or on an online-dating site, you are now comparing your potential partners not just to other potential partners but rather to an idealized person to whom no one could measure up.” Essentially, dating apps have given us more choice, but also possibly too much choice.
The Rules of Dating
With the world of dating apps comes a whole new set of “dating rules.” It should be stated that one major question is the issue of expectations. Tinder and other dating apps have propelled the rise of “hook-up” culture with many individuals using dating apps to find a casual partner for the night, rather than a committed partner. Dating apps both gamify and sexualize the process of dating, according to The Guardian. With dating apps, we can seek out a sexual encounter, rather than a more traditional dating set-up.
However, recent research from Tinder and sociologists does suggest that couples are now just as likely to find a committed partner and successful relationship on an app as they are in person, so this trend is fading somewhat. Just be clear and upfront about what you’re looking for on a dating app, so that neither you nor your potential partner is getting more or less than they bargained for.
If you are looking for love on a dating app, there are still some ground rules. Naturally, we advise you to be yourself and treat your date with respect and thoughtfulness as you would like to be treated. However, there are trends that are emerging from usage.
The dating “rules” of avoiding seeming too eager or interested off the bat, waiting a prescribed amount of time before calling/asking for a second date, etc. have transferred to the online world. Now, rather than waiting a day or two to call someone, it’s become a rule of the recommended amount of time you should wait before responding to someone on a dating app (or texting them after your first date). Amounts of time vary depending on who you ask, but everyone suggests that people avoid looking too eager or available off the bat, allowing at least an hour to pass between response times.
This can be more difficult in the world of dating apps, as you often feel like responding as soon as you get a message and the notification pings a shot of dopamine to your brain. Studies find that we receive high amounts of validation and increased feelings of self-worth from the surge of dopamine that accompanies message notifications we receive on dating apps. We all want to try our best to play it cool, particularly when there are so many options out there and being too eager can make you appear desperate. Ultimately, though, the only real rule is to be yourself and be kind.
Is Romance Dead?
Many, including those Ansari interviewed for his book, bemoan the loss of romance with the rise of dating apps. There are those who hate the very idea of online dating because it removes the random romance of a happenstance meeting that provides the perfect narrative response to “how did you two meet?”. And then of course, many complain that the buffet of choices available on the app make people less considerate -- we are more likely to simply ignore potential partners if things don’t go well, and if we know there’s so many more options available, we might not work as hard to woo or court them.
So, have dating apps killed romance? Sometimes it can certainly feel that way. But actually, there’s no reason to completely abandon romantic gestures just because you met through a dating app. Bring your date flowers or scan through their list of interests on their online profile and choose a dating activity tailored to one of them. If things go well, end your date with a little stargazing. Injecting romance into life isn’t all that difficult. We just have to remember to make the effort -- something we all will appreciate even more in a world where technology has revolutionized the way we date.
Though dating apps have changed the game (and made dating more of a “game” than ever before), ultimately, we are all still looking for the same thing -- that special someone, a companion with whom we can share our lives. Keep that in mind (and at heart) as you proceed into the landscape of 21st century dating.